Why I defended Ben McCormack
BEN McCormack's lawyer has been targeted by trolls who branded him a "scumbag" and promised to "dance on his grave" since he took on the journalist's child porn case.
Sam Macedone has represented murderers and rapists - but the vitriol he's experienced since he became McCormack's lawyer in April is unmatched in his 47-year legal career.
On Wednesday night, after receiving a number of "toxic" messages, he fired back, tweeting what a lawyer's role actually was.
I made that last tweet because many people seem to forget what lawyers do. We do NOT judge we make submissions. The courts to the rest.— Sam Macedone (@SMacedone) September 27, 2017
He told news.com.au he'd had enough. "I got the sh*ts, to tell you the truth, at the end of the day, after comments that people had made about us lawyers. You know, some of the most common comments are, 'How can you defend scumbags like that?' The fact of the matter is, you can't defend someone who is pleading guilty because there is nothing to defend."
And if anyone is confused,we treat everyone equally. That's what we promised to do. We do NOT back off because the going gets tough. Get it?— Sam Macedone (@SMacedone) September 27, 2017
McCormack, 43, pleaded guilty to two child porn charges when his case was mentioned at the Downing Centre Local Court on Tuesday. He will next appear in court on October 6 when a sentencing date will be fixed.
The police statement of facts revealed what McCormack and another man were discussing about child abuse and made for disturbing and explicit reading. He didn't comment as he left court, but Mr Macedone said the talk was "fantasy" and no images of children were traded.
"Yes we said it, yes it amounts to child porn, yes we were guilty, yes we need to go to court and yes we need to be sentenced. But does that mean I should back away now because no one likes it? The bloke should be left alone to look after his own affairs? That's what lawyers are there for."
The abuse started as soon as he became McCormack's lawyer.
"It's been the last few months, people have been very critical, but I've ignored it until last night I thought 'stuff it'."
It came mainly in emails. He has been told various things, including that he is a "scumbag", "how do you sleep at night?" and "I'm going to dance on your grave when you die".
Other responses have been more subtle. "You get shunned sometimes from different areas. It doesn't bother me, [I think] you're entitled to your view but I'm just doing my job."
He believed the hate was being fuelled by the nature of the charges, and due to the profile of the accused.
"It's distasteful, it's totally abhorrent for anyone to be involved in especially someone fighting the good fight for years on the other side."
But Mr Macedone hinted there was more to the McCormack story than the public was aware of.
"All they know is what they are being told. I have the full history, I have the background, I know what was involved and what isn't. I know all the things I need to put the court in due course."
He added: "The court doesn't get a 30-second news clip and [say] 'look at this overweight man - he's guilty'. That's not how it works."
There were cases he'd been involved with "that were 10 or 20 times worse" that got no attention. But that's not what consumes the haters.
He was expecting a big spike this week with McCormack's guilty plea and was braced for more on October 6.
"Depending on the result, if it is a reasonable result I will be lambasted from here to the moon."
Mr Macedone said the abuse he and other lawyers received was due to ignorance of the law.
"We don't go picking our clients and say, 'Mate can I act for you?' They come to us."
Once a lawyer had made some inquiries of the case they were obliged to follow the instruction of the client. "I can ask a few questions and if it seems to me they have a general defence then I'll defend them."
The role of a lawyer was to present their clients case in the most favourable light they could and then it was up to the court to decide on guilt, he said.
And at sentencing it was to try and find to what degree their client fit on the guilty scale. "There are degrees of guilt - our job is to find that degree and present it to the court."
His comments come ahead of an Insight documentary on the impact on a lawyers who work on criminal trials.
The program is due to air on SBS on October 3 and features startling interviews with a number of senior lawyers, including one who recently represented paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
"I was called all manner of names and had accusations levelled at me," said Chief Counsel of Victorian Legal Aid, Tim Marsh. "I've been spat at; I've been abused by a family of victims outside court."
The experience of lawyers who run the risk of being emotionally and mentally scarred by what they see each day is also explored.
"I went through a phase when I also wouldn't let the children have sleepovers unless I'd met the family members," said Deputy Director of the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions Kara Shead.
Recently retired County Court Judge Geoff Chettle said talking to colleagues was crucial.
"You're brought up as a lawyer to be big and brave and pretend that you don't need any of this stuff, but you do," he told Insight host Jenny Brockie.