September 28, 2004 was an historic day for me. Ray Williams came to me for advice! Ray never comes to me for advice. Why would he? He was the former CEO of HIH Insurance, once one of the largest insurance companies in the southern hemisphere. What possible wisdom could I have to pass on to him?
Now me asking Ray for advice - that happened all the time! Every time I needed to know how to manage our church or how to handle a staff member or how to balance a budget, I’d be on the blower to Ray. And the man always came through for me.
Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to insert a brief comment about how I developed this sort of relationship with Ray. By unhappy coincidence, my dear father died in March 2001, the same month Ray’s company, HIH Insurance, went into liquidation. Prior to March 2001, Ray wouldn’t have been able to play the role of fatherly advisor to me even if he had wanted to. He had been a generous supporter of our Youth Centre at one stage, but had never had the time to really get involved.
All that changed after March 2001 and by the time we re-established contact, he was pouring most of his time into voluntary work: driving the bus at the retirement home where his mother lived and doing the cleaning at his son’s tennis club. It didn’t take long before we had him on the team at every fundraiser we put on for our youth centre.
Somewhere in that period between March 2001 and September 2004, Ray made a transition from being a much appreciated volunteer and supporter, to being a dearly loved friend and father figure. I should have been chuffed that he wanted my advice on something. But I wasn’t pleased at all. I was scared.
Ray had sounded rather fragile when I had spoken to him on the phone the night before his court appearance and Ray normally never lets things get him down. What could it be? Was he dying? Was someone in his family seriously ill?
When Ray came to the door, that fragility I’d heard in his voice was showing on his face, “Are you alright?” I asked. “Are you sick?”
“Oh no, I’m fine,” he said. “It’s just the legal stuff that’s getting to me.” I knew it must be pretty serious. “They’re ready to plea bargain with me,” Ray explained, as he sat down in my office. “And I don’t know what to do.” I had heard about plea bargaining on American cop shows, where some no-good hoodlum “dobs” in his boss in exchange for getting a shorter sentence, or something like that.
Ray explained how the system worked in Australia. Not surprisingly, it is a little more subtle. Apparently, they never actually use the term “plea bargaining” or openly “bargain” at all. It seems the lawyers from opposing camps just chat whimsically about “where they might draw a line” if such-and-such were to happen. It’s a sort of Clayton’s bargaining process: the bargain you make where no one can ever prove you made a bargain.
Ray told me the bargain they’d offered him. “They’ve told me if I plead guilty to three relatively minor charges, they’ll stop pursuing me on all other matters.”
"OK. That sounds pretty encouraging,” I said.
I knew they’d been compiling an enormous list of charges to bring against Ray, charges ranging from the uninformed to the completely ridiculous, so far as I could see. Nonetheless, the prosecutors seemed to operate on the principle that if they threw a lot of accusations at him, some of them were bound to stick.
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