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Welcome for Judge Julie Clayton, County Court of Victoria

Welcome for Judge Julie Clayton, County Court of Victoria

By LIV Media

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May it please the Court.

I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this state to welcome Your Honour Julie Clayton as a judge of the County Court of Victoria.

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present, and to any Elders and emerging leaders with us today.

Your Honour, while all Judicial Welcomes are important occasions, yours has particular significance to the LIV and our members. You were one of us! A career solicitor who has reached the apex of the profession. One of the team

Of course, part of today’s task is to provide some context for Your Honour’s life and career – rummaging through rubbish bins and going through the shredding – checking every bucket – but more on that later.

You did not initially intend to pursue a career in Law – Your Honour considered following the impressive line of teachers in your family, or perhaps doing journalism.

As you neared the end of your degree in 1994, you were interviewed for articles at Blake Dawson Waldron.

One of the Blakes partners specialising in tax spent a full five minutes patiently explaining to you why, in his view, you really needed to do taxation law.

It soon became apparent to the Partner that Your Honour was never going to do tax work.

The common law jurisdiction is grateful that Your Honour does not have much of a poker face.

Instead you secured a position for your articles at Slater & Gordon – indeed, you were interviewed by former prime minister Julia Gillard, then a partner at the firm.

After 12 months travelling around Australia, you began as an Articled Clerk in 1996. I’m told you immediately shone – even if, deep down, you felt you had been thrown into the deep end.

Peter Gordon tells us that, of the dozens of articled clerks he took under his wing “none of them was smarter than Julie Clayton”.

High praise given those alumni include Supreme and County Court judges, as well as a Law professor at Oxford University.

At first Your Honour did industrial law cases, dealing with trade unions and unfair dismissal cases, and then you worked on a breast implants class action, again with Peter Gordon.

Then the opportunity arose to work with Ken Fowlie on the case of the bad oysters.

We need to set the scene.

In early 1997, more than 440 cases of hepatitis A had been traced to oysters from Wallis Lake on the New South Wales mid-coast.

After heavy rain, septic tanks would overflow, depositing raw sewage into the lake and catchment and – as we well know – manure and mollusc should never meet.

Slater & Gordon ran a class action representing the many people affected after eating the infected oysters. And so it was in September 1997, at the tiny courthouse on the foreshore at Foster, that Justice Murray Wilcox opened the trial.

It was quite a spectacle. Five senior counsel and juniors, plus instructing lawyers, many local residents, a gaggle of media….and one important truck driver.

For when Harry Mines rocked up at the Courthouse that morning, he did not come empty handed.

Harry’s daily task was to transport council sewage. He recalled that as he would trundle across the timber-slatted bridge over the lake, some of the sludge would invariably slosh and spill out the back of the truck…. and into the waters below.

He suspected it might have something to do with the ‘off’ oysters.

Luckily, Mr Mines had selflessly collected a bucket of the offending ordure and stored it under his house.

So when Slater & Gordon called him as a witness, and he was asked in court if he had evidence of what material had fallen from his truck, the answer came back short and fast.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I still have the bucket. It’s in the car.”

As the young instructing solicitor, it was Your Honour who was given the task of fetching the evidence.

Not for the last time in your career, Your Honour was about to find yourself carrying the can for the Bar.

Heading outside, Your Honour was helpfully directed to the car in question by the media scrum, pointing and yelling out “Here it is.” Cameras whirred furiously. 

Soberly and carefully, you carried this vital exhibit into the courtroom and, as instructed, cautiously peeled the lid off the bucket so the rapidly ripening contents could be observed up and down the Bar table …

Your Honour tell us that was the first and only time you have appeared on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald. …

More class action cases followed, including the Fairbridge Farm school litigation.

It was a trailblazing case, a class action that raised community understanding of systemic abuse inside institutions.

Other career highlights include work on the Vioxx and Thalidomide class actions, and litigation arising from the Essendon Supplement scandal.

Your Honour also practised in medical negligence litigation. Your colleague, Hayden Stephens told us that Your Honour demonstrated patience, kindness and care at all times, in what can be a particularly challenging and traumatic area of law.

For a time after your last daughter was born, you seriously considered a career change. I understand that the options were medicine, teaching or the police force. Eclectic tastes if nothing else.

But when you moved to the Supreme Court in early 2017 to take up the role as Judicial Registrar of the Common Law division, you discovered a whole new avenue of fulfilment.

You have told us that you loved the Supreme Court – you loved the variety of work and the entire cohort of people inside the Court who were so dedicated to the efficient and fair administration of justice

Given the joy the role gave you, I was not surprised to hear that you were often found walking the halls of the Supreme Court building, singing to yourself.

I mentioned to a barrister friend of mine that I was delivering your welcome and he said “You know, the best thing about Registrar Clayton was that she always read the material you sent her.”

Now, I was moderately surprised that this was an optional part of the job…. but it’s a reflection of the professionalism and dedication Your Honour brought to that role.

Tellingly, your colleagues there all speak glowingly of you.

Associate Justice Julian Hetyey was judicial registrar in charge of the Commercial division at the time.

He says you have an amazing work ethic, superb knowledge of the Law and court administration needs, and that you lead with a gritty, graceful determination.

Justice Andrew Keogh simply says that you are “a star – universally loved, respected and admired by everybody at the Court”.

As a Practitioner in the lists managed by Your Honour, I can attest to the high regard in which you are held by the profession. You have helped make the Supreme Court’s case management process the envy of the nation.

Quite literally, I have been at conferences where interstate practitioners ask how they might convince their own states to copy us.

Most importantly, this has been to the benefit of those actually before the Court – Plaintiff and Defendant alike, those the law is here to serve.

Your Honours contribution and dedication was no more apparent than during 2020 as we all adapted to a new way of practising.

Aspects of legal practice have changed forever and we must all adapt. In this respect, I think Your Honour’s appointment is an incredible advantage for the County Court.

Your Honour is also known to have a full life outside the law. You and Craig have raised four beautiful daughters – Ruby, Nina, Grace and Lily.

You are apparently an expert quilter and love to sew. I was also interested to find out you have a love of craft and, along with some friends, have an annual retreat dedicated to this somewhat neglected artform.

Instagram tells me that these pursuits are now considered achingly cool, which pegs Your Honour as something of a trend setter.

It seems these skills also have more practical applications.  Patrick Gordon of the Bar tells us that in the week of the Grand Final in 2016, he entrusted you with his precious Western Bulldogs scarf – the one that had never been washed, had been through thick and thin over the years,  – and was scarred with a big hole.

You sewed it up for him – and finally the Doggies won the premiership! Patrick still insists it was an omen.

Your Honour, speaking to your contemporaries, we were struck by how quickly everyone was to praise your character. Intellect and Technical excellence – no question -  but they were lining up to talk about your fairness, your empathy and kindness, your pragmatism and drive. It was a relentless theme.

The law has often been poor at valuing and recognising these traits but they are so important, particularly in the common law which is, at its heart, about people.

An injured worker. A doctor doing their best under trying circumstances….. Harry Hines and his bucket of shit.

On that note, Your Honour, we would like to wish you a long, enjoyable and satisfying career as a judge of this Court.

May it please the Court.


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