One of the greatest political scandals in the state’s history, which involved bribery, corruption and the jailing of a minister, has been revisited in the NSW Supreme Court this week with one of the jailed conspirators arguing he should be allowed back on the roll of solicitors.
“It was well-rumoured at the time, that Buckets accepted a lot of bribes,” said one witness, solicitor Norm Gibson.
He was referring to the state’s former Corrective Services minister Rex “Buckets” Jackson who was jailed in 1987 after he was found to have “prostituted his high office” by accepting bribes to feed his gambling addiction.
Now, almost 30 years later, former solicitor Howard Hilton, who was jailed for bribing Jackson to let his clients out of jail early, is fighting to be able to practise as a solicitor again.
“If not now, when?” said barrister David Bennett, QC, of his 73-year-old client’s attempt to be readmitted to the profession.
Hilton is appealing the April 2016 decision by the Legal Profession Administration Board to refuse his application.
In 1982 Hilton acted for three Italian men who were jailed in Broken Hill over a marijuana crop.
The following year at Flemington fruit markets Hilton accepted $10,000 in cash from Frank Salvo to secure the early release of his brother Sam and the other two men in Broken Hill jail.
Hilton told Justice Robert Beech-Jones that what he did was “wrong, improper and illegal”.
He said that “Lebanese Godfather” Frank Hakim, who brought a lot of clients to him, was given the bribe money to pass on to the minister via another intermediary, Keith Harris, a wealthy racegoer who was friendly with Jackson.
Police phone taps played at his trial revealed Hilton complaining to Hakim that Jackson had the money, so why was there a delay.
He was initially jailed for nine years, but this sentence was reduced on appeal and he was released in August 1989 after serving just under three years.
This week Hilton told the court that at the time he had one of the biggest criminal law practices in Sydney and was “a man in full strength at the top of my game”.
“This has all gone, thrown away by me in an act of criminal folly for which I think I have paid a very heavy price,” Hilton said.
In opposing his readmission, Robert Newlinds SC argued that it was difficult “to imagine conduct by a legal practitioner that is more serious” than that which saw Hilton jailed.
Mr Newlinds submitted that such conduct could not be overcome by “mere apologies and testimonials from friends and colleagues”.
He was referring to more than 40 character references attesting to Hilton’s remorse and current good character.
Arts patron and philanthropist Simon Mordant, who visited Hilton in jail, told the court that “notwithstanding his dereliction of duty so many years ago” his friend was now a fit and proper person.
Others who provided testimonials included Macquarie Bank executive Robert Upfold, prominent silk Francis Douglas, retired criminal barrister Bruce Stratton SC, former secretary of the NSW Labor Council Michael Easson, KPMG partner Grant Wardell-Johnson, as well as a string of legal practitioners.
Justice Beech-Jones has reserved his decision.
The story Howard Hilton, jailed for bribing minister Rex Jackson, wants to be a lawyer again first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.