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SA Magistrate remains at work while under investigation

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A South Australian Magistrate accused of sexual harassment is still working at the courts despite being asked by the Chief Magistrate to take leave while his alleged behaviour is investigated.

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SA Magistrate accused of sexual harassment

The Magistrate was stood down from sitting duties last month after InDaily revealed that Judicial Conduct Commissioner Ann Vanstone had launched a preliminary investigation into allegations he sexually harassed a District Court judge’s associate in 2018.

Vanstone announced last week that four other women who worked in “various capacities at the courts” had since come forward with complaints about the same Magistrate, who InDaily has chosen not to name.

She said the complaints span a period of about seven years, but the Magistrate has denied impropriety.

A spokesperson for Chief Magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal told InDaily that while she had ordered the Magistrate to stop sitting in court, she does not have the powers to fully suspend or direct him away from the workplace.

“It was recommended to the Magistrate that he take leave,” the spokesperson said.

InDaily understands the Magistrate remains working at the courts while Attorney-General Vickie Chapman considers whether to appoint a judicial conduct panel to investigate the five complaints in detail.

Vanstone recommended that Chapman appoint the panel on Thursday, saying it would be the first in the state’s history.

The panel would consist of two current or former judicial officers, as well as a lay person.

“Its role is to conduct an inquiry into matters referred to it and to report to the Attorney-General,” Vanstone said.

“Such a report would include the panel’s opinion as to whether removal of a judicial officer were justified.

“It has the powers of a Royal Commission.”

A spokesperson for Hribal said if the panel is established, Chief Justice Chris Kourakis could ask the Governor to suspend the Magistrate from office while the investigation takes place.

Chapman is yet to confirm whether she will appoint the panel.

Premier Steven Marshall said the Government would “have some advice back in the coming days”.

In an interview with InDaily, former District Court judge’s associate Alice Bitmead claimed she was made to feel like a “sexual object” after the Magistrate allegedly made repeated “inherently sexual” and “deeply uncomfortable” remarks to her at a work dinner and during office hours.

Bitmead, who is now a federal prosecutor, alleged the harassment occurred over three weeks in February 2018 while she worked in close proximity to the Magistrate.

She claimed over that time, the Magistrate questioned whether her partner “fulfilled” her and made comments alluding to “how much he would like to have a relationship” with her.

Bitmead also alleged she tried raising a complaint with senior judicial officers in the months after the alleged harassment occurred, but has never received a response or apology in the years since.

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