By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Casey’s three-time mayor Sam Aziz has been spared conviction after pleading guilty to two charges of breaching an intervention order.
Cr Aziz faced being sacked as a Casey councillor if he was convicted at the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court sentencing hearing on 13 December.
It was the third time that Cr Aziz had faced similar intervention order-related charges.
The first case was dismissed, and now the second and third cases have resulted in no conviction.
In this case, Cr Aziz had breached orders by sending text messages to a protected person in May and August.
The first had been described by his own lawyer in a previous hearing as “somewhat of a rant”.
Before the hearing, Cr Aziz dropped plans to plead not guilty on the grounds of mental impairment.
His lawyer argued that Cr Aziz was “distraught” at the time of the first breach, noting he was unable to be interviewed by police at the time due to his mental distress.
“It was more like a welfare check,” the lawyer said.
After the second breach, Cr Aziz allegedly told police he thought the text’s contents complied with the order.
The mayor apologised to police, telling them he wished he had read the order in full, the court heard. If he had, he wouldn’t have sent the text, he allegedly told the police.
Magistrate Jack Vandersteen said he didn’t accept a psychologist’s letter claiming Cr Aziz had reacted “unconsciously” and “emotionally” to a text message during the first breach.
“(The psychologist) is almost condoning behaviour we’re seeking to make people accountable for.”
In sparing conviction, Mr Vandersteen said he rated Cr Aziz as a very low risk of reoffending, in part due to the councillor’s public profile and the media attention in the case.
The magistrate also took into account Cr Aziz’s guilty plea, psychiatric material detailing his depression, anxiety and genuine remorse, stressful personal circumstances and an “overwhelming” history of work for the community.
Cr Aziz had submitted up to eight character references as well as medical reports and a biography of his achievements.
Some of the references were written by councillor colleagues, though all but Cr Gary Rowe’s read like “business references”, Mr Vandersteen said.
Only Cr Rowe’s statement touched on Cr Aziz’s stressed mental state.
Cr Aziz’s lawyer said the other colleagues stuck to listing Cr Aziz’s community achievements, possibly “terrified” of being seen to be condoning the offence.
Cr Aziz was placed on a 12-month good-behaviour bond with a condition that he continued psychological treatment.
After the hearing Cr Aziz spoke of battling depression and anxiety as a result of carrying out a high-pressure job.
He said the public playing-out of the case was the price of holding a job in “high office”.
“It’s been a rather stressful and difficult situation.
“Had this been someone else other than me, people wouldn’t have heard boo (about this case).”