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Nov 14, 2011

Herald Sun scoop: lawyer we apparently don't like charged but not found guilty of offence in 1993!

What was the justification for this nasty smea

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Pure Poison IconWhat was the justification for this nasty smear by James Campbell against a private citizen that ran in yesterday’s Sunday Herald Sun?

GANGLAND lawyer Nicola Gobbo was charged with drug trafficking while at university after police raided the Carlton house she was living in.

The barrister who represented Tony Mokbel and Carl Williams during Melbourne’s underworld war was arrested after extensive police surveillance of her house in Rathdowne St, Carlton, in September 1993.

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

To summarise:

  • She was merely charged and apparently not found guilty in the subsequent eighteen years, which means that she was innocent of the offence.
  • The incident was in NINETEEN NINETY THREE. Almost twenty years ago. (What a timely scoop, Campbell!)
  • And she “has left the bar, suffering from ill-health”. So what’s the public interest in this non-story?

So, a smear with no apparent news value, but the potential to harm the private citizen it attacks.

What’s behind it? For what slight is James Campbell or the Herald Sun using their media power to get revenge on her? How is Campbell legally obtaining this old and confidential material? Who is leaking smears on the lawyer to the Herald Sun, and why? And why is it being published?

It’s nasty, destructive stuff – the foul imputation is there, even if they’ve technically admitted in the story there’s nothing to it – and, short of an expensive defamation suit against News Ltd’s deep pockets, the target does not have a fair chance to defend herself. She certainly doesn’t have her own newspaper with which to respond in kind.

When newspapers like the Herald Sun talk about free speech, that’s what they mean. Their freedom to smear with impunity, knowing that their victims do not have the power or prominence to give them the same in return.

Maybe there is a reason for an inquiry into their one-sided dominance of the national print media, after all.

PS: “Gangland lawyer”? Does James Campbell really think people charged with crimes shouldn’t be able to find a lawyer to defend them, and that any barrister who does as the cab rank principle demands and accepts a brief to do just that is somehow implicit in their alleged offences? Tainted, so that you can put “gangland” in their job description? FFS.

UPDATE: The photograph the Hun has used seems to have been taken at the time of this story, revealing Gobbo as a key secret witness in the murder case against former detective Paul Dale. The Hun had the suppression order on her name lifted. The plot thickens.

ELSEWHERE: Blogger Paul Watson suggests a disturbing link:

Today’s Herald Sun story on [Gobbo] is as malevolent in its timing, and as nonchalant about its revelation of very sensitive secret material, illegally-obtained, as it was in publishing Carl Williams’ status as a police informer on the day of his murder.

In both cases, the Herald Sun has relied on a fig-leaf of sorts. On 19 April last year, it didn’t actually state, but merely inescapably implied, that Carl Williams was a police informer. Today, its [story on] Ms Gobbo is pregnant with omission. The last event chronologically detailed is the fire-bombing of Ms Gobbo’s car in 2008 (16 April); after which it oh-so smarmily wraps up her life in the last three-and-a-half-years with this: “In recent years Ms Gobbo has left the bar, suffering from ill-health”.

Those points make “nasty personal vendetta by someone at the Herald Sun” seem like the best-case scenario.

UPDATE #3: Gobbo was the barrister who, after Victoria Police did a terrible job of looking after her in witness protection, sued them. Bad blood from some in the police leading to these nasty smears being given to a friendly reporter? But why publish them now?

Since the Herald Sun obviously won’t investigate this questionable use of police records, perhaps it’s something its rival at Spencer St might consider?

UPDATE 20/11: A week later, and Campbell now alleges the barrister was found guilty of possessing and using a drug of dependence (eg cannabis), whilst throwing in a whole lot of details about what other people in her share house were up to. The article is headlined “drugs guilty plea” which makes it sound, when read in conjunction with the earlier piece, that she pleaded guilty to a trafficking charge – although of course that is not what the story specifically alleges, if you read it carefully.

UPDATE 21/11: And a day after that, it is revealed that the barrister has withdrawn from giving evidence after receiving serious death threats. So the smears were… for what?

UPDATE 27/11: And another week later, another smear, this time that she “boozed and partied” with Paul Dale.

Man, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of anyone at the Herald Sun, would you?

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73 thoughts on “Herald Sun scoop: lawyer we apparently don’t like charged but not found guilty of offence in 1993!

  1. thalesian

    It’s not like Scots Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_proven) where there is a third option of Not Proven…

    It’s just a spiteful smear on a slow news day…

  2. Gavin R. Putland

    As the lawyer was not convicted, she has the right not to disclose the fact that she was charged. The Hun has just deprived her of that right: type her name into Google and the first two links are to the Hun’s story.

    The defence that the Hun was duly reporting on current or pending court proceedings might have held water while the matter was still before the courts. But surely it doesn’t hold water after the matter has been resolved in the subject person’s favour.

    And it might have held water in the days when last year’s news was stored in library archives that were not digitally searchable. But surely it doesn’t hold water in the age of Google.

    The lawyer might therefore threaten to set two legal precedents:

    (i) that the privilege against being sued for defamation for reporting court proceedings does not apply to charges of which the plaintiff has been duly cleared;

    (ii) that the same privilege does not relieve the media of a general duty to report current proceedings in such a way that an accused person, if cleared of an allegation, will enjoy the effective right not to disclose that allegation.

    The Hun might make a very generous out-of-court settlement rather than allow those contentions to be tested in court.

    It might be said that if media outlets were found liable for past reporting of criminal charges that were dropped, dismissed or resolved by acquittal, they would be bankrupt. Well, tough. If the existing outlets go bankrupt, new ones will spontaneously rise up in their place. That’s the genius of capitalism.

  3. Jeremy Sear

    “It is therefore entirely relevant to remind those who have glibly declared her ‘innocent’ that she may not, in fact, be innocent”

    No, Mondo. Like you, she is innocent until proven guilty. And since such a thing never happened, it is wrong – in fact, defamatory – to allege that she’s guilty of any offence. And the Herald Sun has suggested just that.

    To pander to that line, to suggest that maybe she is guilty if she was charged, is repugnant. She is as innocent as you are.

    “It is therefore entirely relevant to remind those who have glibly declared her ‘innocent’ that she may not, in fact, be innocent. Charges are dropped every day for multiple reasons but that doesn’t equate to a finding of “innocent” at trial, let alone a factual certainty of innocence.”

    YOU ARE INNOCENT UNTIL AND UNLESS PROVEN GUILTY. Thus she was as innocent as you are. Full stop. You have NO basis for alleging that she was guilty of any crime, and the Herald Sun’s smear suggesting that she was is outright defamatory. Here’s hoping she takes their deep pockets on.

    “Is it possible that Ms Gobbo was found/plead guilty of an offence and that no conviction was recorded by the court?”

    It’s possible that you committed murder and we’re just not aware of it yet.

    Drug trafficking is a serious offence. When she was admitted to practice it would’ve been investigated and she wouldn’t have ended up a barrister.

    “I find that the way the article has been oddly worded in this regard:”

    The reason is that they have nothing. It’s disgusting speculation designed to smear her based on absolute pablum.