Fingleton gets payout and a new job

FORMER Queensland chief magistrate Di Fingleton -- jailed for six months in 2003 after being wrongly prosecuted on a charge of threatening a subordinate -- will receive $475,000 in compensation from the Queensland Government and be re-appointed to the magistracy.
Premier Peter Beattie, who said in June when the High Court quashed Ms Fingleton's conviction that he opposed paying compensation and giving back her job as chief magistrate, yesterday announced the settlement package, which covered loss of wages since her wrongful conviction on June 4, 2003.
However, the tax-free payout does not take into account more than $200,000 in legal fees incurred by Ms Fingleton while fighting the charges.
Mr Beattie said the compensation was ``in recognition of her loss of liberty, loss of reputation, and trauma''.
The wrongful charges arose after Ms Fingleton sent an email to another magistrate in 2002 asking him to show cause why he should stay in his position after he backed a colleague resisting Ms Fingleton over an unwelcome transfer.
The High Court ruled in a unanimous judgment that Ms Fingleton had immunity from prosecution and should never have been charged, let alone convicted and sent to prison.
The High Court found that under the Magistrates Act 1991, Ms Fingleton was immune from prosecution when performing judicial administrative duties.
An emotional Ms Fingleton told The Australian yesterday she was ``happy'' with the decision, particularly as her appointment was to the Caloundra court on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, 30 minutes drive from her home at Bribie Island.
``All I want to say is that I will be happy to be back administering justice again,'' she said.
Barrister Matt Foley, the former Labor attorney-general who appointed Ms Fingleton to the top position in July 1999, also welcomed the resolution.
``It is a very modest settlement for a gross miscarriage of justice,'' he said. ``She has suffered great loss -- the stain of conviction, loss of liberty, financial loss and temporary loss or reputation. She has shown inspiring resilience in the face of adversity.''
As a condition of the deal, Ms Fingleton had given up her right to sue the Government and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, Mr Beattie said.
Ms Fingleton's lawyer, Matt Woods, said the ex-gratia payment to his client was ``some recognition of the injustice she has suffered''.
Ms Fingleton was paid $228,615 a year as chief magistrate, and her new appointment as magistrate at Caloundra carries a salary of $203,925.
In an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian after the High Court's decision on June 23, Ms Fingleton detailed how she was strip-searched in prison, given paper panties to wear at the watch-house, and her shoes were replaced with socks and rubber thongs.
She said the most heart-wrenching experience was witnessing other female inmates coping with family problems on the outside.
``Women prisoners cry a lot -- after they receive telephone calls, after visits, and quietly on their own,'' Ms Fingleton said. ``But women are women everywhere and there is a lot of hugging and consoling in prison. They are human beings and we should never forget it. I never will.''