THE career of a judge who criticised NSW Labor's dealings with donor developers is hanging in the balance after the government knocked back a request from the state's Chief Justice for him to work in the Supreme Court's short-staffed equity division. The Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, is refusing to explain why Justice David Lloyd's commission was rejected. But the opposition says it appears to be political payback against a public servant who held the government to account.
Justice Lloyd angered the government last year when he described its secret negotiations over the state's biggest housing development as a "land bribe". He ruled that the former planning minister Frank Sartor was biased when he approved projects for the Rose Group, an ALP donor, in Catherine Hill Bay and Gwandalan because he had agreed to look kindly upon them in exchange for 300 hectares of conservation land.
When Justice Lloyd retired from the Land and Environment Court in January, the NSW Chief Justice, Jim Spigelman, invited him to be an acting judge - a job he has filled in the past. "Cases were listed for me but at the last minute the Attorney-General rejected the Chief Justice's request," Justice Lloyd said this week. "I don't know the reasons why." Asked if he thought he was being punished for his comments last year, he said: "Some people have suggested it to me, but I wouldn't know. I don't know whether anyone in the cabinet would be that vindictive."
The five-member equity division of the state's top court is understaffed after Justice Robert Forster was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year. "The equity division is in a bit of strife because cases are listed before two judges who aren't there," Justice Lloyd said. He said Justice Spigelman still hoped to bring him in later in the year. The Chief Justice declined to comment, other than to point out through his spokeswoman that all appointments had to be approved by the Attorney-General and cabinet.
Mr Hatzistergos's spokeswoman said the government does not comment on the appointment of acting judges. "[They] are a matter for cabinet and most acting appointments are made in July of each year," she said.
But the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said it looked like political retribution. He said the government had an appalling record of dealing with public servants who have "dared to hold them to account" and it was time to remove political patronage from judicial appointments - as they have been in Britain.
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