Jeff Shaw's fall from grace

Sunday Telegraph August 12, 2007

By Andrew Chesterton

DISGRACED former supreme court judge Jeff Shaw said he never thought that his drinking was "out of control'' - despite a stint in rehabilitation following a drink-driving conviction and a staggering fall from grace.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the former Labor attorney-general spoke about how he was rebuilding his life by working in a budding legal practice dedicated to helping the disadvantaged.

Mr Shaw, who sought treatment for alcoholism in 2004, said that he never recognised his drinking as a problem but admitted his doctors have banned him from alcohol.

IN CONTROL

"I HAVEN'T talked publicly about this really, I never believed it was out of control, but I now no longer drink any alcohol on medical advice,'' he said.

"I can only emphasise that, since I was 18, I drank alcohol - as most people do - but it was never, I don't think, out of control but under advice I no longer drink anything.''

Mr Shaw, 59, has begun mending his shattered life after he smashed his Alfa Romeo into a parked vehicle near his home in Louisa Rd, Birchgrove three years ago.

He was taken to hospital, where a sample of his blood went missing. Television footage on the same night captured him returning to his office with something in his hand.

The Police Integrity Commission recommended that he be charged with perverting the course of justice over the alleged theft of a police blood sample but the NSW Director of Public Prosecution decided not to proceed with the charge.

PEOPLE'S LAWYER

THE former chief lawmaker of NSW, who was once described as an "iconic figure'' who drove Labor's reformist agenda, now works out of a converted apartment at Darlinghurst.

The tiny shopfront law firm is host to a number of lawyers who handle cases that range from driving infringements to immigration matters.

A laminated sign advertising The People's Solicitors stuck on a plain black door is the only indicator that the small building houses a law firm.

Despite the new surroundings, Mr Shaw, who continues to be a practising QC, insists that the scandals of the past two years haven't damaged his career.

"I don't think (my past) hinders me, he said. "Whatever I have done and whatever sins of commission or omission have occurred have not hindered me, and have not hindered this firm.''

Despite facing a maximum of 14 years jail for perverting the course of justice, Mr Shaw confidently declared it would have been "bizarre'' if the DPP had proceeded with the case.

"Every piece of independent legal advice I had indicated that there was nothing in the claims against me,'' he said.

"We all thought this was inevitable and it would have been a bizarre conclusion if it had gone the other way.''

Mr Shaw said he regretted the distress the scandal had caused his family. ``Obviously I have made mistakes,'' he said.

"Our family is both happy and successful, but there was stress on them.

"I was concerned about my family, my wife and my children, but essentially I have come through this period and can put it behind me.''

Mr Shaw claimed he was happy to turn his back on his political career to defend Sydneysiders.

"I won't miss it, I'm perfectly happy to practice the law,'' Mr Shaw said. "This is my new direction. There was a personal toll, I can't lie to you, but it's starting to heal.

IN THE CLINIC

AT one point during Mr Shaw's fall from grace he was admitted to The Sydney Clinic, which costs about $500 a day, to be treated for alcoholism and related health problems.

He was subsequently reported to have been seen at different Sydney hotels sitting alone and quietly sipping on a glass of wine.

Mr Shaw said he was keen to forget the controversy that has clouded his life for the past three years and concentrate on growing his new firm.

He said most of his clients could not afford legal fees so he offered his services for free.

"Some of it is entirely pro bono, as in we do it for no money, while some of it is no win-no pay,'' he said.

"The idea of operating on a day-to-day practical basis and obtaining justice for individuals is satisfying.

"Now we're just going to develop more and more work, including some corporate work.''

Former NSW Premier Bob Carr chose Mr Shaw as his Attorney-General to drive his reformist policies when Mr Carr won the state election in 1995. He then appointed Mr Shaw to the Supreme Court in 2003.

Mr Carr said he wished his old colleague the best in his new endeavours. "I'm sure I speak for all his colleagues when I say we wish him well in his new venture,'' Mr Carr said.

Mr Shaw was a member of Legislative Council in NSW for 10 years from 1990 to 2000 and he was the state's Attorney-General from 1995 to 2000.