Senior Australian Lawyer Almost ‘Falls Off Chair’ Over Minters Email Imbroglio

Australian lawyer Mark Liebler

” . . it was “incomprehensible” that Ms Kimmitt did not contact Mr Bartlett before sending the email.”

The scandal involving the email from MinterEllison’s former CEO Annette Kimmitt has lead one Australian law leader to describe the incident as “off the planet and incomprehensible.”

Kimmitt has now resigned her position following the imbroglio over her email that was sent to the entire firm and related to the alleged incident in 1988 involving rape allegations against Australian Attorney General Christian Porter, represented by Minters’ senior partner Peter Bartlett.

Mark Leibler is the senior partner at Arnold Bloch Leibler and not only an Australian legal leader but he has also been a confidant of politicians and business leaders for 50 years. Speaking with the Australian Financial Review, he said that Ms Kimmitt’s reaction was misplaced, although he could appreciate the sentiment behind it.

“I certainly have sympathy with the notion that she was trying to appeal to younger people, but I mean, this is a law firm and the way she went about it was completely misplaced.

Annette Kimmitt
Annette Kimmitt

“If there are young people who feel uncomfortable about the law firm taking on a client and the circumstances, one needs to explain to them why, in fact, they shouldn’t be feeling uncomfortable, because by taking on a particular client you’re not necessarily aligning with the values of the client.”

He said it was impossible to lay down rules to cover every situation because there would always be borderline cases.

In Minters case, the firm apparently has about $100 million in work from the government and to have the email going out was something that he said almost made him ‘fall off my chair’.

“Set aside completely the fact that you’re dealing with a client like the Commonwealth that apparently produces some $100 million worth of work [for MinterEllison], this is the first law officer of the Commonwealth.”

He said that his own firm represented then opposition leader Bill Shorten when he faced a historic rape allegation in 2014 that was later dismissed by police. The firm also acted for former PM Tony Abbott on a matter involving union boss John Setka.

Firm Culture & Clients

He suggested smaller Australian law firms might be able to better handle issues like the one Minters confronted.

“You know the difference between us and I think some of these big law firms is we don’t have to worry about getting terribly excited about processes and how one goes about doing this because we’ve got a very distinctive culture …

“We don’t need a statement of values. All of my partners still can sit around the table, in our boardroom.

“Every morning, on my computer, on my iPhone, there comes a list of new matters or new clients, and everyone has the opportunity – if there’s an objection anywhere – to make themselves heard and have a discussion,” he told AFR.

He said it was “incomprehensible” that Ms Kimmitt did not contact Mr Bartlett before sending the email.

“I don’t know Peter Bartlett personally, but some of my partners do and I know him by reputation. He’s a highly distinguished and respected lawyer and it’s almost beyond belief that an email could have gone out without a discussion with him.

The scandal has major political repercussions in Australia as the reach of the #Metoo movement continues to spread with ‘recovered memory’ theories taking hold, along with general attitudes towards matters like the Christian Porter situation. As another observer noted, the seeming inability of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to contain the scandal may well result in the collapse of his government – a truly astonishing prospect given his government’s extraordinarily successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past twelve months.

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