In a disgusting breach of community decency, three violent professional footballers avoided any serious sanction for their role in a St Kilda pub brawl. Sadly, such jaw-dropping leniency is all too familiar to the citizens of Melbourne, enduring a state of permanent siege under the swaggering AFL players who own this town. This ruling will only further reinforce the notion that, in Melbourne at least, footballers are beyond judicial rebuke.
This case centres around the events of the 2006 Grand Final Eve (28th of September), involving a number of past and present players from the Brisbane Lions and St Kilda. The players charged were Fraser Gehrig, Michael Voss, Steven Lawrence, while Craig McCrae and Craig Lambert escaped any charges at all.
We've been tracking this case closely, as shown by this time-line:
- (2/10/2006) Initial reports emerged of the attack.
- (6/6/2007) Detectives finally get around to interviewing the accused, some nine months late. (The possibility that they were waiting for the depths of a Melbourne winter before flying to sunny Brisbane is raised.)
- (7/6/2007) Players are formally charged.
- (13/7/2007) A trial is under way and security video footage of the parts of the assault are leaked to broadcasters (see below).
- (30/8/2007) While the criminal trial is under way, a civil case (law suit) is launched by the victims.
We now come to the final series of criminal judgments against these three men. Let's recap the allegations against them on that fateful night in the Prince of Wales Hotel:
Jarrod Rouse, 27, said his girlfriend Jacqueline [Cameron] was subjected to lewd comments and gestures.
"They were being sleazy. We all said we didn't want any trouble," Mr Rouse said.
He said [Steven] Lawrence, who plays for Port Melbourne, made a threatening gesture with a pool cue as they sat at their table.
Mr Rouse, who admitted he was drunk, said Jacqueline then pushed the cue back at the former St Kilda player.
"It escalated from there. I was just there trying to protect my girl," he said.
Mr Rouse said fighting broke out, during which he wrestled with [Fraser] Gehrig and was struck by others.
Jacqueline said: "There were four or five people kicking my boyfriend."
Mr Rouse's friend Jules [Julius Smith] said he was punched and knocked out after the violence spilled outside.
Jules said he remembered little after the initial angry words.
"I remember the bloke putting the the pool cue in Jacqueline's face. I must have been king-hit pretty soon after that. I was out cold," he said.
Mr Rouse said he had spoken to police. (The Herald-Sun, 29/9/2006)
"I found myself on the ground being attacked, being stomped, being kicked," [Rouse] told Ten News. (The Australian, 29/9/2006)
Ms Cameron told Channel 7 News last night ... "I pushed it back onto him. They pulled down my dress at some point. They pulled the button off Jarrod's pants and tried to pull his pants down," Ms Cameron said. (The Age, 29/9/2006)
It seems like a pretty standard Melbourne night spot scenario: a group of cocky AFL players spend all day drinking. For sport, they harass a local young woman, because, well, because they can. Usually, Melburnians just have to suck it up. In this instance, the girlfriend responds and the boyfriend's been drinking. Both seem not to understand the rules. Pushing and shoving breaks out and the footballers, by virtue of their propensity to fight in numbers, attack women, king hit, kick people on the ground and generally act atrociously, soundly beat various people up.
Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can see some of this behaviour in full-flight. Check out the security footage. I, for one, never get sick of seeing a 100 kg millionaire push a slight young woman to the ground. What a champion:
A disgusting display of cowardice and ugliness. Thankfully, a few guilty pleas might see some convictions finally get recorded against this pack of hate-filled morons, right? Might send a powerful signal that they're bound by the same law as everyone else, and their size and money means naught. Right?
There's a reason why the Melbourne Magistrates Court has an AFL division. It's not just to handle the huge workloads resulting from the league. Here's how Deputy Chief Magistrate Paul Smith doled out justice in this instance:
Michael Voss and Simon Black
Both escaped conviction despite pleading guilty to assault charges, and were put into a "diversion" program. They also have to do some volunteer work with arbias, a group that deals with "alcohol-related brain injury". (An area with which these two knobs have direct experience.)
Simon Black (right) and Michael Voss (left) Escape Conviction for Brawl
Source: The Age
Black, 28, acted during "10 seconds of madness" when he kicked a bar patron, while Voss, 32, played a lesser role in the violent altercation, Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard.
Both Brisbane premiership players had been charged with one count of unlawful assault while a count of recklessly causing injury against Black was withdrawn.
The fight continued in the street outside where Voss, who says he was kicked, struck [Jarrod] Rouse with an open hand. Black kicked Rouse as he lay on the ground wrestling with Voss.
Mr Smith immediately agreed to put Voss through the diversion program, but asked for submissions from Black's lawyer, saying his role was more significant.
"He is regarded as a leading light so far as the Brisbane Lions Football Club is concerned," [Defence lawyer Michael Bosscher] said.
Mr Smith agreed to put Black on diversion. (Herald-Sun, 3/10/2007)
Staggering, isn't it? Let's see how the others fared.
Gehrig also pleaded guilty to his assault-related charges and applied for this same "diversionary program" as his co-accused:
Fraser Gehrig Escapes Conviction for Brawl
Gehrig faced one count each on charges of unlawful assault and common assault.
Police today withdrew the more serious charge of unlawful assault before Mr Smith granted Gehrig's application.
"It looks to me that the assault relates to Jacqueline Cameron. Mr Rouse's girlfriend struck Mr Gehrig and struck [him] in the back.
"[Gehrig] then pushed her to the upper body with both hands and that caused her to fall to the ground."
Gehrig's lawyer, Marita Altman, told Mr Smith her client had instinctively pushed Ms Cameron after being assaulted from behind.
"He shouldn't have pushed her at all," Mr Smith said. He then asked Gehrig whether he took responsibility for the assault on Ms Cameron, to which Gehrig replied: "Yes".
In granting Gehrig's application, Mr Smith said two significant things in the case had changed.
"The first is Mr Gehrig faces a charge of common assault and a second, his codefendants [Voss and Black], who both played a greater role in the melee, have both been diverted."
Given that Voss and Black played a greater role, it would be unfair to impose a harsher penalty on Gehrig, Mr Smith said.
He described Gehrig as "a man of good character" and the assault as "a push only". (The Age, 4/10/2007)
Did you get that? It was "only" a push. Besides, the magistrate's earlier leniency (err, "judicial mercy"?) sort of forced him into a corner in this instance. He had to divert him too, otherwise it wouldn't be fair (to him).
So, Gehrig stone-cold got away with his part in the attack. Surely, then, Steven Lawrence will cop it in the neck?
No conviction, no diversion and a $5,000 fine (less than a week's wages for the average AFL player):
Steven Lawrence Escapes Conviction for Brawl
Source: The Age
Lawrence, 31, of South Melbourne, pleaded guilty in Melbourne Magistrates' Court to one charge of intentionally causing injury over the incident at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda on September 29 last year.
Lawrence had been with a group of friends and fellow AFL players, including Brownlow medallists Michael Voss and Simon Black and St Kilda spearhead Fraser Gehrig, when the fight erupted.
The court heard Lawrence placed his hand on the victim, Julius Smith, then swung his fist at his head, causing him to fall to the ground unconscious.
Lawrence left the scene and refused to comment when shown footage of the incident during a police interview, the court was told.
[Lawrence's lawyer, Ian Hill QC] also argued a conviction could hinder his career prospects in property development.
While Magistrate Paul Smith said the incident was serious, he noted Lawrence's clean record, supportive character references and the fact a conviction could harm him professionally.
"Despite the fact this is a very serious offence, you've never done anything before or since," Mr Smith said.
He imposed a fine of $5,000 but said no conviction would be recorded. (The Age, 30/10/2007)
Geez. Like we need a property developer with a penchant for biffo!
So, these three hulking bullies kicked off a major brawl in a popular Melbourne pub by harassing a young woman, plead guilty, it's caught on tape and yet all escape conviction. A slap on the wrist and only minor inconvenience. Is anyone going to suffer sanction for this? You bet:
Yep, the victims. The one bloke without a top-flight expensive lawyer, huge fame and the resources of a media juggernaut like an AFL club backing him:
Last week Jarrod Rouse, 29, of Box Hill, was convicted and fined $2800 after pleading guilty to recklessly engaging in conduct that put others in danger of serious injury. (SMH, 2/10/2007)
No diversion program for you, son. Plus, an ordinary bloke from Box Hill will find it a lot tougher paying that fine than yet another footballer-cum-property developer. What a black day for justice in this city.
How can it happen? Clearly, this was not a jury trial. It was a lone experienced magistrate making a call on the evidence put before him. Before jumping to conclusions, let's review the sentencing history of Magistrate Paul Smith in regard to footballers. A brief search on Google turned up the following cases:
- (2006) Carlton's Heath Scotland strikes a young woman in the toilets at a nightclub. Magistrate Smith directs Scotland into the "diversionary program" without conviction on the grounds that (sounds familiar?) a conviction might harm his chances of becoming a fireman. Scotland later faces allegations of striking another woman outside a pub in Ballarat.
- (2006) Hawthorn's Campbell Brown put into "diversionary program" by Magistrate Smith following some unpleasantness at a 7-Eleven.
- (2004) Former Collingwood footballer Des Tuddenham blows .133 (his third such offence) and causes a traffic accident. Magistrate Smith suspends the jail sentence.
- (2002) Former Collingwood premiership ruckman Damian Monkhorst has escaped conviction for assaulting a 14 year-old boy at his country footy club - despite a guilty plea. Magistrate Smith was in the box seat.
These are all the cases I could find. Maybe there are instances of Mr Smith convicting current or former AFL players, but they're just not showing up in search engines. Now, I'm sure Mr Smith has far less qualms about convicting bloggers for contempt of court or similar charges. Or launching his own defamation action against me. So I have to be careful and state clearly: I do not believe - nor do I assert - that his rulings in this case are different from what we could expect from any other judicial officer. For example, County Court Judge John Barnett is more than capable of seeing that a vicious public brawl initiated by footballers doesn't inconvenience them too much. Hell, this blog is littered with stories of footballers' wrongdoings and dozens of court cases.
I must admit though, my initial thoughts on seeing this outcome is "How can the courts be so far out of step with community standards? Surely, Melbourne's Establishment isn't so parochial as to blackball people from their posh dinner parties just because they convicted popular footballers?".
But then it dawned on me: these are our community standards. Big, rich, famous young men simply don't need to bear the consequences for their actions. Their future career options are preserved. Sentencing "parity" is maintained (with other privileged footballers mind you, not mug punters off the street). They pay piddly inconsequential (for them) fines. They do "community work" that furthers their public profile. They have expensive QCs arguing their case in the Magistrates Courts. Professional publicists and image advisers are on tap. They get every opportunity, second chance, benefit of the doubt and break going.
No wonder they presume to own every venue in Melbourne. They can act rudely, even criminally, and they know the system will see them well looked after.
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