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Courting Fame

Every Issue

Cite as: October 2012 86 (10) LIJ, p.78.

The day Stephen Gageler was announced as the 49th High Court of Australia judge (see page 11) the news was splashed across the front of many of the nation’s newspapers and his name was mentioned in many television and radio news bulletins.

While High Court judges can become well-known in Australia, such as the “rock star judge” Michael Kirby, Ian Callinan, Lionel Murphy and Sir Ninian Stephen, according to a United States survey released on 20 August, their US counterparts do not enjoy such profiles.

The survey found that, despite much recent controversy surrounding US Supreme Court decisions, nearly two-thirds of Americans could not name a single judicial officer of the nation’s highest court.

The legal information website survey was conducted using a “demographically balanced telephone survey” of 1000 American adults and had a margin of error of just 3 per cent.

Of those who could name one of the nine Supreme Court judges, 20 per cent nominated the 17th Chief Justice John Roberts, followed by Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both 16 per cent), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor (both 13 per cent), Justice Anthony Kennedy (10 per cent) and Justice Samuel Alito (5 per cent), Justice Elena Kagan (4 per cent) and Justice Stephen Breyer (3 per cent). editor Stephanie Rahlfs said recent rulings, particularly the decision to uphold health care reform, had “brought more attention to the US Supreme Court than we have seen in many, many years”.

“However, the Supreme Court issues its rulings as a collective body. While justices can and do issue individual concurring and dissenting opinions, court sessions are conducted without TV cameras and deliberations take place behind closed doors,” Ms Rahlfs, also an attorney, said.

“So while the decisions often have significant and lasting impact, the justices themselves are generally not very visible nor well known to the public as individuals.”

Also in the United States came a recent bizarre situation that we immediately filed in the “Only in America” category. It seems a man by the name of Wallace Weatherholt was charged with feeding an alligator after it had bitten off his right hand.

Our spies in Florida tell us the case was hotly pursued by criminal lawyers wanting a little media coverage. It all began on 12 July when Mr Weatherholt, an Everglades tour boat captain, dangled a fish over the side of his boat in order to lure a nine-foot alligator closer so to give the tourists a little thrill.

But, as it inevitably played out, the alligator got way too close and bit off Mr Weatherholt’s hand. The animal was later caught and the hand retrieved, but surgeons were unable to reattach it.

Mr Weatherholt, or “Captain Wally”, was later charged with the unlawful feeding of an alligator and jailed for a weekend before being released on bail. He was later also fined $500. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officer Jorge Pino told Associated Press that it was a “very sad situation” for Mr Weatherholt.

“We wish this never happened to him, but there are laws on the books to protect people from this exact incident,” he said.

Enjoy laughing at the failings, foibles and faux pas of others? Of course you do.

Then why not contribute to WADR?

By email to, by fax on 9607 9451 or by mail C/- LIJ, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne 3000.


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