Cathy Grimes has become something of an expert on the No Child Left Behind Act. She keeps a copy of the hefty federal law at her desk — and has actually read it. THE president of the NSW Law Society is threatening to take unprecedented legal action to force journalists to reveal whether one of 22 governing council members leaked confidential information to them.
Law Society president John McIntyre has warned that unless the member involved identifies themself and resigns from the council, he will launch Supreme Court proceedings against three journalists.
Mr McIntyre wants a judge to compel the journalists to name their source so the society can decide if it can sue any council member for breaching confidentiality provisions.
The move has been triggered by disclosures in last Friday's legal affairs section of The Australian of a damaging split among council members over tort reform.
The split almost claimed the job of the society's chief executive, Mark Richardson, after some council members expressed concerns he was too close to the NSW Government.
Mr Richardson was the society's senior manager throughout the wave of tort reforms initiated by former premier Bob Carr that cut civil litigation and reduced damages payouts for personal injury cases.
The split came to light at an August 18 council meeting that was considering whether to renew Mr Richardson's contract.
While 10 council members backed Mr Richardson, another 10 -- including incoming president June McPhie -- voted not to renew his contract. One member abstained from the vote.
The deadlock was resolved when Mr McIntyre used his presidential vote to save Mr Richardson's job.
Mr McIntyre told the council meeting that he would resign as president if Mr Richardson lost his job.
Mr McIntyre has told council members he will instruct the society's solicitors to commence proceedings against this reporter if the member concerned did not identify themself by close of business yesterday.
He also proposed to commence similar proceedings against two reporters from Fairfax newspapers, who have spoken to the Law Society about the affair but have yet to publish it in their newspapers.
A Law Society spokeswoman said yesterday that no final decision had been taken on whether to start proceedings.
That would depend on whether the source of Friday's article could be identified.
If the source could not be identified, proceedings against this reporter would then be considered by the society's executive and the next meeting of its council.
The split in the Law Society's council coincides with growing moves within the legal profession to wind back tort reform.
The profession's peak national body, the Law Council of Australia, is co-ordinating a national campaign to ease restrictions on access to the courts and increase damages payouts.
The High Court will hand down its judgment tomorrow on a constitutional challenge to the NSW Government's advertising ban on personal injury lawyers.