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Posted

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 comments

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

  1. Who’s been digging into Melbourne journalists’ pasts and creating odd articles about them on Wikipedia? | Pure Poison

    […] added to Wikipedia from scratch articles for subjects of Campbell’s recent stories, including his dirt-digging on Nicola Gobbo (Brandon’s WP entry here) and his Age “hacking” story […]

  2. Jeremy Sear

    LOL, no it doesn’t. The comments need to be untrue before they are defamatory. Truth is a complete defence to defamation claims.

    The imputation that she’s done something wrong is not true.

  3. Jeremy Sear

    She is entitled to the presumption of innocence under law – certainly – but that can’t rationally support categorical assertions of innocence such as the following statement (from you):

    Actually, yes it can. It is not correct – and in fact, defamatory – to suggest anything else about her.

    My argument is that you should have said that she is entitled to a presumption of innocence, not that she is definitively innocent).

    Those are, in the real world of what can be publicly stated about a person, the same thing.

    she might, as a matter of fact, not be innocent at all (which is obviously what the Herald Sun is, quite bafflingly, alluding to).

    No, she’s quite definitely as innocent as any one of us: she has not been found guilty of any offence, and she is not going to be found guilty of any offence.

    As it happens I don’t believe that Ms Gobbo has been defamed given that the Sun appears to have simply reported the truth about her:

    As you’ve demonstrated, what they’ve imputed is far worse than simply the technical reporting of her “charging”. The clear defamatory imputation is that she’s done something wrong – otherwise what’s the article about? What’s its newsworthiness?

  4. mondo rock

    Defamation attaches to any published words that are likely to lower the standing of a person in the eyes of reasonable people or of the putatively defamed person’s group of associates, colleagues etc.

    LOL, no it doesn’t. The comments need to be untrue before they are defamatory. Truth is a complete defence to defamation claims.

    Nothing published by the Herald Sun was untrue, ergo it’s not defamation. QED.

  5. Eric Sykes

    oh, and excuse me but:

    “at no point have I condoned the article in question nor do I, in fact, condone the article in question”

    “She might, as a matter of fact, not be innocent at all (which is obviously what the Herald Sun is, quite bafflingly, alluding to).”

    See how he did that then? Nice, says he disagrees, and then agrees with, the article in question. He does that all the time. He’s put “quite baffling” in to try and distract, but of course for him it’s not baffling at all. The article implies she might be guilty of something, and he thinks she might be guilty of something. LOL.

  6. Eric Sykes

    Mondo was clearly raised as a serious god botherer, because by his twisted thinking (one could not really use the term “logic” here and stay sane): everyone is a sinner. There is not much one can do about the “everyone sins” thinking, it is an article of faith. Mondo clearly believes in the presumption of guilt, this (to stretch a bit..lol) “shines a light” on his position/s on just about everything – he trusts nobody, everyone is always, in all circumstances, suspected of committing some unknown miscreant behaviour.

  7. Fran Barlow

    It seems to me Mondo that you have expended an unreasonable amount of energy to make what, given your concession that the article was “not commendable or responsible journalism”, is at most a semantic point. It is clear in context (i.e the juxtaposed “not found guilty” and the lack of any argument put on the evidence in the public domain) that Jeremy was talking about presumptive legal innocence, but you’d have preferred it to have been more explicit.

    I disagree with your view that the article was not defamatory. Defamation attaches to any published words that are likely to lower the standing of a person in the eyes of reasonable people or of the putatively defamed person’s group of associates, colleagues etc. This article clearly had the potential to do that by implying that she was somehow guilty of criminal conduct but had benefited in some unspecified way from some failure of the justice system. That view, if found to be a reasonable inference from the publication, would be actionable and substantial damages might be recoverable.

    One is allowed to defame people if one can show a good faith belief in the prejudicial claims and can show a public interest in the publication. Based on what has been published so far, I doubt that would apply here.

  8. mondo rock

    You presented no evidence on which we should conclude she is anything other than totally innocent, so I’m not sure the point of your objection to what I wrote. The default position is innocent, after all.

    This seems to be the crux of it.

    My position, cerebral though it may be, is that we should not conclude anything at all about her guilt or innocence since we do not have sufficient information in front of us to logically reach such a conclusion. She is entitled to the presumption of innocence under law – certainly – but that can’t rationally support categorical assertions of innocence such as the following statement (from you):

    She was merely charged and apparently not found guilty in the subsequent eighteen years, which means that she was innocent of the offence.

    My argument is that you should have said that she is entitled to a presumption of innocence, not that she is definitively innocent). She might, as a matter of fact, not be innocent at all (which is obviously what the Herald Sun is, quite bafflingly, alluding to).

    As it happens I don’t believe that Ms Gobbo has been defamed given that the Sun appears to have simply reported the truth about her: but that’s not to say I approve of the article. It may not reach the legal bar of defamation but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s responsible or commendable journalism.

  9. Jeremy Sear

    No Jeremy, at no point have I condoned the article in question nor do I, in fact, condone the article in question.

    Glad to hear it. It is, after all, an indefensible smear, and here’s hoping Ms Gobbo is prepared to spend the money to pursue the defamation of her.

    I’ve already stated this multiple times in this thread and it is somewhat frustrating that I have to keep repeating myself.

    You might want to consider how so many people could keep coming to the opposite conclusion.

    My comments above relate solely to your assertion of Ms Gobbo’s ‘innocence’ and your apparent reluctance to accept that there is a difference between innocence under law and innocence as a fact.

    I asserted her innocence as a matter of law, in the context of somebody implying, in print, that she was somehow guilty of an offence.

    You presented no evidence on which we should conclude she is anything other than totally innocent, so I’m not sure the point of your objection to what I wrote. The default position is innocent, after all.

    Perhaps my argument would be clearer if I used ‘guilt’ instead of innocence, as I’m confident you would agree that a guilty verdict does not mean that the person is necessarily guilty. I’m sure you accept that someone can be found ‘guilty’ by the courts despite not, in reality, being guilty of the crime – you must accept this since history is littered with examples of wrongful findings of guilt.

    They are, so far as any public discussion in the media is concerned – which is the only thing this blog is about – guilty if the court finds them so, until and unless that finding of guilt is overturned.

    The mere fact that no court has ever ruled me ‘guilty’ of vandalism does entitle me to the presumption of innocence, but it does not support a conclusion that I have never actually committed vandalsim.

    It contradicts and renders defamatory any assertion that you have.

    I have presented you with hypothetical scenarios (such as my ‘vandalsim’ scenario above) in which someone who actually commits a crime is nonetheless no, but at no point have I alleged anyone actually committed a crime.

    Let’s be clear, the only place where this is an issue is when people are discussing it and somebody makes the allegation. We’re not debating whether somebody might have a guilty conscience or God might judge on the basis of omniscience – we are solely discussing what can be said about someone.

    And you cannot say someone is anything other than innocent of a specific crime until and unless they are found guilty of it. The act of saying so, quite rightly, is defamatory. It flies in the face of having a formal, evidence-based system to determine guilt.

    So now you’re just ignoring my statements above, where I clearly state support for the concept of “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, and asserting that I actually believe the opposite? WTF Jeremy?

    You keep suggesting that there’s some kind of hypothetical area in which asserting someone’s possible guilt despite a contrary finding by a court is somehow acceptable. What is this hypothetical area?

    In fact I challenge you to find a single comment of mine on this thread that refers to this article in a positive light.

    Wherever you’ve objected to the point – made solely in relation to the imputation by the Herald Sun’s article to the contrary – that Ms Gobbo is innocent of any crime. You’ve suggested that this might not be the case, implying that maybe it’s okay and not utterly false and outrageous, for the Herald Sun to imply that a charge means some kind of wrongdoing on her part.

  10. mondo rock

    No Jeremy, at no point have I condoned the article in question nor do I, in fact, condone the article in question. I’ve already stated this multiple times in this thread and it is somewhat frustrating that I have to keep repeating myself.

    My comments above relate solely to your assertion of Ms Gobbo’s ‘innocence’ and your apparent reluctance to accept that there is a difference between innocence under law and innocence as a fact.

    Perhaps my argument would be clearer if I used ‘guilt’ instead of innocence, as I’m confident you would agree that a guilty verdict does not mean that the person is necessarily guilty. I’m sure you accept that someone can be found ‘guilty’ by the courts despite not, in reality, being guilty of the crime – you must accept this since history is littered with examples of wrongful findings of guilt.

    And that’s the entirety of my argument. All I am saying is that the same logic applied to findings of guilt also applies to findings of innocence. The mere fact that no court has ever ruled me ‘guilty’ of vandalism does entitle me to the presumption of innocence, but it does not support a conclusion that I have never actually committed vandalsim.

    If they were acquitted by a court, or the police dropped the charges, then on what basis can you allege publicly that “they have actually committed it”?

    I’m not, nor have I ever, made such an allegation against Ms Gobbo. I have presented you with hypothetical scenarios (such as my ‘vandalsim’ scenario above) in which someone who actually commits a crime is nonetheless no, but at no point have I alleged anyone actually committed a crime.

    In this terrifying world of presumed guilt of yours, how are these people to prove their innocence?

    So now you’re just ignoring my statements above, where I clearly state support for the concept of “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, and asserting that I actually believe the opposite? WTF Jeremy?

    Are you seriously saying you think it is not defamatory and wrong for News Ltd to imply that Ms Gobbo is guilty of an offence simply because she was once charged with one?

    No – that’s not what I am saying. In fact I challenge you to find a single comment of mine on this thread that refers to this article in a positive light. You need to let go of this strawman you’ve created because I’m just not arguing what you seem to think I’m arguing.

  11. returnedman

    I can see [we’re] not going to get any further in this discussion so I’m happy to leave it there if you are.

    Sounds like someone not acknowledging defeat but feeling it anyway.

  12. Jeremy Sear

    That’s not my argument SHV. It’s not even close.

    Actually, in context, it is. Because what you were objecting to was my use of the word “innocent”, which was given in the context of legally and as to what you can actually publish about someone without being defamatory.

    This post is a criticism of a newspaper report, and its insupportable imputation that someone is guilty of an offence simply because they were charged with it, in spite of apparently never being found guilty of it.

    So jeremy in the end it really does come down to a fundamental difference in our understanding of the concepts of ‘guilt’ and ‘innocence’.

    So you understand the difference between a “finding of guilt” and a punishment “with conviction”, now?

    You believe that in the absence of a court-sanctioned judgement a person quite literally cannot be guilty of a crime, even if they have actually committed it.

    If they’re not found guilty, then who are you to allege that they have committed it? On what basis do you make that claim?

    We’re talking about what you can publish about them without defaming them. If they were acquitted by a court, or the police dropped the charges, then on what basis can you allege publicly that “they have actually committed it”?

    On the other hand my understanding is that our law merely presumes innocence until found guilty, but that this presumption cannot be equated to an actual guarantee of innocence. I distinguish ‘presumed innocent under law’ from ‘actually innocent of the crime’.

    So you think there’s some third category of people we can smear in print as being probably guilty and treat as if they were guilty and the law was just too dumb to see what we can see without relying on evidence. In this terrifying world of presumed guilt of yours, how are these people to prove their innocence?

    Let’s be clear, because you tend to play devil’s advocate a bit these days. Are you seriously saying you think it is not defamatory and wrong for News Ltd to imply that Ms Gobbo is guilty of an offence simply because she was once charged with one?

  13. mondo rock

    Wow – I actually used the word “where” instead of “we’re” – epic spelling/grammar fail for me.

  14. mondo rock

    your argument is that the piece should not be criticised for implying something, because that thing might be true even though it isn’t ‘true’ in the classical sense.

    That’s not my argument SHV. It’s not even close.

    Comprehension fail.

  15. mondo rock

    So jeremy in the end it really does come down to a fundamental difference in our understanding of the concepts of ‘guilt’ and ‘innocence’.

    You believe that in the absence of a court-sanctioned judgement a person quite literally cannot be guilty of a crime, even if they have actually committed it. The lack of a guilty verdict against them is absolute proof of their innocence.

    On the other hand my understanding is that our law merely presumes innocence until found guilty, but that this presumption cannot be equated to an actual guarantee of innocence. I distinguish ‘presumed innocent under law’ from ‘actually innocent of the crime’.

    I can see where not going to get any further in this discussion so I’m happy to leave it there if you are.

  16. Gavin R. Putland

    As Paul Watson says, the lady may well have more urgent priorities than to sue the Hun. But I should clarify one point: My reference to “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” (above) was meant to suggest that a breach of that duty could be actionable as something other than defamation — e.g. negligence or contempt. Although I didn’t say so above, the same argument would apply a fortiori to reporting of past proceedings that have ended in acquittal, or dismissal or withdrawal of charges.

  17. SHV

    I understand that you fiercely defend News Ltd’s right to publish utter rubbish.

    Recognising that this thread is all about whether criticism of the piece in question is warranted or not (we’re not debating anyone’s RIGHT to publish it), and assuming you accept that the article at least suggests there is something she

    [may or may not have been involved in…]

    your argument is that the piece should not be criticised for implying something, because that thing might be true even though it isn’t ‘true’ in the classical sense.

    I can understand your vehement aversion to any sort of new restriction whatsoever on News Ltd. Good for you. But I can’t comprehend why that requires that you perform logical contortions on their behalf.

    If you stuck with “They write baseless crap and I defend their right to do so”, that would be a tenable position.

  18. Jeremy Sear

    First – I understand what a ‘conviction is’, and I understand that Ms Gobbo hasn’t been convicted. I also understand that, under law, she is therefore presumed innocent. You don’t need to keep repeating this as I accept it as fact.

    No, you clearly don’t understand at all.

    Ms Gobbo IS INNOCENT under the law and in every form of conversation that’s not defamatory BECAUSE SHE WAS NEVER FOUND GUILTY OF THE OFFENCE IN QUESTION. The question of whether her penalty was “with or without conviction” is irrelevant because she was never found guilty in the first place.

    Let me repeat: it’s not that she wasn’t convicted (although she wasn’t), it’s that she wasn’t found guilty. That is, in every meaningful and non-defamatory way, the same as innocence. We are all innocent unless a court finds us guilty.

    If someone’s matter hasn’t been heard yet, then you can say they’re still accused of a crime – but in this case, that’s not true either, because she is no longer accused of anything.

    And remember the police charge innocent people with offences all the time. Being charged with an offence means nothing.

    other than to inform the public that Ms Gobbo may or may not have been involved in the drug trade when she was at uni.

    That imputation is HIGHLY defamatory being, as it is, based on NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER and contrary to the fact that she was never found guilty of any such thing.

    (Hopefully my repeated explanation of WHY it is false and defamatory and WHY people should not take any such conclusion from Campbell’s article is enough to avoid a defamation suit for us publishing your comment.)

    Mr Campbell might as well publish an equally vacuous piece alleging that you or I “may or may not have been involved in the drug trade when [we] were at uni”. It’s not true, but it’s just as much based on fact.

    Again, you are assuming far too much from the claim that she was “charged”. Being “charged” means absolutely SFA. The police charge innocent people all the time.

    but my argument is that mere lack of conviction cannot support a conclusion that someone is innocent of an offence. That’s what I disagree with you on.

    Sure. People are found guilty but their penalty is marked “without conviction”. In contrast, lack of a finding of GUILT DOES support a conclusion that someone is innocent of an offence.

    And I’ve given the following example: lets say I have previously cultivated, posessed and distributed drugs. There are laws against these acts and I have contravened them, although I have never been convicted under those laws.

    Am I not guilty of an offence, despite my lack of a conviction?

    By “convicted” do you mean “found guilty”? And do you mean that the police have never bothered charging you? You’re not guilty of an offence UNTIL AND UNLESS YOU ARE FOUND GUILTY BY A COURT. You are innocent until proven guilty.

    In the case of Ms Gobbo, where she was apparently charged and the process begun, and then the outcome was no finding of guilt, we can be even more confident that she was innocent of the charge.

  19. B.Tolputt

    B.Tolputt – you’re still not applying the term “concern troll’ correctly, but I’m an advocate for free speech so I won’t presume to try to stop your erroneous accusations any further.

    You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take your word on the matter. With it being applied to you (by multiple people) and all, an assumption of your bias on the matter isn’t completely out of hand.

  20. mondo rock

    It’s almost like we’re having two completely separate discussions Jeremy, so I’ll try to bring us both back to the same page.

    First – I understand what a ‘conviction is’, and I understand that Ms Gobbo hasn’t been convicted. I also understand that, under law, she is therefore presumed innocent. You don’t need to keep repeating this as I accept it as fact.

    Second – I also understand that the article in question is extremely suspect, given that it is raking over 20 year-old allegations with no apparent purpose other than to inform the public that Ms Gobbo may or may not have been involved in the drug trade when she was at uni. Again – I accept this as valid comment and there is no need to revisit it.

    I do not dispute either of the above, what I have disputed is your assertion that Ms Gobbo is innocent of the offence. Now feel free to simply tell me to rack-off, that this is a pedantic irrelevancy or a topic of zero interest to you – but my argument is that mere lack of conviction cannot support a conclusion that someone is innocent of an offence. That’s what I disagree with you on.

    And I’ve given the following example: lets say I have previously cultivated, posessed and distributed drugs. There are laws against these acts and I have contravened them, although I have never been convicted under those laws.

    Am I not guilty of an offence, despite my lack of a conviction? How can you insist that I am innocent when I am, in fact, guilty?

  21. cricketninja

    [quote]Those were juvenile offences, in NSW.[/quote]

    They weren’t juvenile offences.

    [quote]and yet you’re acting as if she’s guilty until proven innocent.[/quote]

    [quote]people like you conclude that maybe she did do something wrong. Based on NOTHING.[/quote]

    I’ve made no conclusions about Ms Grobbo’s guilt or innocence, and agree that she is innocent until proven guilty.

    I’ve merely pointed out that there are circumstances that exist whereby a person can be guilty of an offence without any conviction being recorded. I raised this issue because I found the wording of the article to be strange. That is the reporter’s fault, not Ms Grobbo’s.

    The discussion developed into a more general discussion about guilt and innocence rather than Ms Grobbo’s specific history.

  22. Jeremy Sear

    ‘Really?

    This source (granted it is NSW) indicates that there were 2 dealing/trafficking offences heard by the Local Court in 2002 where no conviction was recorded (and one import/export offence).”

    Those were juvenile offences, in NSW. The report claims that Gobbo was charged when she’d have been 20 or more, in Victoria. Again, it’s very unlikely she’d have escaped a conviction if she’d been found guilty – not that it’s relevant to this discussion, because conviction or no conviction if she’d been found guilty it would have been recorded regardless.

    Just in case you missed it:

    There was no finding of guilt. If there had been, it would have been recorded, regardless of whether or not it was marked as a conviction or without conviction.

    And Campbell certainly hasn’t produced any such record. And nor was there any problem with her admission to practice, which there certainly would have been had there been a drug trafficking prior.

    NO evidence to the contrary has been produced, by you or by Campbell – and yet you’re acting as if she’s guilty until proven innocent.

    Being charged with a crime means NOTHING. You do NOT have to have committed it. The smear’s power is from people like you who behave as if a charge suddenly reverses the onus! As if she’s guilty until proven innocent.

    You are demonstrating precisely why Campbell’s article is so dangerous. The imputation that she’s done something wrong is unsupported by the evidence, but it is destructive nonetheless because people like you conclude that maybe she did do something wrong. Based on NOTHING.

    In short: if there was no finding of guilt, which no-one, not even Campbell, has expressly alleged there was, then she is INNOCENT. That’s what innocent means.

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