Caroline Ward – Senior Investigator, Discipline & Suitability (VLSC)

Introduction

I have previously posted about a culture of corruption that has developed in the office of the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner (VLSC). (See my post regarding Danielah Iacono (Manager, Discipline and Suitability)). I have invited a number of VLSC officers to assume the role of “whistleblower” in order to deal with this ongoing problem, but so far none have been prepared to do so.

It occurs to me that those who might have been prepared to step forward are too afraid, perhaps because of what happened after I had approached Lawyer & Stategic Communications Professional (Public Relations) Caroline Ward in her then capacity as Senior Investigations Officer, Disciplinary Investigations.

Caroline Ward – Senior Investigations Officer, Disciplinary Investigations

Caroline Ward

Caroline Ward

In September, 2019 Caroline Ward was a Senior Investigations Officer with the VLSC. I had lodged complaints of serious criminal offences and corrupt conduct in relation to Mr Luke Priday, another Senior Investigations Officer with the VLSC, and Ms Ward was assigned to replace him (he is now employed by Victoria Police). In my own experience as a Senior Detective with Victoria Police and as a Senior Sergeant in what was then the Victoria Police Internal Investigations Department, if an investigator is removed from an investigation it is usually for good cause. It is common-sense that the replacement investigator would want to know the full details of the investigation to date, and the nature of the complaints made against the previous investigator, so as to avoid any further problems.

It is on this basis that I formed the view that Ms Ward would have gleaned some understanding of the shortcomings of her predecessor, and why serious allegations had been made regarding his conduct.

Whistleblower Invitation

In the expectation that Ms Ward would be as disappointed and disgusted as I was with Mr Priday’s conduct of her fellow officers, I sent her a private message via LinkedIn:

“Hi Caroline,

Please do not be alarmed at my contacting you in this way, and I do hope that you will keep this contact strictly confidential and not divulge it to any person associated with the office of the Legal Services Commissioner.

I understand that you are likely to have become an unwitting participant in the corrupt campaign of intimidation and cover-up perpetrated by longer serving members of your office in matters involving me. I also understand that you probably find yourself in the invidious position of having to accept, and participate in, conduct that amounts to corruption and misconduct in public office.

I want you to know that I will support you unconditionally if you are prepared to become a whistleblower before irreversible damage is done to your standing as a professional investigator and legal career in general.

If you accept my suggestion, please reply to this message and I will provide you with my personal mobile phone number. If you choose not to accept, then simply ignore this message and I will not pursue the matter further.

Peter Mericka”

Two Betrayals

A little over a week later I received a letter from Ms Fiona McLeay, the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner. Ms McLeay referred to my LinkedIn message to Ms Ward:

“I am also aware of the message you sent to Ms Caroline Ward of this Office via LinkedIn on 6 September 2019. In this message, you suggested that she had become an: “unwitting participant in the corrupt campaign of intimidation and cover-up perpetuated by longer serving members of [this] office”, and stated that this Office has engaged in: “conduct that amounts to corruption and misconduct in public office”. These are serious allegations, which are unfounded.”

I feel that this was a remarkably foolish response on the part of the Ms McLeay, for a number of reasons:

  1. The response acknowledged that the allegations were ‘serious’ and yet they were not investigated;
  2. The statement that the serious allegations were ‘unfounded’ was not a considered conclusion, but rather an automatic reaction;
  3. Ms McLeay had divulged to me the fact that I had been betrayed to her by Ms Ward;
  4. Ms McLeay was betraying Ms Ward to me, indicating to me now that Ms Ward could not be trusted in the future;
  5. Ms McLeay’s conduct per 3. and 4. above could serve as a warning to other VLSC staff that they too could be betrayed in similar circumstances; and
  6. I interpreted it as a threat that, by approaching VLSC officers in the hope that I may find someone with the courage to become a whistleblower, I could be at risk of further reprisal action by VLSC officers.

Despite Ms McLeay’s assertion that I had made serious and unfounded allegations of corruption and misconduct in public office, she did not take any further action against me. This is because each and every allegation I have made is supported by documentary evidence. (I believe that the last thing that Ms McLeay wanted was a thorough examination of these serious allegations.)

A Second Appeal to Ms Ward

Recently I received a broadcast email from the office of the VLSC containing what I regard as a rather hyprocrital message to legal practitioners generally. It prompted me to appeal to Ms Ward one final time. On Wednesday 24 June, 2020 I sent Ms Ward the following message via LinkedIn:

“Hi Caroline,

I received an email from your office today, with the following message:

“Lawyers are bound to uphold the administration of justice and the rule of law, and in order to practice, are required to demonstrate that they are ‘fit and proper persons’. These are serious obligations, and the profession has a collective responsibility to hold itself to account for behaviour that compromises these obligations.”

I have previously drawn your attention to a culture of corruption within the office of the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner and I am disappointed that you appear to have become a part of this corrupt culture. I now put it to you that you have an ethical and professional duty to take action in relation to this growing problem, and I draw your attention to a recent posting I placed on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn Posting

You are one of three VLSC officers who have been asked to ‘blow the whistle’ on corruption in your office. You previously, betrayed me to Fiona McLeay when I asked you to stand up to corruption, and Fiona promptly betrayed you to me. I am hoping that by now you will have realised that your future is not with a corrupt VLSC, and that it is up to you to take decisive action for the sake of the profession and your own career.

Please feel free to call me on my mobile if you wish to discuss further: 0438821963.”

I have received no response from Ms Ward.