An Aussie lawyer’s sweetest victory of all
The sweetest victory of all
By Stephen Page
Partner, Harrington Family Lawyers
Each of us has fears. I am afraid of heights, for example. I am not one of those lunatics who will throw themselves out of a plane. However, I have taken practical steps to as best I can conquer my fears. Many years ago I walked across Brisbane’s Story Bridge. Every time a bus or truck roared by, the bridge shook. The water was a long way down. I now walk across that bridge regularly.
Then some years ago I travelled to San Francisco. One of the bravest things I did was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge- a bridge much higher above the water than the Story Bridge, a lot longer, a lot bouncier, with a strong cross breeze, and a railing that was below my waist. I am rather tall. It took all my energies to cross – but I did it- and then walked back! It didn’t matter that there were young children crossing on bikes. This was my journey, and for me it was a challenge.
I mention this because it takes guts to end a relationship. It takes courage to stand up and say: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” To realise that you don’t have to endure domestic violence anymore. To decide to break the cycle of violence. To realise that you aren’t alone and that although life will be hard at first, you will be free. That you can make a difference to your and your children’s lives.
Although I never endured domestic violence in my upbringing, acting for survivors of domestic violence has meant that at times I have been threatened. The hardest person to deal with is the dangerous loner. In one of these cases, I was acting for the man’s wife. He had chased her and the kids around the house with a loaded shotgun, punched holes in walls and generally acted like a domestic terrorist. My client left him, as she had done before, and decided she was not going back. She wanted protection from the courts, as well as her rightful share of property settlement.
The court cases with this man, who was a serial litigant, were some of the hardest of my career. He didn’t like paying debts. He would intimidate, delay and bully creditors. At one stage he was being sued by 40 people! My client had cases ultimately against her husband in four courts, and at several stages had weekly court appearances in two separate courts running side by side. The protection order proceedings alone went for 7 days, which remain a Queensland record. By comparison, a usual protection order trial would last half a day to a day. An exceptional case would run 2 days. The Family Court case involved 31 appearances before we got to trial there too.
But what made the cases harder was that he wanted to kill me. This was no idle fancy on my part. The man had told several people that he wanted to kill me. Because I had gone to a suburban court with boxloads of documents, he had written down the rego number of my car on the back of his hand. I quickly discovered that he had bribed an officer of the Department of Transport and found out my home address. I only lived a couple of kilometres from his place. Despite their best efforts, police were unable to find his weapons.
He meant business
What was I to do? I asked my colleagues. They all told me to get out. That way I would be safe. I refused to do that. I had taken an oath of office as a solicitor, I had told my client that I would help her, and I was not going to let her down. I figured that if I stopped acting, she would go back to her husband, and sooner or later she or the kids would be killed. I was not prepared to have that on my conscience. I also figured out that if someone else acted that they would either give in to the man, or also get out. Was I afraid? Of course I was, but I was not going to let my client down.
Armed with the strength of my decision, I took action. I took personal safety steps- at work, at home and elsewhere, including when I went to court and he was there. I pursued the court cases with vigour, and ultimately obtained a protection order for my client and an order for property settlement that was complied with.
I also sought to be added to the protection order. The first magistrate refused to add me to the protection order. Why? Apparently I was not my client’s associate, even though we spoke 6+ times a day and lived in each others pockets, and the risk to my safety came from acting for her. I was left in limbo for months.
And then came the incident. He did not assault me. But the man had intimidation down pat. He happened to be at the local shopping centre and recognised my car. He waited for my wife and children to return to it. I knew that he had not followed us there. As soon as I saw him, I ushered them to the car quickly. He started yelling abuse at me, being careful not to swear, but yelling in an intimidatory manner. There was so much anger in him, anything could have touched him off. The fact that I was with my wife and very young children didn’t stop him. He ended with the words: “Hey lady, you married a grub for a husband!” I cannot begin to describe the force, power and hatred laced in those words. They were full of venom.
Two weeks later he was cross-examining me, trying to show that I was exaggerating and lying. As an officer of the court, if I lied or exaggerated, I may as well kiss my career goodbye. The man cross-examined me for four hours. I was not going to be intimidated by him. Instead of looking him in the eyes, by means of which he would be able to try and intimidate me, I looked at the side of his face. Not a good social skill, but useful when being cross-examined by a bully.
That day the magistrate made a temporary protection order naming me. Hooray! Some more protection, at last!
When the magistrate later delivered his reasons for judgment he said that he believed me “absolutely”. It was the right thing to stand up to this bully, rise to the challenge and do what is right. To this day I have a copy of that order, framed on my wall, with the names of everyone else blacked out. It remains the sweetest victory of all.
Stephen Page is an Accredited Family Law Specialist and is a partner of Harrington Family Lawyers, Brisbane. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1987. He has been an accredited family law specialist. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, amongst other memberships.