Justice Applegarth – appointed to the bench by the Bligh Labor government in 2008 – could have upheld Toowoomba magistrate Clare Kelly’s rejection of Bruce Lehrmann’s October application for a mental health dispensation with a straight bat. He could have simply said the 28 year-old former Morrison government staffer and survivor of an infamous show trial in the ACT had advertised his psychological pluck by voluntarily appearing on television. It would still be an improbable and silly rationale, of course. Unemployable and broke, Lehrmann needed the money when he agreed to an interview on Channel Seven earlier this year. He did so then not as a defendant but as a disparaged victim of injustice. Justice Applegarth’s comparison is facile and his medical diagnosis is worthless. The idea that only mentally A-1 people give TV interviews is risible. Brittany Higgins had an it-girl mini-career in the media but walked away from being cross-examined and from Shane Drumgold’s entire circus on mental health grounds. She exited with cash and prizes. But the judge chose not to play a straight bat. He played a florid hook. Nor was this his debut as paladin to the peanut gallery. In light of a well-reported intervention he made nine years ago, the “brutal” mockery of Lehrmann and his defence team could be read as hypocritical.
Firmly on the side of the revolutionaries during the snobby coup against former Chief Justice Tim Carmody, Applegarth took the convention-shredding and balmy step of scolding Premier Campbell Newman before a jury in a totally unrelated murder trial in February 2014. The actual audience for this garrulous cri de coeur, of course, was the press and café society. Jesuit Frank Brennan found it “heartening”. Carmody had offended the delicate nostrils of Queensland’s famously Labor-friendly judiciary by insisting the bench apply the laws and stipulated sentences enacted by the Parliament rather than dilute them while cosplaying social justice heroes. When a law firm representing bikies declared it would advise them to unlawfully ignore court summonses (so as to avoid possible arrest under the LNP government’s stringent anti-OMCG laws), an angry Premier Newman accused some defence lawyers of enabling crime as “hired guns.” This alleged besmirching of a “profession bound by high standards” and not at all motivated by money is what set Justice Applegarth off. Ironically, if Annastacia Palaszczuk loses office next year, the turnstile indulgence of the anti-Carmodites and the carnage it caused will be a big part of the reason why. In any case, Lehrmann’s first interactions with the flighty beaks of Queensland won’t inspire confidence.