Much has been hollered in the mass media about Christchurch earthquake recovery authority (CERA) chief executive Roger Sutton, whose public vilification on matters quaintly termed "sexual harassment" has some hallmarks of the 1990s Christchurch civic creche Peter Ellis witchhunt.

But does the public know the whole truth?


After a State Services Commission (SSC) investigation found him guilty of "serious misconduct" in relation to a complaint made by a senior female employee of CERA, Mr Sutton resigned at a media conference hosted by SSC Commissioner Iain Rennie.


According to Mr Rennie, Mr Sutton's conduct fell short of being sacked.

The investigation of the complaint was conducted by deputy commissioner Ms Sandi Beatie in secret, with parties expected to be bound by privacy and confidentiality.

Unlike in a court of law for example, the SSC investigation was done secrectly because it was deemed to be an employment matter.

As a result of that process the public does not know the full extent of the complaint against Mr Sutton.

Nor does the public know anything of who said what to the SSC, what evidence or allegations were produced, how any such evidence or allegations were tested or challenged, and how what the complainant and any witnesses said was tested, challenged, accepted or rejected.

Mr Sutton is now accused of breaching secrecy by publicly owning up to his stupidity, saying sorry and quitting an important job many folk reckon he is very good at.

Some say he was hounded out and that the penalty he continues to pay far outweighs his silly conduct.

There may have been be some initial justification for secrecy but now that part of the cat has slipped from the bag the question now is on fair play and whether Mr Sutton got justice.


Has Mr Sutton had a fair go?

CaseLoad thinks not.

He is named but the complainant has not yet been - despite her being well known in media circles and publicly supported by other media identities such as PR person Tina Nixon.

There appears to be no legal suppression of the woman's name - none that the SSC was able to confirm for CaseLoad's deadline.

Anonymous claims continue to be made in the media against Mr Sutton, apparently without any contestable evidence being produced.

Some folk now accuse Iain Rennie of being an even worse sinner, for letting Mr Sutton open his mouth.

Mr Rennie must go too, according to the baying masses.

Who is next for breaking on the grinding wheel of small-town witch-smelling???

And how many more burning faggots will fuel the fire round Mr Sutton's feet before justice is seen to have been done???

Don't hold your breath...

Footnote: CaseLoad has personal experience of a secret SSC investigation sparked by revelations in the Truth newspaper in the 1980s of bizarre behaviour in the Christchurch probation office.

This included a female probation officer writing a report for the court about a criminal under her supervision, with whom she was living and having a child.

That inquiry was headed by barrister, later Judge Tony Willy, and assisted by the SSC's then in-house solicitor David Bradshaw, who went on to head the Serious Fraud Office.

Much of the focus of that investigation appeared to be not on the appalling behaviour within the Christchurch office of the probation service - described as "like a student flat" - but on who leaked the juicy news to Truth, a question that remains unanswered.

Comment: Why this man needs a fair go

Former Malaysian defence attaché Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail (38) has pleaded not guilty to charges arising from well-publicised sex and burglary allegations made by Wellington woman Tania Billingsley.

Queen's Counsel Dr Don Stephens says Mr Rizalman has elected trial by jury.

In the wake of Mr Rizalman's departure from New Zealand in May under diplomatic immunity, a media frenzy was aided and abetted by a television performance from an articulate and determined Ms Billingsley herself.

Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail. Photo / AFP

Among other things, Ms Billingsley - who went to the trouble of having her automatic name suppression lifted - told TV3 that foreign affairs minister Murray McCully "obviously" didn't take sexual assault as a serious thing to consider.

The show's producer Eugene Bingham said in July that Ms Billingsley's desire to speak was "unusual" because people in sexual violence cases did not often come forward.

Those two comments alone - referring to sexual assault and sexual violence as if they were already proven - brought some experienced criminal defence lawyers to the view that Mr Rizalman - who is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty - might struggle to get a fair trial.

CaseLoad agrees. A jury will need to be carefully selected and meticulously directed by the trial judge.

Judges don't like pre-trial publicity of the kind dished out to Mr Rizalman by the news media and convenient "talent." They see it as gross interference with the justice process.
From time to time judges have strong words to say about such meddling. They also have other more chilling sanctions available.

This is not a good time for television "talent spotters" in particular to be d*cking Their Honours about - not with all aspects of media court coverage and the question of who are and are not journalists still up in the air...

Some starters named for top crown warrant jobs

Names flutter around the Ladies and Escorts Lounge like hapless betting slips as the race to find new Crown Solicitors for Auckland and Manukau heats up.

Interestingly, while the job has some prestige and could lead to a judgeship, holding a Crown Solicitor warrant is not the cash cow it used to be.

Having split the prestigious Auckland Crown warrant between Auckland and Manukau, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson is expected to weed out names about early February.

Insiders says it will be hard to unseat Meredith Connell director of litigation Brian Dickey, who was recently appointed acting Crown solicitor at Auckland.

Meredith Connell has held the Crown warrant for around 100 years but in recent times the firm has undergone power struggles and some major staff and partner clean-outs as Crown work has diminished to about one-third of the firm's load.

Former Meredith Connell partners Christine Gordon QC, Richie Marchant, Aaron Perkins and Kieran Raftery, now a "special counsel", are said to be possibles for the Auckland warrant.

Gareth Kayes, Ed Fletcher (son of Mrs Hugh Fletcher aka Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias) and Natalie Walker, who now practice as Kayes Fletcher Walker, are also said to have an interest in the Manukau warrant.

Also keen on Manukau are ex-Meredith Connell's Phil Hamlin and Susan Gray.
Please send any names, genuine, eavesdropped in passing or with hot denial fee, to

"No, Scunner, this is not a job for the likes of you," wheezed Our Man At The Bar, filching the last wee savaloy from the Pensioners' Special.

Wildly speculative corner

Distinguished Queen's Counsel Paul Davison (62), son of former Chief Justice Sir Ronald Davison, is said to have pulled out of defending Humungous Hun Kim Dotcom for private and confidential reasons.

Questions are being asked why.

Paul Davison QC. Photo / Sarah Ivey

One legal source suggested he might not be getting paid, which is a pretty good reason to pull out of anything.

Another less churlish suggested Mr Davison, who was appointed a QC in 1996 and is popular among his peers as both defender and prosecutor, might be in line for promotion to the higher courts.

That's CaseLoad's bet, and if he was so honoured, he would be a good choice.

In a 2006 interview with the New Zealand Herald's Chris Barton, Mr Davison said he was in no hurry to change his career, although he would consider "moving to the judging side of the bench if asked."

"To apply some of the accumulated knowledge and to make a contribution. One of the things you do realise when you go through the pathway that I've gone through is the importance of the rule of law," he said in that interview.

Maybe his time has come...

Mr Davison had not returned CaseLoad's call by deadline.

Seen & Heard

1. Chris Gordon is new chairman of Bell Gully, from January 1, replacing Roger Partridge who is retiring after seven years in the role.

Admitted in 1988, Mr Gordon has been a corporate and commercial partner with the firm since 1999. Ian Gault is new deputy chairman.

2. DLA Phillips Fox won law firm of the year at the recent 2014 New Zealand insurance industry awards for the second time.

3. Former Auckland university law student Max Harris - a Rhodes Scholar and clerk to the Chief Justice - has been elected an Examination Fellow (aka a Prize Fellow) at All Souls College, Oxford.

Auckland law dean Andrew Stockley described the fellowship as one of the world's most competitive and prestigious academic awards.

Mr Harris spoke at a recent conference on the first ten years of the Supreme Court.

4. Former Health Minister Tony Ryall starts a new job in January as head of public policy at Simpson Grierson.

Chairman Kevin Jaffe says Mr Ryall will be a strong contributor to the firm's senior leadership team.

5. Auckland law professor and associate member of Bankside Chambers Peter Watts has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the first lawyer to be made a Fellow since the amalgamation of the New Zealand Academy of Humanities with the Royal Society in 2010.

6. In a piece of blatant advertising, jovial Auckland-based Queen's Counsel David Jones wants a "superjunior" with initiative, strong forensic skills, common sense, attention to detail and the ability to think laterally.

The work is a mix of criminal and civil litigation in a busy practice. Jonesy says it would suit someone with at least two years post admission experience or is less experienced but otherwise exceptional.

And if you're that good you'll know where to find him.

"Is there an age limit?" said OMATB (DoB withheld by request).

Seen & Heard source: New Zealand Law Society LawPoints Bulletin.

Next time

Lawyer watchdog goes too far.