Colourful lawyers, police and the media

One of the 77 legal Tweeters we’re following for CDU Law Online is flamboyant Sydney criminal lawyer Chris Murphy. Without knowing much about him I’ve tended to view Murphy as something of a loud-mouthed self-promoter, but I may have been doing the man an injustice.

During the 80s and 90s I did quite a few high profile cases myself and some Darwin lawyers no doubt had a similar opinion about me.  The reality is that there are legitimate uses for media publicity in high profile cases, especially where an arm of government is the opposing party.  A combination of public pressure and embarrassment can assist in forcing a settlement on favourable terms for your client.  It’s part of one’s duty to a client as long as ethical bounds aren’t exceeded and you’re acting in your client’s interests and on his instructions not out of self-interest.

Then again, according to this profile Murphy is said to be a close mate of arch-conservative radio shock Alan “The Parrot” Jones, a peculiar friendship given that Muslim-Australians, whom Murphy often defends, are a frequent target of Jones’ vitriolic diatribes.  Moreover Murphy’s seeming vendetta against Senior Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen in the wake of the Skaf brothers serial gang rape cases also does him little credit.

Nevertheless, Murphy’s current campaign against apparent police harassment of Muslim-Australian lawyer Adam Houda certainly has him on the side of the angels in my book. Houda frequently acts for high profile Muslim-Australian defendants as well, and one can’t help suspecting that this may not be entirely unrelated to the unusual attention he gets from Police.

Houda has been arrested by NSW Police no less than 6 times over the last few years, all arguably without reasonable cause: once while sitting outside a cafe with rugby league legend Hazem el Masri; once while waiting to go into court as a lawyer; twice while walking home from church; and once while walking for exercise with friends in Yagoona.

These previous arrests have resulted in the NSW government being forced to pay out financial settlements to Houda totalling at least $150,000, with the most recent settlement being for an undisclosed but no doubt substantial sum.

Houda’s sixth arrest occurred in September last year.  The circumstances are described by Murphy (who bailed him out in the middle of the night) in a complaint to the NSW Ombudsman:

I act for Adam Houda who was arrested at Yagoona last Thursday night. He was handcuffed and placed in a police van and taken to Bankstown Police Station. I attended the Station and after a delay Mr Houda was released without charge. A senior officer named Davis said that the police would consider the facts and proceed by summons if the matter went further. I indicated that I wished to complain about the police behaviour. Officer Davis said ‘You will have to do it in writing’. I said ‘Do you have an email address and he wrote something down that looks like an email address.

An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday relating to the arrest and a number of other unlawful arrests of Mr Houda.

On Saturday I was interviewed by Adam Walters of Channel 7 News who said he had seen the newspaper article and had been referred to me by Adam Houda. The arrest of Mr Houda was the lead story that night on the 6pm Channel 7 news in an item about the arrest.

On Saturday evening I spoke to Adam Houda who told me that Adam Walters informed him that when he interviewed Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli that officer said a number of things which I believe amount to corrupt conduct.

These things included:

1. Indicating to Adam Walters in the presence of a cameraman and sound operative that if Walters favoured police in his reporting he would be rewarded with future scoops and he was told of a major police operation next Thursday.

2. Despite refusals by police to advise Adam Houda of why he was being spoken to by police Walters said that Menilli showed him police intelligence reports of crime in surrounding suburbs involving robbery. Interestingly none of the robberies were in Yagoona and three of them involved young people. Mr Walters said the intelligence information he was shown indicated robberies in Chester Hill and Regents Park.

tH The journalist was given information not available to Mr Houda and indeed police refused to supply Mr Houda with any information about alleged robberies when the police accosted him or since.

I believe that Mr Walters was professionally insulted. He said that he regarded the offer as an attempted bribe and indicated to the Assistant Commissioner he was insulted and would not be party to it. He indicated to me this morning that he filed a report with Channel 7 management complaining about the conduct of the Assistant Commissioner..

I have no association with Mr Walters beyond knowing his face from news matters. I have never referred a story to him or been involved in issues with him.

I am also concerned that police at 9pm on Sunday night chose to go to Adam Houda’s home with a summons. These were the same two officers who arrested and handcuffed Adam Houda on the street on Thursday last and who have been accused of violence against him without cause. The experience was terrifying to the Houda family and to Mr Houda who suffers a serious heart problem that surgery has failed to fix despite a number of operations.

The poice are ganging up on Mr Houda right to the highest levels. As early as Saturday without talking to Mr Houda and before a summons or charge were laid they were claiming no wrongdoing.

As indicated in the media Mr Houda has previously been arrested on 4 occasions unlawfully and been the subject of apologies and damages.

On a personal level the Ombudsman has found that I have been the subject of unlawful accessing of my personal files by police.

It is time for the Ombudsman to show some strength for indeed, as Grover Cleveland said “If you are not part of the answer you are part of the problem.

I am deeply concerned for Adam’s health. I am told by a heart specialist that his condition makes him a high sudden fatality risk.

In order to bring this matter to public attention I intend to send a copy of this complaint to a media outlet.

Christopher Murphy

Apparently the Ombudsman referred the matter to the Police Integrity Commission which declined to Investigate it and referred it back to Police Internal Affairs.

Houda was charged with failing to comply with a police request to be searched and resisting an officer in the execution of his duty. and the matter was dealt with before the Burwood Local Court last week.  On Friday magistrate Michael Connell dismissed the charges and (according to Murphy) trenchantly criticised the NSW Police.

In his Friday tweets Murphy predicted that the mainstream media would not cover the matter because they feared losing privileged access to leaked police stories and information (shades of the dubious relationships between UK Police and media that ultimately led to the ongoing Murdoch Hackgate scandal).  I must say I thought Murphy was engaging in a bit of colourful hyperbole; after all Houda’s previous brushes with police received at least some publicity.  However a Google News search just now (Sunday 7:00pm Sydney time) suggests that no story about the case has yet appeared.  Surely this matter is newsworthy on any reasonable assessment.  Maybe Murphy is right. …

Meanwhile Murphy has apparently met with another flamboyant Sydney lawyer in Charles Waterstreet (said to be the inspiration for the ABC TV series Rake) and they’re talking in terms of a multi-million dollar settlement or damages award this time.  I would be distinctly unimpressed if I was a NSW taxpayer.

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