"The worst of the complaints detailed by the commission related to a October 2009 Ryde court hearing during which Ms Betts repeatedly harangued a man challenging a parking fine and prejudged him as being guilty."
SSRI Stories note: Withdrawal can often be more dangerous than continuing on a medication. It is important to withdraw extremely slowly from these antidepressants, usually over a period of a year or more, under the supervision of a qualified specialist. Withdrawal is sometimes more severe than the original symptoms or problems
NSW magistrate Betts avoids sacking
June 16, 2011
NSW MPs have voted against sacking a Sydney magistrate accused of bullying and treating defendants unfairly, saying while the complaints against her were justified, removing her was not.
MPs in the state's upper house on Thursday night dismissed a motion to sack Magistrate Jennifer Betts, who faced four complaints of misconduct related to case she heard between 2003 and 2009.
A Judicial Commission report, tabled in the house last month, had recommended parliament consider sacking her on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity.
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Ms Betts, 55, fought against her dismissal, saying at the time of the complaints she was suffering from depression, and had sought treatment.
Upper house MPs from all sides spoke out against her sacking, and defeated the motion in an informal vote.
All agreed she had acted poorly in the four cases.
However, they said removing Ms Betts would be an extreme measure, particular given the successful treatment of her depression.
"I do believe that it is possible for people who suffer from depression when treated well, and when found the right medication, for them to lead completely fulfilling and productive lives, including productive working lives," Labor MP Luke Foley told the house.
Liberal MP John Ajaka said the motion was "one of the most difficult" he had to consider, and admitted he was "torn" over his decision.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said while some of Ms Betts behaviour was abhorrent, she had shown contrition.
"Magistrates are human, magistrates have emotions, magistrates all of the usual human failings that other citizens have," he said.
"If this house was minded to remove a magistrate on this material, the very real concern I would have is that the threshold would be such that the magistrate would be vulnerable to complaint … and would not feel that they had the security of tenure I believe they need in order to conduct their difficult task with a fearlessness we would expect of them."
One complaint against the magistrate concerned her handling of a case at Ryde Local Court in June 2009, around the time she stopped taking medication for her depression.
The proceeding was a woman's appeal against the suspension of her provisional driver's licence and the commission found Ms Betts had engaged in bullying and domineering behaviour.
The worst of the complaints detailed by the commission related to a October 2009 Ryde court hearing during which Ms Betts repeatedly harangued a man challenging a parking fine and prejudged him as being guilty.
Addressing the upper house on Wednesday to plead that she not be removed, Ms Betts apologised for her behaviour and blamed her depression.
However, she said after receiving medical treatment she was capable of continuing as a magistrate.
"I am medically fit for duties and there is no reason to suspect that I will unexpectedly lapse into an undiagnosed and untreated condition in the future," she said.
"In reality, all judicial officers are at risk of succumbing to the stresses of judicial office, not just those who suffer from a medical condition such as depression.
"Those who have had such a condition should not be discriminated against because of it."
A NSW judicial officer can only be sacked by the agreement of both houses of parliament.
Ms Betts' peer, Magistrate Brian Vincent Maloney, also faces being sacked by the NSW parliament.
Mr Maloney, who suffers from bipolar disorder, has also been the subject complaints reported to the Judicial Commission.
He will address parliament next Thursday.