Monday, May 22, 2006

Journalistic Bravery

I'll qualify that I didn't know heaps about John Marsden prior to his recent demise. Obviously, I knew he was a human rights lawyer, a bum-troubler and was involved in an on-going defamation case against Channel 7. And that he was a target of Franca Arena and other anti-paedophile obsessives. But like Rene Rivkin, I think Marsden was one of those Sydney personalities that natural-born Sydney-siders assume is well-known across the country just because he's well-known in this city. But Adelaide had its own high-profile celebs to focus on, dammit! Like, umm...Nuala. And her mum, Dorinda. Yeah.

Annnyway, it seems pretty off to me that only a few seconds after the bloke's carked it, a couple of righty charmers salivating at the bit are swooping like vultures to shred his carcass to pieces.

From all accounts the guy sounds like the consummate operator, making all the right contacts and being friendly with the right people at the right times.

But why should his sex life be of such great importance to these commentators? If he was into underage boys and committing paedophilia - and please note I am neither suggesting nor denying he was, merely pointing out I don't know - then fair enough, he was breaking the law and deserved to be exposed and punished. But Chris Merritt claims that "trawling for rough trade in the back streets of Sydney (was the)...sort of trashy behaviour killed his credibility as a tribune for the higher role of lawyers and tarnished his message".

Why? Consensual adult sex with anonymous strangers is only illegal if it's in public places, and then it's a breach of acceptable behaviour in public places that's the issue of law, not what he's doing. (Perhaps Merritt wishes that homosexuality were re-criminalised.) So why was Marsden therefore a "duplicitous fraud"? He never denied his homosexuality, indeed never denied his proclivity for acts beyond the realm of vanilla. One's boat might not be floated by the sorts of waves that floated Marsden's, but that hardly makes him duplicitous, and it certainly wouldn't make him any less an efficient practitioner of law.

Paul Sheehan, meanwhile, implies that Marsden is as evil as the men who raped and murdered Anita Cobby because of his "friendship" with the Murphy boys. That's surely got to be the sort of stretch that would land Sheehan in court for libel were Marsden still alive.

And that's what annoys me the most: This trash is only being written now because the journos know they can't be taken to court anymore.

Can the lawyers out there in the studio audience inform me as to whether or not reputation can carry on through a deceased person's estate? That is, if Marsden happen to have been survived by a partner or other legal next of kin, would they be able to bring a lawsuit against Merritt or Sheehan? If not, I think that's an area of law definitely worthy of reconsideration. I know I would want to seek redress if shit like this were written and published about my partner/parent/friend/whatever, less than a week after they died.

Sheehan also has a go at Marsden over his original defence of Ivan Milat, "using the legal system's medieval treatment of rape victims to leave Milat free to resume his favoured pastime. At least seven people would die before Milat was finally caught." That is, according to Sheehan, Marsden was personally responsible for the murder of these seven people.

So what's Sheehan's alternative? Send all men accused of rape to him first before they appear before the court so he personally can determine their guilt and look into his crystal ball to see what they'll get up to should they not be convicted? Of course, Sheehan does not report Marsden's own admission of remorse about this time in his life, but the fact remains he was doing his job as a defence lawyer and zealously representing the interests of his client. Is this representation supposed to be qualified by the acts they may commit in the future - acts nobody outside of the movie Minority Report are capable of knowing anyway?

If Sheehan can't be sued by a dead man, perhaps he can be sued by a living one. His final line in this article is the most insidious: "And when his memorial service is conducted this week, he has requested that one of the eulogies be delivered by his friend and confidant, Justice Michael Kirby of the High Court of Australia."

That is, Kirby was one of Marsden's "partners in crime", right? Well, naturally. We all know every gay man is by definition also a paedophile, don't we? Particularly those egregious fags who have the nerve to be open about and proud of their sexuality. Someone's gotta be brave enough to take them out. Waiting until they're dead just makes this important job that much easier.


At 22/5/06 1:58 pm, Blogger M-H said...

Well said Sam. I was frothing myself when I read Sheehan 20 mins ago. Such cowards.

At 22/5/06 2:01 pm, Anonymous swatschy said...

It's a tough one Sam. I knew him, he could be very charming and hideously charmless.

There's also the fact that he got Ivan Milat off on that early rape charge by alerting the jury to the fact that the victims were lesbians - he knew because he'd seen them at a gay bar. So he not only outed the women, he got a man off a very serious, very violent charge - a man who, as we all know, went on to do much worse.

He said he believed at the time that Milat was guilty of the rapes (which took place in a forest, incidentally). But it was his job to get him off, and he didn't regret using the women's sexuality to convince the jury that, as lesbians, they had probably initiated the encounter.

At 22/5/06 3:02 pm, Blogger Ron said...

That was the worst personal attack on a person I can ever remember reading in the SMH. I've never been much of a fan of Sheehan but with this he has certainly earned his place in the journalistic sewers.

And the sleazy inference on Kirby is beyond belief.

At 22/5/06 3:03 pm, Blogger Sam said...

That's nasty, swatschy. Genuinely didn't know that. Certainly puts him in a new light.

At 22/5/06 3:07 pm, Blogger Ron said...


As a defence lawyer, he has a sworn duty to his best for his client(s).

At 22/5/06 3:08 pm, Anonymous swatschy said...

That incident was included in his autobiography, and he also discussed it in a 2004 interview with the Sydney Star Observer.

Anyway, while he was a bit of a creep, I certainly don't think he deserved the pasting he got in Sheehan's.

At 22/5/06 3:10 pm, Anonymous swatschy said...


It's obvious that he did it out of his legal commitment to his client. But how do you explain him boasting about it thirty years down the track?

Sorry, forgot the word "piece" at the end of my last comment.

At 22/5/06 3:33 pm, Blogger Ron said...

Yes, swatschy, I have to agree with you wholeheartedly on the boasting.

At 22/5/06 4:22 pm, Anonymous ninglun (Neil) said...

When I had dealings with him I possibly only saw the charming side, but I knew he was, well, a "rough diamond". But he was also quite brilliant at what he did, and if ever I had really needed a lawyer, he would have been my first choice -- if I could have afforded him!

My reaction to Sheehan today: "Today’s article is simply one of the most vile I have ever read, even from Sheehan, and I am not suggesting Marsden was a candidate for sainthood by any means." See Lawyer Marsden: Paul Sheehan’s vitriol on my site.

At 22/5/06 4:30 pm, Blogger Gay Erasmus said...

So glad you jumped on this, Sam.

No one says Marsden is a saint. So far, the LGBTI community's response to his death has been distantly respectful rather than hearfelt and elegiac. I think that this attitude is about right.

Sheehan's article was a rant, pure and simple. Which might've been ok, had he actually bothered to include some substantial allegations in his piece. But as you point out, his article is all the more outrageous for what it airily implies than for what it actually says (though wasn't the "lavender mafia" line a shocker?).

Christopher Hitchens likes to do something similar, writing scathing obits only days after famous figures have died. No allegations, just scornful judgements of character that to which the dead can't reply. It's the journalistic equivalent to cremating the corpse.

At 23/5/06 8:32 pm, Blogger Mal said...

Yes, I thought the Sheehan article was pathetic. I am sure Marsden was no saint, but he does have a duty to defend his client. This is the same position that defence lawyers find themselves in every day. I am sure he had a big ego. But that is not an offence. So distantly respectful and sad that the world has lost a good man if not a great man.

At 24/5/06 2:54 pm, Blogger Sam said...

The insinuations in that article bothered me too, regardless of whether or not Marsden was a decent chap; well said, Sam.

At 25/5/06 4:03 pm, Blogger mscynic said...

"Can the lawyers out there in the studio audience inform me as to whether or not reputation can carry on through a deceased person's estate?"

I am not a lawyer and not even particularly talented in my Media Law course but this is how I understand it, after being rapped over the knuckles for something similar last week.

Under the new defamation laws, reputation cannot carry on after death, unless the defamation affects the business of a business partner of the deceased.

So, in this case, yes. Business partners of Marsden could sue for defamation but they would need to prove that their business was suffering as a direct result of the defamation.

At 26/5/06 8:48 am, Blogger Sam said...

Interestink. Thanks BF.

At 26/5/06 3:25 pm, Blogger mscynic said...

Interestink, indeed.

In typical One Horse Small Town stylee, I was doing b/fast news at my pissy little community station and I happened to mention that The Advertiser had reported that the death of a man in a rather big story that happened here recently may have been suicide because he was in financial trouble.

I thought it was OK because I wasn't the one saying it- I simply said that that was what The Advertiser were reporting.

Apparently this is wrong.

So anyway, the dead guy has a remaining relative who was in business with him and he is suing the media (but not us, we're small-fry) for their speculation / implication / defamation claiming it is affecting his business.

And their lawyer is my Media Law lecturer / tutor.

This town never ceases to amaze me.

At 26/5/06 3:30 pm, Blogger Sam said...

god love it. Half a degree of separation, max.

At 28/5/06 11:17 am, Blogger Snarky Platypus said...

Nice to see Sheehan sinking ever deeper into his pile of self-generated crap. What a cowardly piece.

I am annoyed by the lionisation of dubious public figures when they die though. John Marsden wasn't a great man or even a good man; he had a brilliant mind and was also quite amoral (I guess I should add the superfluous IMHO here)

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