GEORGE DROUTSAS: Judge clears ALP identity George Droutsas

Victorian ALP rising star George Droutsas was acquitted this morning in the County Court after a ruling from Judge Mark Taft that he had no case to answer.

At 10.35am, he directed the jury to deliver not guilty verdicts on all claims by the controversial Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions against him on the grounds that they had not made out a case against him of sufficient legal standard that it ought be considered by a jury.

It is enough to make you wonder why the DPP Jeremy Rapke brought the case in the first place. Perhaps he had other things on his mind.

Developing…

UPDATE:

In the space of one week, Crikey has launched a full-frontal attack on state-sponsored journalism and has now backed it up by putting up a decent summary of the bizarre prosecution of George Droutsas. It’s behind their paywall so we’ll put it up in full.

The mysterious case of the vote-rorting mayor … who didn’t do it

Luke Walladge writes:

This week in the District County Court of Victoria a former mayor of Whitehorse City Council, George Droutsas, stood trial on four counts of procuring false documents and another four of using those false documents in his 2005 bid for re-election.

Once a rising star of the Labor Right’s Unity faction, Droutsas was accused of duping four friends into signing up as candidates in the 2005 council poll in order to garner their preferences by deceiving them into nominating and standing them without intent to serve if elected. All of which, as it turns out, wasn’t worth a pinch of the proverbial — Judge Mark Taft threw the case out this morning without Droutsas having to utter a single word in his own defence.

No doubt it made a good headline: ‘Labor Mayor in Vote Rort Scandal’. But it made for a woeful case.

In the interests of full and frank disclosure, this writer should mention that from time to time over the last three or four years he’s known, drank with and once long ago briefly worked alongside the former mayor. For his sins the writer also sat through three days of the trial’s committal phase, which saw 30 of the original charges in the matter thrown out or dropped. But for all that, how this case even made it to court remains a bloody mystery.

The prosecution, it has to be said, faced an uphill battle. It’s a strange sight to see tertiary-qualified, apparently mentally functional adults claim to not understand words like ‘candidate’, ‘preference’ and ‘ward’. It’s an even stranger sight to see the same adults testify on oath to signing numerous electoral forms without supposedly ever once reading them, asking their purpose or bothering to follow them up. One could be forgiven for thinking that if Droutsas really had been bent on fraud, he might have been better advised to bandy about land titles rather than two-bit council nominations.

The prosecution also had to contend with a cold, hard fact of timing: between four days and a week after the initial nomination forms were submitted, the candidates in question all signed another round of preference allocation forms. In the intervening days they had been rung by journalists, ratepayers’ groups and residents’ committees seeking their views on local issues. Yet the prosecution tried to convince a jury that despite signing their own preference forms after being told they were candidates … still did not know they were candidates.

Like I said before, all a bit of a bloody mystery.

Still further complicating the issue is that none of Droutsas’ alleged victims made any complaints at the time of the 2005 election, or reported the alleged fraud to the Council, the Victorian Electoral Commission or to the local or state media. To be sure, once allegations of dummy candidates had been raised by the mayor’s enemies on Council there were no shortage of complainants — even if they had by then received and banked their returned deposits from the VEC — but there were none during the campaign and polling period itself.

In many ways, Droutsas fits a certain stereotype of a Labor young turk: ambitious, charming, a bit too slick and perhaps for some people a bit too Greek to be completely pure. And local councils have a reputation for being something of a cesspool, deserved or not.

But given that all the prosecution witnesses admitted to signing their own names on their own forms next to the bit that says ‘candidate’, given they had their photos taken and the statements published and their deposits returned and cashed, given they made no complaints at the time, given one of the prosecution’s witnesses did not deny telling the then CEO, “George [Droutsas] is f-ked, I’m going to get him” … how in the hell did any of this ever get to court?

Once there, these star witnesses contradicted themselves, potentially admitted to obtaining money from the Electoral Commission under false pretences and developed Alan Bond-like amnesia under the slightest questioning. If it hadn’t been so serious it would’ve all been hilarious.

Poor old OPP director Jeremy Rapke had a bad enough week as it is, so it might be best to draw the curtain of mercy over his office’s judgement in this case. But it should be pointed out that if he wasn’t aware of the impact of unsubstantiated allegations about public figures before, he is now. Droutsas spent his life savings and more besides defending himself, not to mention being front and centre in The Age, the Herald Sun and the nightly television news. All at taxpayers’ expense and all for nothing.

In a world of ever-increasing media exposure, the role and judgement of institutions like the OPP — including ombudsmen, anti-corruption bodies and parliament itself — may itself require serious scrutiny and revision. A ‘not guilty’ verdict can hardly be considered compensation for the public and financial costs of a defence against spurious or vexatious accusations, and that goes double for vote-dependent politicians.

Droutsas might only be an ex-mayor, and his trial might now be over, but in a free and fair society today’s result would be the beginning of a much broader debate about justice, the media and the right of all of us to be innocent, legally and publicly, until proven guilty.

*Luke Walladge is a contributing editor for http://www.wangle.com.au. He is a writer, commentator and former Labor staffer and union official in WA.

UPDATE: Whitehorse Leader reports further on George Droutsas’s vindication…

UPDATE: The ABC noted correctly that it is unusual for a case to be thrown out mid-trial by a judge before the jury could deliberate, reflecting that there was little to suggest he’d done anything wrong. It is quite the vindication, although as the ABC notes it was not without cost, with Droutsas required to sell his own home in order to clear his own name.

UPDATE: Michael Danby MP issued a statement on this unusual case:

Michael Danby MP congratulates his former staffer George Droutsas on his case in the County Court being dismissed by his Honour Mark Taft.

Michael Danby said “It was a disgrace that the issue was ever brought to Court. The charges amounted to political persecution”.

“The various authorities who are responsible for this gross waste of taxpayer money should hang their heads in shame” Danby said.

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42 Comments

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42 responses to “GEORGE DROUTSAS: Judge clears ALP identity George Droutsas

  1. hmmm

    Perhaps if George had put out for Jeremy he might have been kinder

  2. The truth has prevailed

    Well done George 5 years of hardship all made worthwhile by this morning’s judgement. Today’s decision of Taft J just goes to show what a disgrace DPP Jeremy Rapke really is…hopefully this mincing poodle is taken for legal costs given his case was always always without merit and nothing but a witchhunt

  3. truth is the daughter of time

    A political hack job kicked off by local liberals and then stitched up by PPO as an act off pure jealously.

  4. Anonymous

    Head office has never been the same without George. All these plastic marginal seat campaigners can never compare to the tactician and master himself. Figures show that we are suffering a great deal in marginal seats. It’s time to reach out to the gods and bring back ALPs favourite son Sir George Droutsas.

  5. Brother George fan club

    Congrats George, you deserve it. I’ve never met you but your myth reaches many of the young bretheren in the party, your heroic exploits do not go unnoticed. @Andrew – What is Brother George’s chances of getting costs against these inbreeding OPP clowns?

  6. Political Show Trial costing $2-400 thousand

    The case brought against George Droukas was not only without merit but should never had been proceeded with.

    The fact that the County Court Judge dismissed the case without reserving his decision, tells all and is an indictment against the Department of Public Prosecutions for bringing the case forward.

    They have seriously damaged George’s career and professional standing not to mention the costs involved in having to defend these false allegations.

    We are seeing an increase in what appears to be politically motivated cases come before the courts in matters that should not have seen the light of day.

    What was page three news for weeks running will now appear as a foot note on the back pages of the daily newspapers.

    No care no responsibility. The DPP should be accountable for thier actions and required to pay costs.

  7. conrad

    You will qlways be my boy george!!

  8. alex

    Oh how I will always love you brother George

  9. Charlie Wilson

    The facts are that He should never have been charged.Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars wasted.An inquiry would only cost more taxpayer dollars.A good local Councillor and Mayor.Hope he seeks public office again

  10. andy bult

    Another classic case of the Law needing more proof. If the judge doesnt know how dummies work then what hope is there. Wonder if the judge worked for morris blackburn or slaters

  11. Andrew Landeryou - editor VEXNEWS

    ‘andy bult’, I have no doubt the judge knew what a ‘dummy’ candidate was, that was all very carefully explained by lawyers from both sides.

    Equally, anyone attending the court, and hearing the witnesses, was left with the unmistakable impression that the witnesses were all perfectly capable of understanding the forms they had signed. They were articulate, tertiary-educated people with jobs of responsibility.

    The idea any or all of them would sign complex and involved legal documents without making inquiries about and reaching an understanding about what they signed has always strained credulity.

    We can’t read a jury’s mind but we could certainly the look of astonished hostility many of the jurors had for witnesses maintaining this position. Their position – no doubt egged on by reading media reports about ‘dummy’ candidates in the past was literally incredible.

    The conclusion to draw from this case is that it is not – and was never – unlawful to organise ‘dummy’ candidates to run, in other words people who have no aspiration to be elected but are running to further an idea or assist a cause or even another candidate.

    The misapprehension – created mainly by preachy leftists at The Age – that ‘dummy’ candidates are somehow fraudulent or even wrong is a view now settled as inner-urban lefty myth/bullsh*t.

    The fact that such woolly-headed thinking managed to find its way into the muddled mind of Jeremy Rapke’s Office of Public Prosecutions as it wasted a small fortune of public money on a bogus case is a real worry.

    DPP Rapke is clearly an intelligent man so the only conclusion that is fair to reach in the circumstances is that he’s been very distracted in the office in recent years.

    Dummy candidates are in the eye of the beholder. It is impossible in any practical way to distinguish between a ‘dummy’ candidate and some other classification of candidate who might want to win.

    There are plenty of candidates who quite legitimately run for office who know they will never win.

    Arguably most Greens candidates – outside the inner-city where they have won a federal seat and might win state seats – is a dummy candidate or stooge for Labor given they tend to feed preferences their way.

    Many other minor/micro party candidates could face the same charge.

    The truth is that there is nothing unlawful about what George Droutsas did. The only conduct that should be prohibited that isn’t is the launching of spurious and headline-motivated prosecutions without merit.

    This matter was allowed to drag on for far too long. It was obvious at the committal that the candidates had signed their nomination forms willingly and knowingly.

    We’ll do a more extensive story on all of this tomorrow. Justice has been done.

  12. At the tax payers cost

    Yes the OPP should be held accountable for their actions. Given that the Judge threw the matter out even before the defence was called on to outline their case is telling.

    The OPP was givin false and misleading information by a failed candidate Peter Allen who was seeking revenge. Peter Allen used the OPP to do his dirty work. Action should now be brought to bare on Peter Allen for making vexatious and false allegations.

    I am not sure if it is too late for Mr Droutsas to make application for costs, if not he should. He should also seek compensation from Mr Allen for the damage and harm he has caused.

    Mr Rapke must also come under review as he has on more then one occasion, at considerable costs to taxpayers, brought his office and that of the Government and Parliament into disrepute.

    Mr Rapke has lost public confidence and he should resign without delay.

  13. Disgusted & Disappointed

    Well done to the guy. He must have gone through hell. The guy had to sell his house over this crap.

    The facts are these. In Victoria we now have a system where a person is presumed guilty, rather than innocent. This approach is underpinned by a system where ultimately faceless and unaccountable figures smear indivduals and deconstruct and destroy people’s reputations. Such people are ultimately non-accountable for their actions, while the accused are left with the task of salvaging their lost honour and combating bullshit attacks based on “perception”.

    The problem is that in the fiesty air of so-called corruption fighting some elements are being left to their own devices. Councillors have become fair game, many of them shitting themselves when it comes to making a decision for fear of a “conflict of interest”. And, oh, they need not dare challenege the perspective or motivation of a(n) (unelected) Council bureaucrat, for that may be a case of “undue influence”.

    What makes all of this even more sinister is that elements of the mainstream media are in on this as well. We all know that some journalists have a direct line to some of the elements in these agencies. They feed on these leaks and protect their sources who in all likelihood may even have the blessing of their superiors.

    There’s enough in the last few years of bullshit in this State to fill a truckload of James Ellroy-esque type novels.

    From Brimbank to Theo, and now this, you have to agree there is indeed something very wrong going on in Victoria.

  14. jail time

    Now george isin the clear its time former mayor of darebin peter stephenson was investigated.

  15. Right Said Fred

    Ok so George got off, but who’s the fat bastard in the photo

  16. Froggy Throat

    “… how this case even made it to court remains a bloody mystery.” It’s amazing just how much of this crap is getting through to the courts – where is the adult supervision within Prosecution departments? This case is about as Bizarre as the one that tried to convict ALP Right past and present players in WA for corruption from a bugged conversation that was interpreted by the CCC and the DPP as conspiratorial. The DPP seemed happy to prosecute to maximise political results and damage. If one uses the word conspiracy then any crazed idea one might have can be slotted into it. I suppose that as long as there is politics someone will be content to use it as a plaything, it’s a shame that we have so many shithead prosecutors prepared to try and do just that. So how much did this bullshit cost taxpayers?

  17. Dummy greens candidates

    Watch the dummie greens candidates fly in inner city seats. The greenie traders… The Greek lawyer… The will all resurface.

  18. Even steven

    Green dummies failed to unseat Steven and will face to unseat fiona….

  19. Not so innocent

    Cfmeu backed dummies set to unseat wynne via steve-get your-jollies. Not so secret. Nit so innocent greens.

  20. Greenwash

    Greens do not need dummies- they have libs…. Libs preferences will deny ballyhoo a majority… Greens keep playing the mistress off the wife.. Greens sleep with libs…but claim labor is true love….where are the trueindependents?

  21. Greens bearing gifts

    Be ware of greens bearing gifts.. Prefences that can’t be directed are no gift..

  22. racist persecution

    I am beginning to think that the office of Public Prosecution headed by Jeremy Rapke may hold bias and racist overtones.

    This is the second high profile case that has been brought against members of Melbourne’s Greek Community and in both cases there was no case to answer.

    Jerome Rapke has displayed poor judgement and a lack of professionalism in bringing this matter before the courts. It has costs taxpayers 100s of thousands of dollars not to mention the untold costs and hardship inflicted on George Droutsas 2ho has had to fork out $200,000 to defend his innocence, losing his home, life savings and marriage.

    We need a judicial inquiry into the Office of Public Prosecution who behave more and more like a political hit squad pursuing a personal vendetta against Victoria’s Greek Community.

  23. Malcolm Fraser

    Resign Rapke Resign. Your office is out of control. It’s time we got a DPP who believes in the presumption of innocence and prosecutorial discretion. This matter should never have gone to committal, much less to trial.

  24. Giuseppe De Simone

    The OPP’s office needs a clean-out starting with the DPP. The relationship with the police is too close and too many staff see their role (wrongly and in breach of law) as advocating for convictions. The role of a prosecutor in a democracy like Victoria is to dispassionately consider whether a prosecution is likely to result in a conviction and is in the public interest. Then it is to ensure that all the evidence is provided to the Court – not just the evidence that helps the prosecution. The obligation of the prosecution is to be fair to the accused with proper timely and full disclosure of all material. Rapke sees his role as to win cases. That is not his role at all. It is also not his role to intimidate the judiciary into heavier sentences. Rapke is the worst DPP ever and he must resign or be sacked, if necessary by having parliament recalled.

  25. Giuseppe De Simone

    Brilliant political tactics even so-called dirty tricks are not crimes. They are definitely not crimes associated with forgery and manipulation of public documents. This prosecution was a disgraceful abuse of public office and a monumental waste of public money. Unfortunately, as the accused was an ALP member, it would not have been appropriate for the Attorney-General to intervene due to allegations of political favouritism. I sympathise with the accused and the incredible cost to his reputation of being wrongly accused of criminal behaviour. He is a sharp political operator who got caught doing what sharp operators do – playing the game hard but within the letter of the law. The trendies sipping their soy-lattes pretend not to approve of such tactics but they then vote for some crackpot minor party candidate from the Greens who hasn’t got a snowflake’s chance in Hades of getting elected (or even for an ALP candidate in Malvern who probably has even less chance than none). It’s all the same thing really – many candidates for office don’t want to win the office but run for the reason of offering a choice or helping someone else get elected. That’s democracy and long may it flourish.

  26. Pissy Chryne

    I love it Greek, especially hard and deep.

  27. man of the people

    Why did george sleep with irene webber?

  28. les butler

    My pussy is wet

  29. Irene Webber 56

    man of the people – because she is one hot chick

  30. Irene webber 72

    You are so right Irene 56, one big hotty there!!!!!

  31. Sharon

    It is time for the people responsible to answer for this injustice to George and his family,
    Namely the ones who started this and continued to push this now for 5 years.
    Peter Allen miserable dog
    Cr Raylene Carr Ferel Mutt
    Sharon Patridge the Pitt bull

  32. What's the truth George?

    As far as I’m concerned George only got off on a technicality! We can only hope that someone with his morals does not ever get into politics as there are enough lying, cheating, dishonest bastards there already.

  33. bastard

    To Whats the truth George,
    hey Peter Allen how do you sleep at night you scum bag.
    Been to a brothel lately you scum Peter.

  34. andy bult

    George can at least say that he mastered the ALP way of getting into local govt as a stepping stone to the bighouse.I am sure there is a cosy little position within the party for him. He could always drive cabs with burham..

  35. Time to lose the badge

    Former Councillor Sharon Partridge was there at the trial everyday I hear. How pathetic. Time to move on woman. Get a life. The people rejected you because you were not up to the job. Had nothing to do with George.

  36. Sharon

    Former Councillor Patridge,
    There is only room for one Sharon on council and i am already there.
    I wish you would change your name

  37. Former Cr Sharon Partridge - a woman scorned

    I want to love Georgy Droutsas, but Georgy Droutsas never once showed me his looooooooove.

  38. Raylene

    Is it true I am being issued with a writ in a few weeks?

  39. Anonymous

    To What’s the truth George.

    It wasnt a technicality there were no ‘false’ documents. The idiots signed them (they admitted this) Nomination forms are clearly marked as this.

    So there was never any case to answer.

    All in all it has just been a huge waste of time for everyone

  40. Irene Webber 69

    Jail time Oct 10. Funny about Peter Stephenson, even though he is no longer a councillor (although his little bum boy Ben is) he just cannot let go of it. His rant in the Preston Post on 6th October is proof that the man really wants to hang on and rule from the outside. Seems his mentor Leighton has taught him too well. Yes he should be investigated and did the ratepayers know that he was collecting two salaries, one from the corrupt HSU and other from the Council. Investigate and charge him

  41. Failed Justice

    This issue also brings into question the judgement of the Magistrate who allowed this case to proceed to trial. There was never a case to answer.

  42. Hondo

    @ Racist Persecution- do not be surprised if the attacks against Greek community leaders were not motivated by Rapke’s “plaything” who I take it is of FYROMian descent and would more than likely be serving as a pawn to facilitate their maximalist and anti-Hellenic agenda. It is something of a conspiracy theory but once you examine the unsubstantiated allegations it does become food for thought. My suggestion to these leaders is to sue the OPP and push for the absolute maximum damages they are entitled having had their reputations sullied by this Machiavellianism.

    That said, the Greek community needs to appoint a special task-force of lawyers and rich backers as a powerful legal lobby so when they are faced by such idiotic and wild accusations they can fight back and obtain justice; I would call it the Hellenic Litigation League or HELL-you badmouth Greeks and you get HELL!

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