Submissions by Rod Culleton in his bankruptcy case, which led to him being ousted as a senator, have been described by a Federal Court judge as “unfocused and bombastic”.
The former One Nation-turned independent MP was deemed an undischarged bankrupt last month but denies he can’t pay his debts and is appealing.
The insolvency declaration came after the WA District Court ordered Mr Culleton in 2013 to pay former Wesfarmers director Dick Lester $205,536 – which has since increased to about $280,000 – over unpaid rent relating to a soured 2009 property deal.
Mr Culleton’s lawyer Peter King – who continues to refer to his client as a senator – told Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice John Dowsett and Justice Anthony Besanko on Friday the judge in the December trial erred on several fronts and a retrial should be ordered.
Mr King said the errors included not allowing an adjournment when Mr Culleton turned up to court without a lawyer, claiming his client did so because he didn’t realise it was going to be a full hearing then wanted more time to arrange legal representation.
Mr King also said Mr Culleton should have had a jury trial, noting that was unusual in bankruptcy matters, but argued it was appropriate as the case was “so important to his whole career”.
Culleton ‘disadvantaged’ by wife’s absence
The lawyer also argued Mr Culleton was treated unfairly because his wife Iona left the court because two former associates who are now his enemies, Bruce Bell and Frank Bertola, were present.
The pair, who are also legally challenging Mr Culleton’s eligibility as an MP in a matter yet to be determined by the High Court, were removed by police and arrested during the trial for breaching his wife’s restraining order against them.
Mr King said Mr Culleton was disadvantaged because he was forced to run the trial without his wife acting as his assistant.
He also argued Mr Lester was abusing the bankruptcy process to get hold of Mr Culleton’s Australian Keg Company patent in lieu of payment “to obtain what he wouldn’t otherwise have got”.
But Chief Justice Allsop said bringing on a bankruptcy was used as a means of debt collection all the time and attempts to secure payment from Mr Culleton had been unsuccessful since 2013.
He appeared unimpressed with the suggestion the trial judge had treated Mr Culleton unfairly.
“The judge is being criticised for how he ran the trial,” Chief Justice Allsop said.
He took unfocused, bombastic submissions.
“It’s dealt with and it’s dealt with properly.”
Mr Lester’s lawyer Michael Lundberg said Mr Culleton’s arguments should be rejected.
Speaking outside court, Mr Culleton denied he was insolvent and insisted he didn’t owe Mr Lester money.
Mr Culleton claims he wasn’t properly informed about last year’s trial and was “fighting blind” when he represented himself.
So I just had to put in, pretty much do a Rolf Harris painting and hope that I captured the moment.
“I think today we got a very good hearing,” he said.
“We were able to get good documents before the court that in other areas have been not permitted.”
The judges have reserved their decision until next week.