Tricks of Justice Steele & the Family Court of Australia · 12 November 2007
This letter—and accompanying video material on DVDs – regarding the activities of Justice Steele, was sent to the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Diana Bryant. She did not reply! She didn’t have to; she knows that the Family Court can do almost as it wants because the media are too scared to seriously report on its activities.
Professor Norman Dixon, in his “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence”, described a “predisposition to pontificate” as being a “dangerous liability” which is strongest in people – such as “judges” – “who for too long have been in a position to lord it over their fellow men”. He added that it was strongest in “organizations where the preservation of omniscience by those above may be deemed of more importance than the truth”. This seems to be the attitude of Diana Bryant & Co—hiding under the concept of judicial independence.
John Hirst, the prominent Australian historian, aptly wrote in Quarterly Essay about the Family Court under the heading of “Kangaroo Court”.
Indeed, the Family Court as an organisation exhibits many of the psychological characteristics of a successful political dictator. These include excessive self-belief, a ruthless use of (tailor-made) legal procedures to suppress criticism, and the use of PR to promote one’s own virtues.
This arm of the law—which is one of our defences again dictatorship—has itself become authoritarian and abusive of its power. As is so often the case in history, those claiming to offer protection have become the oppressors.
To: Chief Justice, Family Court of Australia
Re: VIDEO EVIDENCE OF A CORRUPTED FAMILY COURT
These DVDs are part of the evidence that two Family Court officials, including a Judge, have been lazy, incompetent and – in order to cover up the first two – dishonest to a degree that may have landed normal people in prison for perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
One of the DVDs with this letter was made in Sydney in MAY 2005; the other in Russia in JUNE 2007 – two years later.
The remainder of the evidence against these officials is in two sources. One is the description of events detailed below, which is backed-up by an enormous amount of documentary material. The other is the expressed opinions of Jane Saltoon (of Turner Whelan) who was the Child Representative, acting for my daughter Anastasia in this case. She seems to have later regretted her—in own her words—“went along with it” attitude.
Jane Saltoon suggested to me that Justice Steele “intentionally” frustrated my attempts to lodge an appeal. In doing so, he allowed Anastasia’s mother to take her overseas – and thus avoid paying a $20,000 bond; and also avoid a perjury charge.
When I eventually withdrew my appeal before Justice Boland, she commented in relation to Steele’s conduct:
“I have read very carefully what you’ve had to say in your pre-argument statement and I certainly understand that you have raised a number of very significant issues.”
The video material on the first DVD was taken the day AFTER Justice Steele made Orders in May 2005 that Anastasia be allowed to relocate to Russia. Steele accepted the evidence of Paul Lodge, a counselor in the Mediation Section of the FC that Anastasia “would not suffer serious consequences if she were not permitted to see (me) again”; and he added that Lodge’s “observations of (the child) with (the father) suggested that the relationship was not affectionate”. When hearing this case, Steele actively went out of his way to prevent evidence to the contrary being heard. This DVD makes a mockery of those claims.
The second DVD is based on material which was recorded in St. Petersburg in June of this year, after I had spent an enormous amount of money, time and emotional energy to see Anastasia for the FIRST TIME in TWO YEARS. In his judgment, Steele had said that if the mother were permitted to take the child overseas, he would “not expect (me) to make significant efforts either in terms of time or money to see (Anastasia)”. This DVD also shows something else: Anastasia has the same attitudes toward me as she had in May 2005 – and she says so in her own spontaneous words and actions.
B. PREVIOUS CASE
Two and a half years before Justice Steele made his Final Orders, Justice O’Ryan had given me joint residency of Anastasia. In his reason for judgment O’Ryan said: “I am firmly of the view that the child should spend as much time as practicable in the care of the husband”. He then mentioned that the child’s mother had mainly cared for her over the previous three years before saying: “If it were not for this matter I would have no hesitation in ordering that the child reside primarily with the husband.”
After I had faxed a copy of Justice Steele’s May 2005 reason for judgment to Dr. Quadrio (the psychiatrist who produced the Family Report when the case was before O’Ryan), she rang me and said that she was willing to make an exception to her normal rule and to become re-involved in this case if it was legally possible. She indicated that she was not impressed with Lodge’s assessment.
C. THIS CASE
But now to the events which led these Family Court officials to behave as they did; and to a detailed description of what they did and did not do.
I presented myself to the Mediation section of the Family Court in Sydney on 6 October, 2004, while the mother brought Anastasia because she had been with her for several days. With her mother at her side, Anastasia showed reluctance to interact with me and refused to go to lunch with me. However, when Anastasia and her mother returned from lunch I gave her discreet wave in the foyer of the Mediation section and she gave me a discreet wave back.
The subsequent “playroom session” involving myself and Anastasia did not go well and there is no dispute that she showed little affection for me; indeed, she spend a lot of time looking over her shoulder at Lodge who was sitting some distance away and even – in Lodge’s words – became somewhat “hysterical” towards the end.
After Anastasia and her mother subsequently left, I told Lodge that I was shocked at her behavior and pressed him to contact the six people who had signed affidavits attesting to an excellent and loving relationship between myself and Anastasia. I also suggested that Lodge meet and speak with Anastasia’s 17 year-old sister (from a previous marriage) who had been unable to attend that day. I indicated that this had been the approach followed by Dr. Quadrio in the case before Justice O’Ryan.
Lodge refused to follow these suggestions. On 7 October, the next day, I sent a fax to Lodge indicating that the 17 year-old wished to talk to him, and giving him her mobile phone number.
On 13 October Lodge rang me and asked me to bring Anastasia – I still had joint custody at this stage—into the Court on the 15th so that he could observe the interaction between Anastasia’s and the mother’s new husband, who had also been unable to attend on 6 October. I suggested that I also bring the 17 year-old, to which Lodge asked: “Is she an applicant?” When told that she was not, and could not be because of her age, Lodge said that she should not come.
On 15 October, I arrived with Anastasia at the appointed time but was left waiting in the foyer with her for approximately one hour playing games. The last of these games was one of hiding and finding objects, the end of which Lodge stood and watched for a short period when he finally came into the foyer to collect Anastasia so that she could go to the “playroom” with the mother’s new husband. On this day I again suggested to Lodge that he talk with the 17 year-old, and he again refused.
On 27 October, Lodge produced a Family Report that I believe grossly misrepresented the relationship between myself and Anastasia—even from the point of view of events that occurred in the Mediation section on 6 and 15 October.
On 1 November, I sent a fax (marked URGENT) to Catherine Asbridge, the Sydney Registry Manager, (and copied to the Jane Saltoon/Joanne Chayna Child Representative team) asking for access to the Mediation section foyer security tapes for 15 October, because, I said, they contain “virtually irrefutable evidence for some of the things that I claim – and which are in conflict with what Lodge says in his report”. I believed that the events in the foyer involved a great deal of happy interaction between Anastasia and myself, and was very much in contrast to the “playroom” session on 6 October. My telephone records indicate that the fax was sent twice (at 7.17pm) to 9217 7201, which unknown to me was not a general fax, but one situated in or near the Mediation section.
On 8 November, I asked “Alan” of Case Management about this request and was eventually informed that Asbridge had not seen the 1 November faxes, and I was asked send it again; which I did. Only after I sent a fax to the office of the Chief Justice on 14 November complaining of a lack of reply from Asbridge, did I get a reply from her dated 15 November. While Saltoon received her copy of the fax, the two copies sent to Asbridge had mysteriously disappeared! (It was later to emerge in Court that the file copy of the earlier Family Report prepared by Dr. Quadrio had disappeared, and no attempt was made by Lodge to obtain one from me or anyone else.)
On 18 November, I asked Justice Le Poer Trench to order a new Family Report, on the basis that Lodge seemed to be hiding the truth. Le Pour Trench refused, saying: “I don’t believe anyone in this Court would lie.”
On 19 November, I received a reply from Asbridge saying “I will not provide you with copies of the security tapes”. She also referred to the refusal of Lodge to meet with or talk to Anastasia’s 17 year-old sister: “I have spoken to Paul about it and he has advised that (the 17 year-old) did not attend the (6 October) appointment as expected. Paul states that he formed a view after interviewing (the child) and the significant adults that it was not necessary to interview (the 17 year-old).” As shown above, this statement is not true. Lodge had clearly decided that he would not interview the 17 year-old before he interviewed the mother’s new husband (whom as, indicated, did not attend the 6 October appointment).
So, we do we stand at this stage? Lodge has with some justification formed an initial view, based on his observations in the Family Court, that there is little in the way of an affectionate relationship between myself and Anastasia. However, he then resists my considerable efforts to get him to investigate further, to look beyond the artificial laboratory; and this is in spite of the affidavit material from people who have the opportunity to observe myself and Anastasia in a real-life non-Court (i.e. non-contrived) atmosphere where the mother has no presence. Moreover, documents that may offer support to my case – the Dr. Quadrio report, and the 1 November faxes – have mysteriously disappeared; and Lodge has given Asbridge a version of events in relation the 17 year-old which are just not true.
During the actual Court case before Steele it emerged that the mother and her new husband had forged a number of documents, both letters and affidavit material, and Justice Steele really had no choice but to indicate in his final decision that “she knowingly put forward the affidavit said to be that of Mr. ….which was not signed by him and an affidavit by Ms. ….not sworn by her.” The mother’s new had husband served three years in a NSW prison in the late mid-1990’s for fraud, had previously been charged with similar offences in Canada and Queensland, and it emerged in the Court that he was still actively using three different names on various personal and business documentation.
In was in pursuit of the origins of one of these letters, which purported to offer overseas employment to the mother’s new husband and which had previously not been available to me – although the “child representative team” had a copy—that I sought to subpoena one of the supposed authors, a Sydney based man. It was only at the very end of the day in Court (about 4pm) that Steele agreed to the subpoena – which I then had to prepare—while declaring that he would not admit any testimony by this man unless I could have this man in Court the first thing (9.30am) next morning. When next morning I informed the Judge that I had managed to deliver the subpoena, Steele pointedly said: “I didn’t think that you would make it!”
During the case I again attempted to have the Court take note of the views and concerns of Anastasia’s 17 year-old sister, who had lived in the same house as Anastasia for the previous two and a half years when Anastasia was with me (50% of the time as per the joint residency orders of Justice O’Ryan). A letter that the 17 year-old wrote was not admitted. When I mentioned that allowing Anastasia to reside overseas with the mother would affect the 17 year-old, the barrister on the “child representative team”, Suzanne Christie, said to me: “She’s 17, she’ll move on.” While the mother sought, and did, cross examination one my affidavit witnesses, the “child representative team” did not cross-examine any of them. They thus waited in vain outside the court room.
By the time it came for final submissions, there were no questions over my truthfulness, but plenty over the truthfulness of both the mother and the new husband. Even Steele was forced to write in his final report that the mother “was an unsatisfactory witness. She appeared to deliberately present as someone who was uncertain and lacking in confidence and knowledge but seemed acute to any nuances which would assist the version of events which she was putting forward”.
I prepared a 11,000 word final submission. The “child representative team”—clearly prepared to “go along” with the Lodge view that the child should live overseas with the mother – produced 2 pages of dot points. It was here that the “team” made a large issue of several events that had occurred over 5 years earlier; issues which had been given little more than a mention in Justice O’Ryan’s reason for judgment of December, 2004—in which he clearly indicated his belief that I was a superior parent to the mother. I was also criticized for following the expressed preferences of O’Ryan in relation to religious upbringing of Anastasia. Apart from these issues, the “child representative team” final submission relied on the opinions of Lodge. For these two pages of double spaced typing, the “child representative team” sought a payment of $25,850.
Justice Steele delivered his judgment on 4 May, 2005. He ordered that the mother be allowed to take Anastasia overseas “subject” to the payment of a $20,000 bond into a joint account of the mother and myself. He indicated that “whilst there may be an element of ‘bluff’ in the (mother’s) assertion that she proposed to live (overseas) whether or not she is permitted to take (Anastasia), I am not satisfied it is a ‘bluff’”. After making this telling point against the mother, he then indicated his acceptance of the opinions of Lodge: the child “would not suffer serious consequences if she were not permitted to see (me) again”; and Lodges “observations of (Anastasia) with (me) suggested that the relationship was not affectionate”. He then added a remark that if the mother were permitted to take the child overseas, he would “not expect (me) to make significant efforts either in terms of time or money to see (Anastasia)”.
The last remark is something of a mystery. Justice Steele seems to have thrown this comment in so as to bolster his final decision, even though he had no evidence for this view. Indeed, once again, the sentiments are in direct contradiction to those expressed by Justice O’Ryan.
When I asked for a stay order so that he could prepare and lodge an appeal document, Steele refused the request and said he would only grant this after the appeal was lodged. When I objected that “they could leave Australia straight away”, Steele merely said: “Probably. You better hurry up and get your appeal in.”
I was concerned that Steele had discharged “all existing Court orders” which included the O’Ryan order that Anastasia be placed on the PASS system and that she not be permitted to leave Australia. The Steele orders seemed to leave the way open for the mother to leave Australian without paying the bond.
The views of “the child representative team” – Jane Saltoon and Suzanne Ritchie were present on this occasion—on this issue at this time are unknown, as they said nothing. Saltoon’s later comment to me Steele had “intentionally” let the mother leave the country without paying the bond suggests that “the child representative team” could see what was about to happen, and were prepared to “go along”. The fact that Steele had ordered that the mother pay only $2,500, rather than half of $25,850 sought by the “child representative team”, made it financially not very painful if the mother did not pay because she was nowhere to be seen.
I contacted my former solicitor (from the O’Ryan case) and arranged for a barrister to prepare the appeal documentation with “notice of grounds of appeal”. My moment of panic that the mother and Anastasia could leave Australia straight away had been assuaged by the non-response of “the child representative” team to my expressed concerns: surely, I reasoned, they would have said something if my fears had any foundation! As for the $20,000 bond, it could not be posted into the joint account because I had not yet signed the appropriate documentation.
I lodged the full appeal documentation on 16 May, and on this same day I also put in an application for a stay order. After explaining the urgency of the application to the registry staff on the ground floor of the Sydney Registry, one of them went away and after he had returned told me that he had spoken directly with Justice Steele. Steele refused to entertain hearing the stay order application earlier than 24 May; by which time the mother could have requested that the $20,000 bond be lodged without my signature on an account (Steele’s orders saying: “The Registrar ….is hereby appointed to facilitate the deposit ….of the funds ….in the event that a party fails to do so within 14 days …”) and left with Anastasia.
What I did not know – but Justice Steele almost certainly did – was that the mother had taken Steele’s orders to the Federal Police on 9 May to ascertain if she could immediately leave the country with Anastasia. A policewomen who was aware of the O’Ryan orders, rang Justice Steele’s associate who confirmed that the mother was free to take Anastasia from Australia. This she did, the policewomen later told me, on 17 May.
Oblivious to all this, on Wednesday 18 May I went to pick up Anastasia from an after school dance class and was told that she was not there. I was eventually able to determine that Anastasia had not been at school that day and that the mother had told a friend that she was going to Russia. In a panic, I rang the Family Court – only to have Joanne Chayna, of the “child representative team”, answer the phone!
D. AN ANALYSIS
From the day that Lodge made his initial assessment, the Steele final decision was clearly a foregone conclusion. Lodge, a self-admitted busy man—who in Court relied on his notes because he said he could not remember the interviews—did not want to be faced with any evidence that might contradict his initial assessment; and so actively avoided any contact with the 17 year-old or any of the persons who had prepared affidavits in my support.
A sort of “group think” seems to have taken hold. The “child representative team” had no particular interest in getting to the truth: they didn’t choose this job and considered that they were not being paid a lot; and the member of the team who was actually to be in Court the most—Joanne Chayna – was already part of the Family Court’s esprit de corps because she was soon to become a Court official. The last thing that she was going to do was to tackle someone from the Court “ingroup”.
“Situational obligations” also arose: Lodge had to be supported by the “child representative team”, and by Steele. The “group think” meant that Lodge, “the child representative team” and Steele became “us” while I was one of “them” – and my questioning of Lodge’s actions and opinions was therefore considered inappropriate and to be resisted.
In the end, “group think” meant that the “best interests of the child” ended up running second to the interests of members of this group, both individually and as members of the Family Court.
E. SUBSEQUENT EVENTS
Although Anastasia was no longer in Australia, I did lodge an appeal. The Grounds for Appeal, as prepared by Judith Housego were:
1.The learned Trial Judge erred in accepting the evidence of the (mother) that she would live (overseas) whether she was permitted to take (the child) or not.
2.The learned Trial Judge erred in … his failure to include as an available option the (mother) remaining in Australia and (the child) residing with her here.
3.In finding that it was in (the child’s) best interests to be permitted to relocate (overseas) the learned Trial Judge failed to give adequate or any weight to the evidence of the (father) that he believed that the (mother and child) will disappear if permitted to relocate …..
4.The learned Trial Judge erred in finding that the (mother’s) proposals were viable or credible, such findings being against the weight of the evidence or, alternatively were based on evidence which was unsatisfactory and lacked credibility.
5.The learned Trial Judge erred in accepting the conclusion of Mr. Lodge in circumstances where;
(i)the evidence properly supported a conclusion that the (mother’s) proposals were neither credible or viable, and
(ii)the option of the (mother) remaining in Australia with (the child) was not canvassed adequately with or by him.
6.The finding of the learned Trial Judge that the (father) does not provide for (the child’s) emotional needs as well as does the (mother) is flawed in that there is no evidence to support such a conclusion, indeed, the evidence may suggest the contrary view.
About two months after the mother and Anastasia had left Australia the mother rang me and asked if I wanted to talk to Anastasia. Over the next couple of months I managed to ring and talk to her about every second week. She asked about her 17 year-old sister, and spoke to her. She also asked me to send her a picture of Oskar, her dog, because she had “forgotten what he looks like”. When I asked if she was happy, she said “not really”. I posted a picture and some other material to an address that the mother gave me, but it eventually returned to Australia uncollected.
Further attempts to ring the mother and speak to Anastasia only resulted in the phone being unanswered or hung-up after a few rings. I had no news of Anastasia for a period of about 3 months, until the mother rang me on 2 January, 2006. She would not let me talk to Anastasia, but said she was worried about her and added: “I don’t know what to do”. The mother said that Anastasia “would not talk about it” – i.e. the fact that she no longer saw me – but then said that she had provided Anastasia with a “substitute father”. When I asked if I could come to visit Anastasia, the mother said: “Only with me there and a bodyguard so you cannot take her”. Encouraged by this, I told the mother that he would withdrawer the appeal application.
I withdrew the appeal before Justice Boland on 17 January, 2006. This is when Justice Boland said:
“From what you’ve said to me this morning I can only commend you for your actions in withdrawing the appeal because I think everything you’ve said to me strikes me as being totally focussed on Anastasia and the possibility of what might be for the future for that child and her relationship with you.”
In late May of 2006 I went to St Petersburg in order to attempt to see Anastasia. Not surprisingly, the address which had been given to the Court in the case before Justice Steele did not exist, and Anastasia did not go to the school in which my ex-wife claimed she was enrolled. After four days hard work, and with the help of some luck, I tracked down the address of Anastasia’s grandparents; however, they were not there. A neighbor told me that Anastasia lives with the grandparents and that Anastasia’s mother was there “sometimes”; while the teachers at Anastasia’s school said that they had “never laid eyes on the mother” – only the grandmother.
I left a copy of the May 2005 DVD with the neighbor who, he later told me, gave it to the grandparents. After I returned to Australia I rang the grandparent’s telephone number (provided to me by the neighbor) and Anastasia answered the phone. She was very
excited and told I her about the DVD.
I subsequently was able to talk to Anastasia on the telephone each week until I went to see her in June of this year, when video material for the second DVD was made.