Lawyer suspended for kiss, text message sent to family judge

A Western Australian lawyer who had a “close personal relationship” with the judge hearing her client’s case has been fined and suspended from practicing for nine months.

Gillian Anderson.  Source: Francis Burt Chambers

Gillian Anderson. Source: Francis Burt Chambers

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Between March 2016 and February 2018, while both were working on the same matter, lawyer Gillian Anderson and Judge John Walters exchanged hundreds of SMS and WhatsApp messages, had private telephone conversations and met briefly on four occasions.

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The Western Australian State Administrative Tribunal (WASAT) was told that Anderson and now-retired Judge Walters “shared a brief kiss on two or three occasions” during these private meetings.

The content of the communication “reflected the maintenance of a close personal relationship” between the couple.

“(It was) characterized by a personal close or intimate connection at a time when Judge Walters was assigned to the proceedings and the practitioner was engaged as counsel for the plaintiff in the proceedings,” WASAT heard.

The behavior was “at all times inconsistent with the practitioner’s ethical and professional obligations” and constituted professional misconduct.

The Legal Services and Complaints Board agreed to settle the case with Anderson by imposing a nine-month suspension, a $10,000 fine, a public reprimand and a costs order in the amount of $34,183.50.

In a statement of agreed facts, Anderson said this was “inappropriate” and did not meet the standards the public could rightly expect, and admitted she should have disclosed the communications.

The husband at the center of the case appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the relationship between his former wife’s lawyer and Judge Walters was “inexcusable.”

His lawyer, Steven Penglis SC, said it was “bad enough” that the relationship had not been disclosed, but it was made worse by the many opportunities Anderson and Justice Walters had to say something.

The Supreme Court agreed that this was “particularly concerning.”

The Australian Law Reform Commission said it would review laws on judicial impartiality because of the relationship.