M’learned friends of the NSW Bar Association are in the midst of one of the stormiest episodes in their colourful history.

The association is in the red to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars, the eminent treasurer Justin Gleeson has resigned in frustration and the president Anna Katzmann is facing a palace coup. (See Richard Ackland’s Justinian website: “Street of broken dreams”, April 23, 2008)

Gleeson, the son of former NSW Premier’s Department supremo Gerry Gleeson, has been succeeded as treasurer by his friend Sandy Street, son of the former NSW Chief Justice Sir Lawrence Street.

The bar council perversely chose Street in order to prosecute its internecine squabble against Katzmann who is not seen as being robust enough in dealing with the Iemma Government and the Attorney-General John Hatzistergos who use the legal profession for headline-grabbing scapegoating.

Katzmann’s presidency may become even more tenuous when the senior vice president Tom Blackburn QC returns from holiday and sets about restoring order.

Last year Katzmann was elected for 12 months and by tradition she could expect to have her term extended for another year in November. However, there are rumblings that she will be denied an extension and that the association will toughen its relations with the government.

In his resignation letter, Gleeson claimed that Katzmann refused to circulate his draft letter on a proposed steep increase in fees: “Frankly I was flabbergasted that an organisation could be run in this way. Any councillor should be allowed to raise matters for consideration. An executive member, with responsibility under the constitution for finances, should not be refused the chance to raise an important matter.”

A vitally important sub-text in Gleeson’s action is Hatzistergos’s determination to change the bar rules to prevent “bullying” of witnesses, particularly in sexual assault cases.

To bolster the government’s case, an official complaint to the Legal Services Commissioner Steve Mark about the professional conduct of defence barrister Tania Evers was leaked to the Daily Telegraph last week. The story may have been in contempt of court and it delayed a current trial for one day much to the annoyance of the trial judge, Justice Peter McLennan, the Chief Judge of Common Law.

The existence of the complaint was known only to the Legal Services Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Hatzistergos’s private office. All three have given categoric denials that they leaked the information which is a breach of the Legal Profession Act.

Hatzistergos, a failed aspirant to take silk, is yet to demand a full inquiry to establish the identity of the “leaker”.

A leading barrister told Crikey: “The way the NSW Government treats lawyers you could be forgiven for thinking that we are living in Fiji.”

Peter Fray

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