Australian Court Frowns On Settling Law-Firm Dispute With Baseball Bat

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Jim Byrnes, who was described as a "controversial Sydney businessman," was sentenced to four months in jail this week for using a baseball bat in an attempt to settle a dispute with a law firm.

Byrnes, 47, is apparently owed a lot of money by a client of the Edwin Davey firm, and needs the money sooner rather than later because he is facing bankruptcy proceedings himself.  Evidently feeling that the debt collection matter was not moving along quickly enough, Byrnes dropped by the firm to discuss it, bringing along a baseball bat.  Rather than swiftly disarming him with a single blow, as any American litigator would have done, solicitor Hector Ekes locked himself in his office.  Byrnes smashed a window next to the door with his bat, but that’s as far as things went.

Byrnes was charged with malicious destruction of property, something called "affray," and "having custody of an offensive implement in a public place," which I’m glad isn’t a crime over here.  He pleaded guilty to all of the charges.  Byrnes’ lawyer said his client had suffered "a brain snap," but had never intended to harm Mr. Ekes personally.  He also noted that his client had no history of violence, though he had been convicted of "assaulting a bikie over a traffic incident" in 2001.  Which sort of sounds like a history of violence to me, but maybe it’s okay to assault bikies, whatever the hell they are.

Magistrate Paul Lyon sentenced Byrnes to four months in jail on the "affray" count.  He said he understood that Byrnes was frustrated about the debt but that if "every debt collector behaved in the way you do there would be mayhem," which I guess is the legal term for multiple counts of affray.  "What can’t happen," he continued, "is the old days of debt collectors picking up a baseball bat and, with violence, being a standover thug to collect money."

The magistrate said the sentence would serve as a message "that it is not acceptable to settle business disputes with baseball bats."

According to the Brisbane Times, Byrnes immediately appealed the sentence but was told that because of his "affluent lifestyle" he would need to post $10,000 bail.  Where does a man facing bankruptcy get $10,000?  He calls his wife.  Or, he tells his lawyer to do it: "Leaning over to his solicitor, Stephen Tully, Byrnes instructed him to call his wife and ‘tell her to get $10,000 cash out of the bank and get her arse over here.’"  (Nice.  He does sound like a standover thug.)  Gina Byrnes did show up with the money, and so Byrnes is free on bail until his next hearing on June 13.

Link: ABC News (Australia) Online
Link: Brisbane Times