Judge Colin O’Connor – NSW’s Most Useless Public Servant?

Sebastien and Christian Whitbread drank 20 schooners of beer, arrived drunk at Gosford station and refused to pay for a ticket, verbally abusing staff who challenged their attempt to catch a train without tickets. Senior transit officer, Andrew Schofield, then stepped in when the brothers refused to leave the station.  A scuffle ensued, resulting in one of the brothers receiving a bloody lip.

The pair – described by judge Colin O’Connor as “heavily intoxicated, belligerent and abusive” – were still so aggressive when police arrived that one was threatened with the use of capsicum spray. The brothers then sued Railcorp, Mr Schofield and several other transit officers for assault and false imprisonment.

The judge, in his infinite wisdom, awarded damages of $12,000 to Christian, and $10,000 to Sebastian.

Judge Colin O’Connor has form.

i) He awarded $700,000 to a Qantas baggage handler who hurt his back lifting a windscreen that had not been labelled as heavy.

ii) He awared $21,000 to a student who hurt his thumb on a statue at the St. George TAFE, even though he acknowledged that some students had probably moved it.  

iii) He sentenced Paul Butcher to a whopping five years imprisonment for paying a hitman $5,000 to drown his wife in a lake.

Read the comments section for an outpouring of emotion directed at the good judge.

Update – according to Andrew Bolt, it appears that Judge O’Connor’s days are numbered. He and his ilk are to be replaced by, err, my eight year-old son and his mates.

23 thoughts on “Judge Colin O’Connor – NSW’s Most Useless Public Servant?

  1. In America, they elect their judges!
    I always thought that was a bad system, but it allows us to replace judges who have exceeded their use-by date.

  2. I agree with i) and ii), but I might be missing the problem with iii) :

    He sentenced Paul Butcher to a whopping five years
    imprisonment for paying a hitman $5,000 to drown his wife in a lake.

    I think thats quite a reasonable sentence, so long as the evidence is solid – its the whole conspiracy to commit murder.

  3. jono

    i was being sarcastic – only 5 years for attempting to drown your wife? many men might hear of this and think it’s worth a shot 😉

  4. Nicholas – electing judges would be a huge step forward. with people like the O’Connor around, it shouldn’t be long before we can.

  5. Well, we elected anthony albanese too. I don’t quite get how electing judges improves the quality of the law, and I don’t think the yanks elect the really important judges, like the supremes.

    I do like the confirmation process, even though it is abused to some degree. Some of the donkeys appointed by various state governments might not have made it through. Judges don’t need to represent the diversity of society, they need to know the damn law and respect the role of a stable legal system and body of law plays in society.

    5 years seems light for wanting to murder your wife.

    Shem, the simple statements about plaintiffs i) and ii) don’t tell you anything like enough to judge the merits of those cases.

  6. How do you know pommy? If his back is rooted and he can’t work then it might be fair enough. I’d want a bunch if my back was stuffed and i had to change my life as a consequence. Which is not to say I’m unaware of the amount of bad back fraud that goes on.

  7. pedro, shem – you’re both missing the point of this post.

    guilt-ridden, middle-class Gex Xers (like O’Connor) are doing their best to destroy an entire generation of young people by excusing all manner of appalling (and in this case, violent) behaviour. if a 20 year-old has never been told off, or has never had to face up to the consequences of his anti-social actions, he is likely to end up seriously fucked up as an adult.

    you may disagree, but that’s my point.

  8. Well, if you read the article, he lost his job from the deal. He arguably lost his wife because he was unable to perform sexually which means he’ll need to hire hookers for the rest of his life. $700k is quite a modest amount considering that he’s gone from free sex to having to pay per hour.

    Okay, that was mostly tongue in cheek, but even after the Age article I can’t say that $700k was definitely “too much”. I 1) don’t know the details of the case and 2) I don’t know what worker’s comp payouts usually end up awarding.

    The statue, again, I think someone should have been responsible and $21k seems a modest sum considering the loss of opportunity for a budding graphic artist. If the students that moved the statue could have been found maybe they should have been forced to bear the cost, but even so, leaving a statue in a hallway is negligent…

    5 years for hiring a hitman- that’s light. But he didn’t actually go through with hiring a hitman. So it’s 5 years for attempting to hire a hitman. ALMOST on the verge of a “thoughtcrime” here… If his wife had died 5 years would be light, but she didn’t. The actus reus is surely as relevant as the mens rea.

    The only point I really can concede is that $22k is a substantial payout to 2 drunken criminals. I don’t think the blokes that got slapped around should get a cent. However, I also think the transport officer, who initiated physical contact, should be held to a higher standard, especially given RailCorp is still government owned.

    If it was a private entity I’d be more inclined to support a variation of “Castle Law”. If someone is trespassing on your private property, you should be allowed to use reasonable force to get them to leave.

    So NSW’s most useless Public Servant? I’m sure there are a hell of a lot more… Try the Departments of Education or Health for a start..

  9. Jeez, shem, in the statute case it is a low bar for the duty of care. Dangerous to store statute in corridors because they might get moved? come on! “I think someone should be responsible” is a bad start for a legal system. Perhaps you aspire to Slater and Gordon.:-)

  10. OK… so it didn’t have the word “heavy” on it… but couldn’t the guy tell it was heavy when he started to lift it?

    $700k for unsuccessfully picking something up sounds like subsidising stupidity.

    I agree with the idea of elected judges. Judges are often too reasonable and considerate of the plight of the criminals. On a case by case basis, this is often a good idea. But it undermines the incentive against crime. Elected judges would force some sentences up… but retain discretion for judges.

  11. So John, you agree with elected judges despite being ambivalent to democracy?

    I actually like the Japanese system- judges are actually go through a totally different training and examination program to lawyers. You don’t start as a lawyer and become a judge, you are either a lawyer, or a judge.

    I think $700k sounds a bit excessive for what it was. But the guy was doing his job, following the rules of his job (“Don’t lift things that say heavy by yourself, otherwise it’s your job to lift it”). But regardless of whether or not the guy deserved money for “being stupid”, the judge isn’t the one deciding the law, merely interpreting the relevant laws, regulation, contracts and precedent and extrapolating that information to the case at hand.

    If you can cite using legal references why the guy shouldn’t have got that amount and/ or anything I’ll defer to the judgement of the judge, who had all the relevant facts and information at hand.

  12. John,

    Funnily enough it is enough (apparently) for our Parliamentarians to act as their own court if they so choose to try one of their own for a crime or breach of their own rules.

    I suppose their incentive is to disassociate.

    Why can’t Parliament try judges if it already has the power to support the Ministers appointing them and also has the power to dismiss them if the Premier, CM or PM asks for it?


    Is there not different training for private counsel, prosecutors and judges?

    On the surface of things, I agree with the judge on i) and ii) but definitely not on iii) and the recent decision.

    But honestly you need to know all of the facts.

    There is an often quoted story that a man who broke into a nightclub and fell sued and won several $100 000s, winning by abusing poorly designed public liability rules.

    Not quite true.

    The proprietors actually found him on a second attempt and beat him senseless. There was no need to use deadly force to protect life or property in this instance. An unreasonable use of force. That would seem to be the right decision, to award high damages.

  13. the judge isn’t the one deciding the law, merely interpreting the relevant laws, regulation, contracts and precedent and extrapolating that information to the case at hand

    That sentence contains a fairly substantial contradiction in the word ‘precedent’.

    In the common law system in which we operate, judges are in a very real way, deciding the law. Just as this judge should have (and I’m sure did) look at precedent in deciding this case, others will look at this in deciding future cases.

  14. Might be right on that, Mark.

    Thankfully never dealt with the Japanese legal system. So my knowledge is based on hearsay from Japanese people that have said “lawyers and judges are trained separately and you can graduate as a judge”.

    I’ll also note that the “McDonalds coffee” woman who is commonly cited as a stupid lawsuit received third degree burns on 6% of her body due to the not just hot, but excessively and scalding hot coffee (82-88 degrees) that she spilt on herself.


    Lawsuits that may seem frivolous are often less so. Judges, whether appointed or elected may not get it right all the time, they often have deep personal biases. But I really don’t see Judge O’Connor as having such a tarnished record as to be declared NSW’s most useless public servant.

  15. Yeah. Coffee is hot. And if you spill hot liquids on yourself you will get burnt. Maybe the people buying the coffee could perform a risk assessment? No. Of course not. Now, because we have to be responsible for retards pretending to be adults, nobody can sell a hot drink anywhere. And it is always stone cold before you can finish it.

    If you are too stupid to survive in the modern world, you should die, not receive massive payouts. There’s the incentive – be stupid and get lots of money for hurting yourself. Yeah, that’s a sustainable society….

  16. Tim; How can you be so cynical and not be a miner?

    OH&S seems to be biassed in favor of the lowest common denominator, as I found out when I leapt to catch a 6 inch pipe about to fall on a guy from 4 m up, breaking my collar bone in the process. I copped the blame, not the guy who had placed it without wedging the pins holding it, because I had placed myself in an at risk situation, despite saving someone from serious injury. (I still burn when I think of it.)

    Yeah mate, I couldn’t agree more, there is a lot to be said for the Darwin awards.

  17. In the Railcorp Transit Officer case, the Judge was correct.

    Transit officers must use reasonable force to force you to exit the station.

    They cannot slap you. They cannot hit your head into the ground and give you a bloody lip.

    No matter what obscenities you scream. You can give them a $400 fine for obscenities. If they fail to give ID, the Police will lock them up in their cells until they establish an identity.

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.

  18. TimQ- you know nothing about the case, so please wait until you find out more. I have read about the ‘hot coffee’ case, and if you believed the reporting, the woman was stupid. If you delved deeply into the case, there were other factors involved, and she was not stupid. In lots of cases, it’s a reporter putting a spin on a case that leaves us with a false impression.
    When I read more about the ‘Hot Coffee’ case, I thought the Judge had got it right.

  19. I believe Nicholas is right about the coffee case, and many of the apparently stupid cases turn out to have more to them than the media lets on. But there are the cases where idiots have successfully sued Councils for not warning about the dangers of diving into the surf. I think you can feel free to laugh at those judges. Footpath tripping cases also get my goat. Can’t people look where they are going?

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