A father of two in Australia filed a $2 million lawsuit against a judge after he was jailed for apparently failed to file financial documents on time during his divorce.
The father, using the pseudonym “Mr. Stradford,” alleges that in 2018 when Judge Salvatore Vasta was overseeing property settlement and asset division between Stradford and his ex-wife, the judge made multiple comments about holding the father in contempt, The Guardian reported. Vasta eventually followed through on his threats by jailing Stradford for allegedly failing “to provide the court with financial documents,” the outlet reported.
Vasta reportedly told Stradford he hoped he had “brought your toothbrush” and at another time, told the father of two: “The strange thing is you really don’t think the court will ever jail you for contempt. You’re about to find that lesson is going to be a very hard one for you to learn.”
Vasta followed through on his threats and jailed Stradford, a real estate agent, for 12 months to be suspended after six, the Guardian reported. While in prison, Stradford alleges he was traumatized by guards who allegedly dressed him in women’s underclothes. He also said that he was woken up one day by another prisoner strangling him. Stradford said he contemplated suicide while housed in Brisbane Correctional Center Wacol until his imprisonment was overturned on appeal.
As the Guardian reported, Australia’s high courts described Stradford’s case as a “gross miscarriage of justice.”
Stratford is suing Vasta for loss and damages totaling $2 million, alleging that judicial immunity wouldn’t apply to the judge because of his “outrageous” conduct. Stratford is also claiming Queensland and the commonwealth were liable for his suffering, since its court and prison officers went along with Vasta’s order.
The last known case involving an Australian judicial officer losing judicial immunity was in 1965 in Tasmania, when a judge was actually held liable for damages.
Jeremy Kirk, the attorney for Vasta, called the case “very unusual,” adding that it “is no small thing to sue a judicial officer and two governments for relying on a judicial order.”
Vasta admitted to not following the law when he held Stradford in contempt, but argued that he has judicial immunity and therefore can’t be sued. Vasta also claimed in his defense that he sent Stradford to jail on the “mistaken belief” that another judge had found the father in violation of court orders.
Stradford’s attorney, Perry Herzfeld, argued that Vasta should provide that defense in court.
“He says he made a mistake. How did that mistake come about? Was that mistake just egregious and should it have never come about?” Herzfeld asked.
Vasta’s defense team applied to have the judge’s liability answered before and separate from a hearing on potential damages for Stradford. Stradford’s attorney opposed the application, saying he didn’t want a long, drawn-out process in a case involving what “everyone now agrees was a totally flawed order”
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