Who’s footing the bill for Cardinal Pell’s defence?

This photo illustration shows the front pages of Australia’s major newspapers reporting the conviction of Cardinal George Pell in Sydney on February 27, 2019. AFP PHOTO


Pell’s lead attorney, Robert Richter, is one of Australia’s most well-known defence barristers, and has represented the Cardinal since before committal hearings began in early March, 2018.
Legal experts said the total bill for his defence would likely exceed Aus$3 million.

Cardinal George Pell’s lawyers plan a multi-pronged appeal against his conviction for the sexual assault of two choirboys at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996-97.

Prosecutors and the defence can take several months to submit their written arguments and counter-arguments to Victoria state’s Court of Appeal before a hearing by a bench of three judges.
Here’s what the legal team said are going to be Pell’s grounds of appeal:

Verdict was unreasonable

Pell’s lawyers will argue that the verdict was unreasonable, in what is a “fairly standard ground of appeal”, said Matthew Collins, the president of the peak body for barristers, the Victorian Bar association.

The Court of Appeal would have to be convinced that something during the trial “had gone wrong”, such as an error made by the judge, or that something said by one of the barristers prejudiced the jury in a way that could not be overcome, Collins told AFP.

Some defence lawyers have used the argument, though rarely successfully, that a guilty verdict should be quashed on the grounds that the jury’s decision is so far against the weight of the evidence it should be set aside as “unreasonable”.

“It only succeeds rarely, and in an exceptional case, because in our system, great reliance is placed upon the common sense of the jury,” Collins said.

Experts say a possible weakness in the jury’s verdict is that it was based on the testimony from the one surviving victim of offences that took place more than two decades ago.

Jury not correctly formed

Fourteen, instead of the usual 12, jurors were empanelled for the trial. After the trial, 12 of them — eight men and four women — were part of the final deliberations. The defence will contend that the jury in this instance was unlawfully constituted. Collins said while it was unusual for there to be more than 12 jurors empanelled, it was not unheard of.

Animation video rejection

The legal team will argue that Chief Judge Peter Kidd should have allowed them to play an animated video for the jury. The illustration was meant to show how the movement of people in the cathedral would have raised questions about whether the choirboys could have found themselves alone in the sacristy — where most of the offences took place — following Sunday mass.

Justice Kidd did not allow the animation to be played, saying it was based on guesswork. Collins said having an animation presentation was “certainly unusual” but not unheard of.

Who’s footing the bill for Cardinal Pell’s defence?

Cardinal George Pell has been represented by one of Australia’s most experienced and expensive defence attorneys during a year of legal proceedings, racking up a bill experts estimate will top Aus$3 million.

Pell may have been in charge of the Vatican finances until this week’s revelation that he had been convicted of sexual assault against two choirboys in the 1990s, but church officials insist they are not helping pay the bill.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said neither his archdiocese, where Pell served at the time of the assaults, nor “any other church body” was paying the legal costs.
“I imagine it is very expensive, but as far as I understand, that’s come from private sources,” Comensoli told the national broadcaster, ABC.

Pell’s lead attorney, Robert Richter, is one of Australia’s most well-known defence barristers, and has represented the Cardinal since before committal hearings began in early March, 2018.

Legal sources familiar with Richter’s practice say he charges clients Aus$15,000 (US$10,800) per day, and works with two to three junior associates who cost an additional Aus$5,000 per day each.

That team represented Pell through two weeks of committal hearings, preparations and court appearances through one trial in September which ended in a hung jury.

They also represented Pell in the second trial which ended with his unanimous conviction in December on five charges of sexual and indecent assault against the choirboys in Melbourne’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

The team also defended Pell in this week’s sentencing hearings and will represent him on appeal, a process expected to last several more months.

Richter raised eyebrows Wednesday when he urged the court to impose a short prison sentence — arguing even if Pell had committed the crimes, they were no more than a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering”.
Legal experts said the total bill for his defence would likely exceed Aus$3 million.

In the absence of Church funding, Pell — the son of a publican who has spent his professional life in the Church — has turned to private donations to pay those bills.

Supporters set up a fund to gather donations shortly after Pell was first charged by Victoria state police in June 2017.

The fund had the support of the Institute for Public Affairs, a well-connected conservative think tank, and the Catholic Weekly magazine published by the Archdiocese of Sydney, where Pell also served, has regularly advertised for donations.

Donors to the fund have remained anonymous, but high-profile supporters of Pell have included figures like former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard and a stable of conservative media commentators.

Howard was one of 10 people who submitted character references in favour of the disgraced cleric to a pre-sentencing hearing on Wednesday.



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