When it comes to influencing the outcome of a case, the lawyer acting for investors in the Storm Financial class action isn't afraid to push the limits. Stephanie Quine reports
The lawyer acting for former Storm Financial clients in a class action against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) and Macquarie Bank (MBL) is making them the subject of a new documentary film.
Stewart Levitt, the principal of Levitt Robinson Solicitors, is running the class action against the banks for their role in approving margin loans to investors, and believes the film, along with other marketing campaigns around the class action, could have a substantial impact on the case and its outcome.
"We're giving the clients the opportunity to tell their story which they wouldn't normally get to do in a class action," said Levitt, who has also encouraged his clients to attend court and identify themselves.
"Clients have made badges with the logo of the bull ant because - though they're trodden on - they fight back. We now have hundreds of storm clients sitting in court ... at every directions hearing."
The documentary is in an "advanced state of readiness", Levitt said. It will screen in a private media showing in November, be released commercially on DVD, and Levitt hopes one of the TV networks will also screen it.
A film crew from Balibu Productions has interviewed a number of former Storm investors and advisors since it began following the case in July this year. Storm investors each contributed $250 to a marketing and advertising fund for the project.
And Levitt openly admits what he hopes to achieve from the film.
"Decisions aren't made in a vacuum ... creating a climate in the community does have an affect on the outcome of a case and affect the willingness of powerful defendants like banks to run the case," said Levitt, adding that he was well placed to run such campaigns.
"The beauty of my practice is that I don't have any partners. The way I run things would never get past a board at a big firm. There's no way they'd allow me to do the media releases I do, or address public meetings, or make a film."
Levitt remains sceptical of the actions brought against the banks by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), which plead many of the same points as Levitt - including that the banks with Storm were operating an unregistered management investment scheme, required to be registered - but do not seek such broad terms.
"ASIC are only alleging that the banks were knowingly concerned, whereas we're saying that they were principals in the conduct of the unregistered management investment scheme," explained Levitt.
"ASIC has a political agenda ... They are not alleging the same things against CBA as they are against the other banks, even though from our reading of the facts, CBA was more culpable than the other banks in many ways because they were involved at every level ... That always causes you to question the nature of the relationship between government and the CBA."
Thousands of people, many of them "mum and dad" investors, lost savings when the chain founded by Emmanuel and Julie Cassimatis imploded in December 2008.