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Monday, February 06, 2006

Courts Clogged By AFL Footballers

Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division) risks being swamped by widespread lawlessness from current and former AFL players. The backlog stems from a spate of criminality that shows no sign of abating. It's not yet clear if current facilities will be able to accommodate the surge in demand for court services, or whether the Victorian Government will need to examine options for upgrading capacity for processing Aussie Rules footballers.

The latest footballer to take up precious time in our courts is David Dench, captain of North Melbourne's 1977 premiership team. He has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, theft, obtaining property by deception and furnishing false information. These charges stem from a massive (alleged) fraud involving maintenance contracts with a local university:

The elaborate conspiracy involved Victoria University being invoiced for millions of dollars for work that was not done.

Police allege that Mr Dench's maintenance company invoiced the university for $4.7 million of maintenance work which was not done.

They allege the fraud involved more than $10 million between 1996 and 2001. (The Australian, 6/2/06)

This comes hot on the heals of former Collingwood player Peter Grahame Hall's massive con (at least $600,000 worth). Not only should you question whether or not to lend money to AFL players - you might want to rethink going into business with them too.

The next miscreant to front the courts will be Carlton's Heath Scotland. He's been charged with recklessly causing injury in "an incident" in May 2005. The Age believes this incident occurred in a bar. It's not known at this time if this was the Ivanhoe Hotel where, a couple of months later, Heath Scotland (along with teammates Lance Whitnall and Nick Stevens) was present during the abduction and torture of his "associate" Brendan Schievella by suspected underworld figures.

This comes on top of last week's court appearances by Melbourne's Colin Sylvia for allegedly kicking his girlfriend and Hawthorn's Campbell Brown for taking on a cash machine in a 7-Eleven. We're still awaiting the County Court's judgment from the guilty pleas by Kade Carey, Dane Swan and Aaron Ramsay for the bizarre and inexplicable Federation Square rampage and gang bashing.

With all this activity, the Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division) may have to look into upgrading its facilities. Any talk of a public-private partnership (much loved by the Brumby state government) with the AFL Tribunal should stay that way: just talk. It's hard to see how the cause of justice could be advanced by having the AFL's own pseudo-judiciary passing judgment on its prized investments. It would be like having a dog breeders guild determining whether or not their million dollar stud pooches should be destroyed for biting people.

A fairer and more practical suggestion would be for courts to use fines that reflect the millionaire status of many footballers. To really speed things up, the Parliament could look at reversing the presumption of innocence in cases involving footballers. That, and the sensible use of cattle runs, holding pens and corrals should really get things moving through the courts.

Given that AFL footballer crime is only going to increase, this problem isn't going away. What other suggestions are there for the smooth administration of criminal justice for our footy players?

*** UPDATE ***

More light has been shed on the mysterious investigation into Heath Scotland. Yesterday he appeared in the AFL Division of the Melbourne Magistrates Court. It's alleged he slapped a girl in the face after arguing with her in the ladies' toilets at Crown Casino. Ironically, the club was called The Next Blue - referring perhaps to the Carlton player or his penchant for arguing in the dunnies?

Rumours have been circulating that Heath was sporting an oversized fur coat, matched with a large felt hat (with a feather in it) and a bejeweled ornate cane at the time of the incident. These rumours are almost certainly false and we should point out there are many reasons why a man would slap a woman while arguing in the toilets. Sadly for Heath, none of them are good.

*** UPDATE ***

Good ol' Heath. Turns out the lady in question wants an apology for copping a back-hander from him. He's boxing clever, hoping to make an apology part of a "diversion" (whereby he has to do community service or some other cop out).
Outside court, when [Scotland's lawyer] Mr Balmer was asked if Scotland was prepared to apologise, he said: "Maybe, it depends on whether it is a matter appropriate for diversion.

"It's still got to be considered and accepted and its not cast in stone yet," he said. (, 3/07/2006)

What a champion - no apology unless he has a written guarantee to get away with the assault, well, "Scot" free. You sure are one legendary human being, Scottie!

*** UPDATE ***

Deputy Chief Magistrate Paul Smith bowed to the inevitable yesterday, and let Heath Scotland off. At the urging of the police, Heath's in a "diversionary program" now, whereby he pays a fine (less than a week's wages) and provides a written apology. No community service, no jail time and - get this - no conviction. Why? Because he wants to be a fireman when he grows up, and an assault conviction would jeopardise that.

Isn't the point of a criminal records check to exclude angry women-beaters from jobs where their lack of self-control threatens the wider community? Doesn't this decision undermine that very function? Still, he'll stand out somewhat with his fur-lined fireman's jackets, feather in his helmet and garish jewel-encrusted axe:
The court previously heard the woman met Scotland in the toilets before an altercation broke out. Police allege Scotland flicked his drink at her and that when she attempted to push him away, he struck the right side of her face with an open hand. (The Age, 19/9/2006)

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe Heath was enraged by her blatant violation of the fire code and, thinking quickly, he was merely dousing her cigarette? Who knows what kinds of tortured reasoning our justice system comes up with to ensure these men aren't unduly hindered in their activities.

Citations: The Australian, 6/2/06;, 3/07/2006; The Age, 19/9/2006

Word Count: 1068

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