Judge blasted: ‘Sarcastic, disparaging and dismissive’

A CASE against a Queensland tourism operator has been overturned on appeal after the full Federal Court found a Brisbane-based judge had presided over a "substantial miscarriage of justice".

In the latest of Judge Vasta's rulings to be overturned on appeal, the full Federal Court found the Brisbane-based Federal Circuit Court Judge was "sarcastic, disparaging and dismissive" in the "egregious" trial of the Trek North tour operator.

Mr Jorgensen was awarded full legal costs, believed to total more than $250,000, and a retrial in a landmark four-year legal stoush over underpayment of staff and contempt of court with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Federal Judge Salvatore Vasta.
Federal Judge Salvatore Vasta.

It is the latest of at least 15 times that Judge Vasta - on a $378,230-a-year base salary - has been overturned on appeal since he was appointed in 2015.

Judge Vasta, when asked by The Courier-Mail about the findings of a "substantial miscarriage of justice", did not wish to comment.

Senior legal sources said the former police prosecutor was known, when he was a lawyer, for his "huge ego, extraordinary arrogance, and inability to know when to shut up''.

Presiding Judge Justice Andrew Greenwood, in his remarks handed down on Monday, said Judge Vasta's "excessive and unwarranted interventions" were such as to "strike at the validity and acceptability of the trial and its outcome.''

"Judges are no longer expected to remain "as inscrutable as the Sphinx" throughout the course of a trial,'' the ruling said.

"The problem, however, is that on just about any view, the extent and nature of the (Judge Vasta's) interventions went well beyond those legitimate ends."

Trek North tour operator Leigh Jorgensen. Picture: Brian Cassey
Trek North tour operator Leigh Jorgensen. Picture: Brian Cassey

A relieved Mr Jorgensen, in Cairns, said his trial in May last year felt like he was caught up in "a witch hunt" or "some dark theatre" when he was sentenced to 12-months' jail and fined $85,000 for contempt of court.

"It was an absolute witch hunt. I thought I was in the Salem witch trials of Massachusetts in 1862,'' the business operator said.

Mr Jorgensen is in talks with his lawyers about a compensation claim for loss of liberty, business and income likely to total in the millions.

He also plans to push no case to answer in any retrial with the Fair Work Commission.