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SA judge resigns following ‘complaint about conduct’

A South Australian District Court judge has resigned following an investigation into a complaint about his conduct.

user iconNaomi Neilson 24 May 2023 Big Law
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Judge Timothy Heffernan resigned on 17 May, putting an end to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner’s (JCC) investigation of his alleged conduct and preventing it from making any findings.

Chief Judge Michael Evans said that while the investigation had to be terminated, the Courts Administration Authority “continues to take all complaints of inappropriate judicial conduct very seriously”.

According to News Corporation’s The Advertiser, who received permission from the JCC to report, Mr Heffernan was the subject of a complaint related to alleged sexual harassment.

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Chief Justice Chris Kourakis could not comment on the investigation but acknowledged the community rightly expects a judicial officer “observe the highest standards of respectful and decent conduct”.

“Any person who cannot meet those standards should not seek judicial office or expect to remain in office,” Judge Kourakis said.

State courts administrator Penny Croser said the CCA is committed to providing a “safe, inclusive and respectful workplace”.

“At all times, the wellbeing of CAA employees is the priority when managing complaints, including complaints about a judicial officer,” she said.

Court staff and employees are receiving ongoing assistance.

On the same day Mr Heffernan’s resignation was announced, the South Australian Legal Profession Conduct Commissioner (LPCC) launched a free online tool to allow legal professionals to confidently and anonymously report sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Victims can add as much or as little information as possible, return to it to add more, and submit a formal complaint if they are comfortable.

Commissioner Anthony Keane said the tool is intended to remove some of the barriers around reporting.

“Reporting of inappropriate conduct is a first step in promoting change,” Mr Keane said.

The tool, available on LPCC’s website, is in line with recommendations made by the acting commissioner for equal opportunity, Steph Halliday, in her review of harassment in the legal profession.

Ms Halliday found there was an overwhelming need for anonymous reporting to help address “serious and underreported” problems.

More than 42 per cent of respondents in Ms Halliday’s review indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in the legal profession at least once, but there is limited data available.

Attorney-General Kyam Maher said all workers have a right to “feel safe in the workplace”.

“The online anonymous reporting tool will not be a panacea for inappropriate personal behaviour in the legal profession but is one positive step in a broader strategy to address the problem,” he said.

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