The year 1991 might be remembered by most for the passing of Queen front man Freddy Mercury or the second coming of The Terminator.
For those at Phillips Fox, on the other hand, nostalgia generated from those heady days of Happy Pants and Hypercolour T-Shirts isn’t so romantic.
Back then the decision to defend Perth accountants Nelson Wheeler against damages claims launched by the liquidators for fallen Duke Group Limited appeared innocuous enough.
Twelve years ago, no-one at the firm would have predicted the proceedings would turn out to be the longest running trial in Australian judicial history.
Last week, Phillips Fox’s Adelaide partners were taken on a trip down memory lane, when the case was revived in the South Australian Supreme Court at the behest of liquidators and former Duke directors, dissatisfied with the High Court’s $32 million damages split between the parties.
Phillips Fox Adelaide head Joe De Ruvo, who was with the firm when the case commenced and admits to being continually surprised by its longevity, said proceedings had been re-opened on the basis of “an error of natural justice”.
“We were actually happy with the result [Nelson 50 percent/Directors 50 per cent],” he said.
Spanning 470 hearing days, De Ruvo said the case was “head and shoulders above” any other he had worked upon in terms of length, detail and logistics.
“To give you a better idea of the size of it, we have 2,700 archive boxes full of discoveries,” De Ruvo said.
Nelson’s defence has primarily been run from the firm’s Adelaide and Perth offices, with a cumulative total of around seven staff — clerks, solicitors, and partners included — working on it at any one time over the past decade.
Along with De Ruvo, Perth partner Ian Freeman and Adelaide senior associate Sophie Traiforos — a humble clerk when the marathon proceedings commenced — survived.
Acting for other parties involved, rival Adelaide firms Fisher Jeffries and Thomson Playford have also been in the mix the entire way, De Ruvo said.