How the Marcus Einfeld story was almost not written
The humiliation of Marcus Einfeld is now complete. The NSW Court of Appeal struck him off this week, concurring with the argument of the NSW Bar Association that he is not a “fit and proper person” to practice as a lawyer ever again.
Representing the Bar Association, Barrister Christine Adamson SC said Einfeld’s speeding case showed he considered himself to be “above the law” and displayed “extraordinary hubris” in thinking he could use his “skill and ingenuity” as a respected lawyer of some 40 years to trick a court into cancelling a speeding fine.
A $77 speeding fine.The public reveled in it, as Einfeld for many years had been one of the greatest offenders of the deep-seated Australian belief that being massively up yourself is close on the worst crime a person can commit.
His gleeful acquiescence to the cringeworthy title of “national living treasure” - bestowed upon him by a panel of soft left poncho-enthusiasts in the dying days of the Keating era - was of itself a clear sign that the bloke was in love with himself.
As such, his shaming has followed the manner of a solider being stripped of his epaulettes after a dishonourable discharge - the order of Australia, the Queen’s Counsel appointment, the “Justice” title, all of them binned, with the concession by his own legal team in court this week that even Einfeld now thinks he should never be allowed to practice again.
The popular take on the Einfeld affair is - all this for a $77 fine. It’s a classic demonstration of the truism that a little lie can quickly turn into a very big one.
There isn’t a person left in Australia who doesn’t know about this case. What is less well known is how close Einfeld came to getting away with it.
The original story which appeared in the first edition of The Daily Telegraph on August 8, 2006, about the Marcus Einfeld case was three sentences long. It blandly recorded the fact that a court had cancelled Einfeld’s speeding fine because he had explained in a statutory declaration that the car was being driven at the time by a friend, Florida academic Professor Teresa Brennan.
Journalists often get a serious case of the Woodward and Bernsteins about the manner in which they go about their work; at events nights such as the Walkleys, our industry can display all the bombastic self-importance ascribed above to a figure such as Einfeld.
The back story to this jaw-dropping fall from grace involves nothing more than curiosity, luck, and natural persistence driven by the dead-obvious realisation that the newspaper, of which I was editor at the time, had stumbled across something extraordinary.
Two things happened in the newsroom that night which sealed Einfeld’s fate, starting with the publication of this story on page nine of the second edition.
Both these things could so easily have gone undone amid the usual madness and time demands of producing a newspaper, where a story which is originally destined for a three-paragraph run on the bottom of page 11 generally receives scant attention.
As luck would have it - good luck for the paper and particularly bad luck for Marcus Einfeld - it was a seasoned news veteran in Michael Beach and a very green, unfailingly polite and chirpy young court reporter in Viva Goldner who ended up collaborating on a story which ultimately won them a Walkley and a News Award for the scoop of the year.
My role was to sit in the big office eating a toasted sandwich and to look up and say “Jesus” when they came in and told me the following.
Michael did a simple Google search on Teresa Brennan to find out who she was and to check the spelling of her name. Every web entry on the high-profile academic recorded the fact that she had died in a hit-and-run car accident in the US well before Einfeld’s car was caught speeding. Michael told Viva, and Viva found a home number for Marcus Einfeld, rang it, and over the course of a 90-second conversation with a 22-year-old reporter not long out of her cadetship, the Judge cooked his own goose.
Viva recounted the conversation as follows:
“I just rang him and said we needed to double-check that it was Teresa Brennan who was driving the car, and he said it was, and I told him that we’d checked on the internet and that the accident she was killed in happened before the speeding fine. He then went quiet and I asked him if he was there, and he said yes. So I asked him how it could be possible that she was driving his car if she was dead. And he paused and then said it was the other Teresa Brennan. I asked him if there were two of them, and he said yes. I asked if she was also from Florida as it said in his statutory declaration and he said, yes, yes, I think so, and then he said he wasn’t sure if it was Theresa with an h, or Therese, but that there were definitely two of them, he didn’t know where she was now, and then he said “I have nothing more to say” and hung up.”
Viva added drily: “If you ask me, he sounded like a bit of a bull**** artist.”
If Einfeld had not picked up the telephone that night and had this excruciating conversation it’s unclear what direction the story would have headed in. Even after the fact, it was an almighty struggle legally to publish it, because our own lawyers warned us that the imputation from our subsequent report was that a respected judge had perjured himself by using the name of a dead friend in a cooked-up stat dec to get out of a $77 speeding fine.
Well, that was the imputation alright. It is exactly what happened.
Personally, I remain amazed that this story ever came out at all. It was one of those moments in journalism when you just sit there in the middle of a story marvelling at the independent life it takes on.
And while this might sound like the most massively disingenuous call, given the role of our paper in his demise, I can’t help but look at the bloke now - in a society where paedophiles get time off on account of the special attention they receive inside jail, or where drunken thugs who randomly bash people get suspended sentences for their first offence - and think that the punishment for his ego-driven stupidity has been more than ample.
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