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City Desk
17 February, 2010  
Conferenceville

Cross-cultural hobnobbing … Last day of the big American Bar conference in Sydney … Aspersions cast freely … No shortage of sponsored refreshments … Yarran Hominh reports


During the war Sydneysiders used to say of visiting Yank military men, “they’re over here, over paid and over-sexed”.

I didn’t hear anyone say that of our US visitors during the two day American Bar Association international jamboree in Sydney.

What’s happened to the American male?

imageDelegates swayed to the rhythm of significant luminaries: Nino Scalia, Ronny (C7) Sackville, Tony D’Aloisio, Sir Tony Mason and the ever-present Kirbs.

Panel members sat up on the judges’ chairs in the Banco Court. The well-rounded Allens’ partner Zeke Solomon (seen here with Robert Hill)) said he found the CJ’s seat remarkably agreeable.

We struggled with the big issues: sex, therapy, climate change and how to make Justice Margaret Stone laugh.

(The answer, by the way, seems to be to kick her as she takes her judicial seat. And then joke about it.)

We saw rollickingly good table-thumping, specious argument on why the “clearly inappropriate forum” test in Voth v Manildra Flour Mills should be overruled, an American attorney’s how-to guide on sledging Scalia and a sleep-inducing discussion on “why small amounts of regulatory arbitrage as opposed to uniform world-wide regulatory principles is a good thing for the diversity and strength of the Australian banking system”.

A Chicago law professor with a specialist interest in gay rights seemed to understand the dynamics of the host city, describing Sydney as “one half manly, the other half darling”.

The free flowing wine was down to the generosity of the conference “luncheon sponsor”, Freehills.

imageThe “reception sponsor”, Clayton Utz, was distracted, nursing recent wounds.

The Obama administration in the form of Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich (seen here) gained plenty of respect by referring to Nino Scalia as a “teddybear”.

He proceeded to expand on the theme of the role of international law by speaking of America’s respect for and contribution to international law and international organisations.

At that point Scalia seemed to transmogrify from teddy to grizzly bear.

The after-lunch sessions were split: a few bravely ventured upstairs to the Federal Court to hear a discussion panel that included ex-diplomat, ex-senator Robert Hill speak on carbon credits and other emerging forms of property.

The majority stayed within the high ceilings of the Banco Court to soak-up the vibes on the criminalisation of commercial conduct.

The day concluded with a panel on the effects of the GFC.

Questions included: a) what to regulate, b) when to regulate, and c) how to regulate.

The international answer so far seems to be: a) whatever we need to, b) sooner rather than later, and c) no idea.

Sydney Law School provided the free food and wine after the moot on “the art of persuading judges”.

Hundreds of students promptly appeared only to disappear, like locusts, leaving tables covered with empty bottles and plates.

imageTrue lawyers-in-the-making don’t bother with glassware.

Ron Sackville (pic) presided at the moot. Dr Andrew Bell SC had barely put on his wig and glasses before Ronny began his interjections:

Sackville: So you have to make out both of your contentions against jurisdiction, then?

Bell: No, your Honour, [long monologue as to how his opponent need only make out one of their contentions in order to ground jurisdiction].”

Sackville: So the answer to my question is ‘yes’.

Bell: I’m glad we’ve cleared that up, your Honour.

Doc Bell managed to charm not only a fiesty Sackers, but also Margaret Stone and Dean of the Sydney Law School, Gillian Triggs, who were were also on the bench.

Unfortunately, it was not enough for him to win the case. Justin Gleeson’s impassioned performance showed why he is the author of Rediscovering Rhetoric.

If the doctor was Achilles, Gleeson was the tortoise. The ars persuasionis should be renamed “slow and steady wins the race”.

The moot itself was a two-part international defamation affair based on Dow Jones v Gutnick: half taking place in NSW jurisdiction, the other half in New York.

imageThe question for the NY District Court judge, played by Nino, was whether New York would enforce the Australian decision.

You could almost see the cogs working in the head of the bearded NY attorney Bob Brodegaard (pic).

Having heard that putting one’s opponent off is called “sledging”, he decided to try it.

He wonder why in Australia you get two barristers instead of one. Is it because ours are half-price? Bob’s seven minutes (advocates in US appellate courts only get seven minutes) started off like this:

Brodegaard: I like your Honour’s robes. Especially the red sash.

Scalia: Yeah. The Supreme Court, they have some weird ideas.

Brodegaard: Next thing you know, they’ll have us wearing wigs or somethin’.

imageBob lost both the case and a little piece of his dignity as Scalia ungently tore strips off him.

Scanning the heads of the crowd afterwards, one was drawn to former NSW Supremo Andrew Rogers (pic) aka Doc Emmett Brown from Back to the Future.

What a delightful chap. Anyone who mentions “Sir Garfield Barwick’s short, stubby fingers” has my attention.

Sadly, the excitement ground to a halt. Delegates thronged for a final drink and lurched-off, pockets bulging with business cards and a few spare sandwiches.

The Americans sailed across the ditch to New Zealand for another round of glad-handing and forums. Then it’s New York, followed by Paris for two more giant talkathons this year.

Conferenceville with the ABA ain’t for slouches.

See also Judicial rockstars