Sunday, August 5, 2018

Death of a Legal Eagle

Model Sharon Sargeant * Clive Evatt QC & gumshoe Frank Monte
What a sad day. One of Australia's great legal minds and defamation experts has passed away. Clive Evatt QC has died aged 84. Evatt, from a distinguished legal family was one of those rare larger-than-life characters who acted for all manner of clients devoid of any judgment on what their perceived character was.

Among those clients were so-called "Mr Sin" Abe Safron who was reputed to be the most powerful underworld figure in Sydney crime when he basically controlled all nighttime entertainment in notorious King's Cross (not so much now as it becomes yet another Sydney gentrified suburb). In fact Evatt won a defamation case against a newspaper for labeling Saffron with that very label. That was in a crossword puzzle in a Queensland newspaper. Evatt delightfully said of his client "I've never seen any evidence of criminal activity".

Among his clients:superstar Shirley Bassey, respected architect Harry Seidler who was married to Evatt's sister Penny Seidler, Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib (Evatt secured nearly $180,000 in libel damages against various radio shock jocks) and the colourful poetess Gypsy Rose Fire who was labelled by one newspaper as "Bob Dylan's Sex slave".

"Mr Sin" Abe Saffron* Ace Bourke & John Rendall * Donatella Versace
One client we have written about on here is the Los Angeles based Australian private eye Frank Monte who was sued by the Versace family over claims he had worked for the late Gianni Versace in New York. Evatt famously got Donatella Versace giving evidence in court via a video link-up to claim she had never ever taken illicit drugs in her life. About 18 months later Donatella in a tell-all interview in Vogue magazine admitted she had been hooked on cocaine before and after Gianna's murder. Asked if Donatella should be referred to Australia's High Court for perjury, Evatt said although she was as "guilty as sin" the prospect of making her attend an Australian court was just too complicated.
More recently Evatt, even though his health wasn't top notch and he was a bit unsteady on his feet , secured substantial damages in the Federal Court for Monte from the giant Fairfax Media after they breached his copyright over a photo they published.

Evatt was also an art lover and collector and for a time owned the prestigious Hogarth Gallery in  trendy Paddington. The manager of the Hogarth was Ace Bourke who later hit international fame in the memorable Christian the Lion video that swept the world. Indeed Whispers attended several parties at the Hogarth in honour of fellow Christian owner John Rendall.
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Another Whisper acquaintance also passed away recently. Highly respected jurist Sir Laurence Street QC died on the 21st June. Street was the third consecutive generation of his family to have served New South Wales as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court following his father and grandfather.  Sir Laurence was a resident at the Potts Point retirement home Lulworth House which recently lost several notable figures including former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, former NSW premier Neville Wran and the much loved impresario Harry M. Miller.

Lady Penny Street & Sir Laurence * Lady Jessie Street " Earl Grey " Sir Laurence Street as Chief Justice
Sir Laurence was not only highly respected for his non-partisan role as a lawyer who could negotiate complicated legal disputes, but was a man known for his old-fashioned gentlemanly outlook who was often spotted around town at high society parties wearing a pair of monogrammed Gucci loafers. He treated everyone, no matter their social status, as an equal.
His mother Lady Jessie Street (1889 – 1970) was an equally fascinating character. Coming from  a very conservative family and indeed, marrying into one she was an ardent feminist and Suffragette who was dubbed Red Jessie by her detractors in the conservative media for promoting diplomacy with the USSR during the Cold War. At one stage while abroad she had her Australian passport cancelled so that she couldn't return to Australian.

Born in India, Lady Jessie was  descendant of General Charles Grey, Ist Baron Grey, known as Earl Grey and British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. Perhaps an even greater honour is the fact Earl Grey Tea is named in his honour. As Whisper's favourite tipple, we'll always remember Sir Laurence Sreet while supping on a cuppa of Earl Grey.