Adelaide magistrate fired after sexual harassment inquiry

South Australian magistrate Simon Milazzo has been fired after an unprecedented 17-month judicial inquiry found he made “inappropriate conduct with sexual connotations” with four women over an eight-year period.

Nov 17, 2022, updated Nov 17, 2022
Former judge's associate Alice Bitmead, who came forward with allegations about Milazzo's conduct last year. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Former judge's associate Alice Bitmead, who came forward with allegations about Milazzo's conduct last year. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Milazzo’s removal from office comes 18 months after InDaily first revealed that Milazzo’s conduct was being investigated by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Chief Justice – prompting the state’s first ever judicial conduct panel investigation.

Chief Magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal this afternoon announced that Milazzo had been formally removed from office by order of the Governor following a recommendation of the panel.

She apologised to the four women who were “harmed by the conduct of a Magistrate of this Court” and vowed to listen to what they had to say.

“The report of the Judicial Conduct Panel (the Panel) into Mr Simon Milazzo has been tabled in Parliament, finding the complaints against him proved and recommending his removal as a Magistrate,” she said.

“The Governor has acted on that opinion and removed the Magistrate from Office.”

In a report tabled in parliament this afternoon, the judicial conduct panel set up to investigate Milazzo’s conduct stated it had “accepted evidence that inappropriate conduct with sexual connotations occurred in relation to four women over a period which spanned nearly eight years”.

The panel found that the 68-year-old, who previously worked in the civil jurisdiction of the Adelaide Magistrates Court, had “not expressed any genuine understanding of or insight into his behaviour towards them”.

“The Magistrate himself has not expressed any genuine remorse in respect of the three most serious allegations and has in effect denied outright any improper conduct in the form of sexual harassment in relation to either of those witnesses,” the panel’s report states.

“The Panel notes that all of the conduct proved against the Magistrate occurred in the workplace either in court related or informal settings related to staff who were junior to the Magistrate.

“For this reason the Panel is of the view that the Courts Administration Authority would not be able to discharge its duty of care to all employees if the Magistrate is permitted to return to the workplace.

“For these reasons it is the Panel’s opinion that removal of the Magistrate is justified.”

Milazzo’s removal from office comes 18 months after former judge’s associate Alice Bitmead first spoke to InDaily alleging she was made to feel like a “sexual object” during her interactions with Milazzo at a work dinner and during office hours in 2018.

Bitmead told InDaily that Milazzo questioned whether her partner “fulfilled” her and made comments alluding to “how much he would like to have a relationship” with her.

Bitmead, who was 25-years-old at the time at the time of the alleged harassment and one year into her career as a judge’s associate, also said that she tried raising a complaint with senior judicial officers in the months afterwards, but never received an apology.

“It definitely made me feel like I wasn’t valued as being a legal practitioner… and that my value in the eyes of that Magistrate was purely as a sexual object,” she told InDaily at the time.

In coming forward with her story, Bitmead prompted an investigation by former Judicial Conduct Commissioner Ann Vanstone and Chief Justice Chris Kourakis.

One day after InDaily first published Bitmead’s claims, Hribal banned Milazzo from sitting in court, but he continued to get paid while Vanstone conducted her investigation.

I am very sorry that they have been harmed by the conduct of a Magistrate of this Court

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In June last year, Vanstone announced that four other women had come forward with complaints about Milazzo, prompting then Attorney-General Vickie Chapman to appoint a judicial conduct panel – the first in South Australia’s history – to investigate the allegations.

The panel had the powers of a Royal Commission and was headed by former Court of Appeal president Patricia Kelly KC, alongside retired Supreme Court Judge David Bleby SC and former Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Chris Moy.

In May this year, Milazzo lost his bid to have the panel’s investigation quashed.

“I would like to acknowledge the strength and courage of the victims who have made complaints and given evidence before the Panel,” Hribal said in a statement this afternoon.

“I am very sorry that they have been harmed by the conduct of a Magistrate of this Court.

“Whilst I have not yet met with all of the victims, I would like to listen to, and learn from, what they have to say, if they wish to speak with me.”

Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said judicial officers would continue to partake in programs about harassment to understand the “nature, drivers and impacts of such behaviour”.

“Power imbalances must be guarded against,” he said.

“Bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation of any kind cannot be tolerated.”

Attorney-General Kyam Maher told parliament this afternoon that Milazzo stopped getting paid on November 8.

“The process form the date the first complaint was made to now was complex and lengthy,” he said.

“I have no doubt that the process was difficult for the complainants and witnesses.

“Their courage and persistence throughout this process deserves acknowledgement.”

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