TRIAL: Jury to decide if ex-mayor was working ‘in shadows’

DID Chris Loft meet Brian Downie "in the shadows" to plan how he could procure him a high-paying council job, or was he merely a mayor under pressure in a toxic environment with no support from his boss?

This is what legal teams asked the jury to consider as they finalised their closing addresses in his misconduct trial yesterday.

Mr Loft is accused of tailoring a job position and manipulating the hiring process to benefit his former campaign manager Mr Downie.

Court case for former mayor Chris Loft at Hervey Bay Court House – Chris Loft with lawyer Angelo Venardos.
Court case for former mayor Chris Loft at Hervey Bay Court House – Chris Loft with lawyer Angelo Venardos.

Crown prosecutor Sam Bain reminded the jury they were not in court to litigate the relationship between former Fraser Coast mayor Chris Loft and CEO Lisa Desmond.

"Let's call a spade a spade. Was the relationship dysfunctional? Sure. On evidence it sounds like a terrible relationship, but we are not here to determine who was at fault for that," he said.

The court heard it was the CEO who appointed local government employees, not the mayor. It was not Mr Loft's role to appoint employees at this level.

Mr Bain alleged the former mayor was aware he used his trust and clout to influence recruitment process contrary to duties and purpose of his office and intended to subvert the process to benefit Mr Downie.

He urged the jury to consider Mr Loft's interactions with Mr Downie.

"It doesn't occur in a transparent way, it was happening in the shadows. It was not in council, of course he couldn't speak of this in council, as it would be improper," Mr Bain said.

Defence barrister, Mitch Rawlings focused his closing argument on the relationship between Ms Desmond and the former mayor.

"The jury should consider the relationship was strained or even far worse. The mayor had moved twice to have the CEO terminated. The mayor was floundering and sought help from Mr Downie, paid him out of his own pocket as he needed a man who had experience, someone who wasn't the CEO," Mr Rawlings said.

He added the Crown's case rested on emails - "words that aren't intended to be consumed by the world at large".

The court heard the email trails existed and there was no destruction of evidence.

Mr Rawlings stressed this was not the behaviour of someone being dishonest.

"There was no level of secret communication, Mr Loft's secretary saw his emails and even Ms Desmond had the ability to access his emails," he said.

Summing up his address, Mr Rawlings urged the jury to "zoom out" and consider the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Ms Desmond and Mr Loft.

The trial will continue Monday.