Failure to seem unprejudiced
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Justinian in Court in the Act, District Court NSW, High Court, Joe Antoun, Terry Christie

Joe Antoun and corruption in the construction industry ... Recalling stand-over man's experience with NSW District Court judge ... Dead crim remembered 

Joseph Antoun, survived a round with Terry ChristieJoe Antoun didn't survive a gandland shooting in the doorway of his Strathfield home, but he did survive, with a bit of help from the High Court, at least one round with NSW Dizzo judge Terry Christie, as he then was. 

Antoun was shot dead last December and a couple of Brothers-For-Life have been charged with his assassination. 

Joe had a colourful history. He worked in the construction and debt collecting industries and had a lengthy criminal history - the usual stuff: armed robbery, theft and extortion. 

He was a close associate of George Alex, who The Sydney Morning Herald seems to think runs a dodgy scaffolding and labour hire company. 

See stories here, here and here  

The newspaper's revelations about Mr Alex and others in the construction caper inspired the Abbott government to get Dyson Heydon out of mothballs and give him his very own Royal Commission with vast powers and resources to do a job on the unions. 

Indeed, at the time someone pumped five bullets into Antoun, at home with his pyjama-clad family, he was involved in a heavy feud in the construction industry. 

See more here 

His brother Nemer said Joe was a, "gentle family man ... he helped more than he hurt". 

In 2001 Joe and his other brother, Antoine, were charged with demanding money with menaces from a Darling Harbour nightclub owner, Michael Savvas. 

Allegedly, they had been trying to shake Savvas down for money in return for "protection". 

To reinforce the message young goons were sent around and destroyed furniture at the club. 

Ultimately, Savvas was wired by the coppers and a lot of incriminating treats and demands for money were caught on tape. 

At the trial the Antouns claimed they had an honest belief they were entitled to the money, but Christie DCJ said they were running a protection racket. 

Defence counsel flagged that the accused would apply for a ruling that they had no case to answer. Christie declared, before he'd heard the submission, that the application would be refused.

He was asked to disqualify himself. 

He refused and rejected the no case application and said he would revoke bail. He knocked back a couple more disqualification applications and went on to convict the two accused - Joe got six years with four-and-a-half on the bottom; Antoine got three-and-a-half with two-and-a-half. 

The judge's approach was seen as an impermissible indication of prejudgment. 

For example: 

Clive Steirn (for Joe Antoun): Well your Honour there will be an application tomorrow for no case to answer.

His Honour: I see, well that application will be refused. So how long then will the defence case take?

Steirn: How can your Honour possibly come to that view without having heard one word from either me or Mr Wilkinson?

HH: Because I've closed the Crown case, and I have just said it.

Steirn: But you've heard not one word of any submission by either of us upon either the law or the fact.

HH: No, I'm simply telling you the application will be refused. I perceive what's in the Crown case, I perceive there's a case to answer. Whether it be answered or not is entirely for ---

Steirn: Might I ask your Honour to stay your Honour's judicial hand ---

HH: All right ---

Steirn: --- until such time - and please let me finish. Until such time as you've heard submissions by both defence counsel.

HH: Right, now when I've heard those submissions will you be in a position to proceed with the defence case?

Steirn: Does that mean by that comment your Honour that your Honour has already considered the position without a word of submissions by ---

HH: I'll consider any submission you put. I'm obliged to consider any position you put." 

The CCA threw out the bias appeal. 

The High Court grabbed it with glee and gave Christie a birching.  

It held that although the no case to answer submission was without substance, the manner in which Christie handled it gave rise to an appearance of lack of impartiality. 

The prosecution case was strong, but the lovely Antouns were still entitled to a fair hearing. 

It's all about appearances, and Christie forgot all the hard learned judicial tricks of putting on the "without pre-judgment" look. 

See High Court judgment summary 

There was a new trial and Joe was duly convicted of demanding money with menaces. 

Anyway, last year Terry experienced more indignity as a result of not being renewed for a further stint on the Parole Authority. 

Both he and chairman Pike have been replaced by Jim Wood and David Freeman (ex-DCJ). 

Then the poor fellow had a hip replacement making it impossible to attend his last Parole Authority function - free Christmas drinks. 

He also had a frightful time in 2006 and 2007 when he unsuccessfully sued his accountant over advice that it would be to his financial advantage to stop practising as a barrister and take up an offer of judicial appointment.

He also didn't like the way his accountant failed to reduce his tax liability. 

See: Justinian's The money and the bench  

Who said bad luck comes in bunches? 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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