Magistrate faces Judicial Conduct Panel investigation
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InDaily can reveal Magistrate Simon Hugh Milazzo, who works in the civil jurisdiction of the Adelaide Magistrates Court, is the judicial officer accused of misconduct by five women working in the law.
Governor Hieu Van Le today approved a request from Chief Justice Chris Kourakis to suspend Milazzo from office.
Until now, InDaily has been prevented from publishing his name under strict secrecy provisions in the Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act.
Milazzo is currently the subject of a judicial conduct panel investigation – the first such inquiry in the state’s history – after the five women made formal complaints of misconduct to Judicial Conduct Commissioner Ann Vanstone about his behaviour.
Vanstone has previously said that the complaints, which came from women who work in “various capacities at the courts”, span a period of about seven years, but she said the accused denied impropriety.
Vanstone, who is also the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, recommended last month that Attorney-General Vickie Chapman appoint the state’s first ever judicial conduct panel to investigate the complaints further.
Chapman confirmed to InDaily last month that she had accepted Vanstone’s recommendation and had appointed Court of Appeal president Justice Trish Kelly, retired Supreme Court Judge David Bleby QC and Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy to sit on the panel.
They have similar powers to a royal commission and have been tasked with forming an opinion as to whether Milazzo needs to be permanently removed from office.
Chief Justice Chris Kourakis recommended that Milazzo be stood down from all duties while the panel conducts its investigation.
Kourakis’ request was signed off by the Governor and noted in the Government Gazette, which was published this afternoon.
In a statement, Kourakis said he had been authorised by Vanstone to disclose that the judicial conduct panel was investigating Milazzo.
“I advised the Governor to suspend Mr Milazzo because of the establishment of the panel and because of the obligation of the Courts Administration Authority (the CAA) to provide, and to be seen to provide, a safe and supportive workplace for all of its employees,” he said.
“I emphasise that the complaints are still to be investigated by the Panel.
“Nonetheless, it was necessary for me to balance the possible risks to, and apprehensions of, CAA (Courts Administration Authority) employees against the right of Mr Milazzo to discharge the duties of his office.
“In my opinion, in the circumstances of this case, the former consideration outweighed the latter.”
Kourakis said Milazzo’s would continue to be paid until the panel concluded its inquiry.
“I do not have all of the information which will be before the Panel. Nor do I have Mr Milazzo’s response to it,” he said.
“I am, therefore, not in a position to assess the strength of the evidence. Nor am I in a position to assess the prospect that the Panel will recommend Mr Milazzo’s removal from office. That must await the conclusion of the Panel’s inquiry.
“Accordingly, there was no reasonable basis on which I could determine that the ordinary entitlement to remuneration conferred by s 10(4) of the Magistrates Act 1985 (SA) should be displaced.”
Former District Court judge’s associate and current federal prosecutor Alice Bitmead is one of the five women who lodged complaints against Milazzo.
In an interview with InDaily in May, Bitmead claimed that Milazzo made her feel like a “sexual object” after he made repeated “inherently sexual” and “deeply uncomfortable” remarks to her at a work dinner and during office hours in 2018.
She alleged Milazzo questioned whether her partner “fulfilled” her and made comments alluding to “how much he would like to have a relationship” with her.
Bitmead, who was 25-years-old at the time of the alleged harassment and one year into her career as a judge’s associate, also alleged that 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.
“It definitely made me feel like I wasn’t valued as being a legal practitioner… and that my value in the eyes of that Magistrate was purely as a sexual object,” she told InDaily at the time.
Chief Magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal ordered Milazzo to no longer sit in court after Vanstone launched a preliminary investigation into Bitmead’s complaint.
However, InDaily later revealed that Milazzo continued working at the courts while Vanstone carried out her investigation, despite being asked by Hribal to take leave.
It is unknown when the judicial conduct panel will finalise its inquiry, with a government spokesperson telling InDaily that it is independent from the government.
The panel is required to provide a report to Chapman setting out its findings, its opinion as to whether Milazzo’s removal is justified and the reasons for its decision.
The report must be tabled in both Houses of Parliament.
The Governor has the final say on whether a judicial officer should be permanently stood down.
Chapman told InDaily last month that the judicial conduct panel “should send a clear message to complainants that their voices will be heard, and that allegations of inappropriate behaviour will be investigated in a way that is fair and impartial”.
InDaily has sought a response from Milazzo.
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