Lawyer Marsden: Paul Sheehan’s vitriol

22 May

I would not doubt that the late lawyer John Marsden, who is not even buried yet, was a wild man who often sailed in murky waters, but I was simply appalled by Paul Sheehan’s character assassination of Marsden in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the tone of which you may gather from this short extract which tells you more about Sheehan than it does about his target.

…whenever things got hot for Marsden, he and his supporters in the lavender mafia [sic] would raise the cry of homophobia, a cynical debasement of gay rights…

Of all the lawyers who should shut up about bringing “disgrace to our profession” it was Marsden. Given the sanitising, laudatory comments made in recent days by the Premier, Morris Iemma, the president of the NSW Law Society, June McPhie, and the head of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, portraying Marsden as a civic hero, let the record show that Marsden was a serial liar, a proven perjurer, a flagrant illegal drug-user and drug provider, a professional who had sex with his own clients, a wealthy man who boasted about sodomising young men he picked up on the streets, a standover man who was vexatious and constantly at war, a bully who used the law as a weapon…

I have in the past, on the strength of his tendentious Among the Barbarians, called Sheehan the “thinking person’s Pauline Hanson.” I now apologise to Pauline, and suggest Sheehan is not even the “thinking person’s” Paul Sheehan.

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.

Paul, have another glass of magic water. And take several deep breaths… (See also Paul Sheehan and the magic water debacle on Nick Possum’s site.)

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12 responses to “Lawyer Marsden: Paul Sheehan’s vitriol

  1. GayErasmus

    May 22, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    The term “lavender mafia” is enough to set my hairs stand on end…

    How sad and strange to think that a journalist should conduct this ‘assassination’ after the person in question has already died. If it weren’t disrespectful to the deceased, I’d call this ‘flogging a dead horse’.

  2. Owner: Planet Irf and others...

    May 22, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    See Vale John Marsden, lawyer & libertarian by Irfan Yusuf, Sydney-based lawyer, occasional lecturer in politics at Macquarie University, freelance columnist. Read Sydney City Councillor Shane Mallard’s comment there as well.

  3. marcelproust

    May 22, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Sheehan goes too far, of course: “lavender mafia” and “sodomizing” are dead give-aways, aren’t they? But sensationalism or not, he does lead off with his strongest point when it comes to Marsden’s peculiar ongoing relationship with the Cobby gang and the findings of Justice Levine in relation to them.

    I don’t worry about the drug taking and the other rule breaking, except to point out that it wasn’t simply that Marsden was “outrageous:” wealth and power were the enablers. These are, in my opinion, rarely obtained prettily, and Marsden was no exception. There isn’t really all that much factual inconsistency between the Rabbit’s and Sheehan’s accounts.

    I’ve never believed Marsden was a pedophile, at least in the true sense of the word, but the case is probably made out that he was terrible boaster and intermittent bully and/or dealer in influence (as the Rabbit fictionalises), the Geoffrey Edelsten of law (don’t think he didn’t make money out of legal aid – he worked on volume and a high ratio of paralegal or just-admitted and therefore cheap staff) who certainly never took his eye too far off the bottom line (witness those notorious early Monday morning meetings referred to by the Rabbit, where everyone basically had to fess up to how much money they had or hadn’t made for Marsden in the past week: let’s not beat around the bush, that was Marsden’s tyranny) who late in life managed to wrap his name in the flag of the gay cause. God knows he paid a price for that in the 7 defamation case.

    Even his friends (“larger than life”) admit he was problematic. I don’t place much store by the public statements by fellow push-to-the-front-of-the-class public figures, and as a former solicitor, I have to say there are few people I have a lower opinion of than presidents of the law society, either Marsden, in his time, or the present one (ex officio) (though it isn’t my business any more).

    It will be interesting to see if Kirby actually does give a eulogy. Frankly, if I were Kirby, I would run a mile from it, but it would be typical of Marsden to in effect paint Kirby into a corner by leaking the speaking list without having actually signed Kirby up. Kirby does like speaking, and now that Sheehan has thrown the gauntlet down on gay political lines, he won’t want to look as though he is backing down.

  4. Owner

    May 22, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    What thoughtful comments 🙂 Thanks.

  5. Go to Club Troppo

    May 23, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    For a view not unlike Marcel’s, go to Speaking ill of the dead on Club Troppo. “…Maybe the ethical balance between truth and privacy has been tipped slightly by the new national defamation laws, which now provide a defence of truth without any additional need to establish a “public benefit” or “public interest” component in the subject matter of the publication. That makes it marginally safer to speak the truth about someone during their lifetime. However, even that overdue liberalisation of archaic defamation laws would not have availed anyone who wanted to speak the truth about a powerful, well-connected lawyer like John Marsden, the high profile founder of one of Sydney’s largest ambulance-chasing law firms, while he was still alive…”

    However, do read the comments there too. I think Ken Parish is wrong on the paedophilia question at least, as does Marcel, and I still find the Sheehan article spiteful and offensive. (Owner)

  6. Il Coniglio

    May 23, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    I think that Justice “I’ll make the law up as I go along” Kirby has known about his engagement to speak at JRM’s funeral for some time: in 2002 he spoke at the Marsdens annual conference; and in that year I saw JRM’s funeral plan and his name on it, though there was no mention of how many minutes he had to eulogise. Our friend Marcel mentions something I didn’t: the amazing amount of legal aid work done by Marsdens. JRM told me that lawyers who were no good ended up working for the legal aid commission. LEGAL AID is a waste! — $10000 a matter to fight for Campbelltown bogans to fight AVO’s and custody hearings.

    Yes: there is no factual inconsistency between my and Sheehan’s accounts. I was an impressionable young boy who was just pleased with myself to get a job with the big man (albeit at the Camden office); and I gave no thought to actually doing legal-type-stuff, hence my utter lack of billables which led to my very quick demise there. I was impressed and a bit worried about his influence. Of course I saw nothing to suggest he was a paedophile; but I reckon, honestly, he was. But I don’t mind. I admire him for going and getting what he wanted. But it’s no less disgusting; and that’s the contradiction.

    As for some of the specifics of the article: 1. 100 men? Um, perhaps not: JRM suggested it was literally closer to 10000. I assume this is 10000 nonunique partners. 2. JRM preferred criminals. They turned him on, Yes, really. That’s what he liked. 3. Utter misogynist. Made my misanthropy look trivial. 2. and 3. explain his treatment of Margaret Cunneen. 4. Slavedriver. Marcel gives the pertinent example, but you should have seen him yell at his blameless secretaries and typists (refer point 3.) 5. Oh yes Bob Carr likes little boys too did I mention that? — JRM said so.

  7. Owner

    May 23, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks for that, Il Coniglio; very interesting indeed. As to your fifth point, I can only say “I didn’t say that!” and hope that covers my arse… Besides, it has to be hearsay, by definition, and JRM may have had a particularly nasty sense of humour for all I know.

    I also knew of “JRM’s funeral plan”, didn’t I, but again I did not mention it because it was again hearsay. But not in your case, I gather, not that one anyway.

    As for the rest, well thanks again, though you do sail close to the wind, as I am sure you know; but I am grateful you have aired your perspective, and it stays as far as I am concerned, unless very persuasive threats suggest otherwise. Most of it is out there already, after all, what with Sheehan and Ken Parish (above) and others. I guess we would have to say the total post plus comments covers the bases from several viewpoints.

    I think you are a bit harsh on the proactive, if you like, judicial practice of people who share Kirby’s view of the role of the High Court, but that really is a whole other argument about which people more learned than either of us disagree.

    And if any of you folks wonder what Il Coniglio might mean, go here.

  8. Owner

    May 23, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    10,000 must be an exaggeration. How many hours were there in his active lifetime? Well, let’s say he was active for 35 years, which (to judge from his autobiography) is probably close, but a bit on the high side. That’s around 306,000 hours. Let’s say sleep, eating and work are subtracted. What does that leave, I wonder? He didn’t sleep much: OK, about 2,000 a year. Eating and drinking? Maybe another 1,500 a year. Working: at least 3,500 a year in his case. So that’s 7,000 a year, or 245,000 over 35 years. So he got through 10,000 partners in around 60,000 hours. And I haven’t allowed for travelling, or sports, or theatre, or meetings…

    He was bloody busy, then, that’s all I can say.

    I differ with Il Coniglio on the social value of legal aid, I must say, as well. I see it as a not very adequate way of redressing an imbalance in our legal system, even if it really is something of a figleaf, in the direction of equality before the law being more than just a pious theory. Sure, like bulk billing in medicine, it may be abused. But that is hardly the point.

  9. marcelproust

    May 24, 2006 at 12:33 am

    Well, let’s allow 40 years. That’s 250 a year. That’s one every day, monday to friday, on average. (Give him the weekends off) It’s possible, but surely an exaggeration for unique encounters. I already said Marsden was a boaster. And as for Marsden’s knowledge about Carr, well: (a) how would Marsden know?; (b) Marsden was a gossip (it’s the flip side of peddling influence); (c) Marsden stood as a candidate for the Liberal party; (d) naturally, someone accused of something likes to spread the accusation around; (e) typical of Marsden to make the sort of gay=pedophile accusation that gave him so much grief – I note that somewhere mentioned that Marsden was keen to dish the dirt in relation to Yeldham J. when that unfortunate rabbit was caught in the glare of the headlights of the Wood Royal Commission.

    Phew! This has proved a lively exchange! (or am I, like Beazley, according to Costello, just providing my own canned laughter?)

  10. Go to Gay Erasmus

    May 24, 2006 at 10:59 am

    On John Marsden is really very good. (Owner)

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