The bitter fight between the Jawoyn and Dagoman for native title ownership of Katherine played out in Federal Court last month.
This time the two groups were involved in a legal fight over the Jawoyn's use of experienced lawyer Ron Levy to take over their native title claim for the town's "lands and waters".
The Dagoman opposed the move saying it was a conflict of interest as Mr Levy had previously represented them with their own claim over Katherine.
The Federal Court's Judge Griffiths agreed after long legal argument, and Mr Levy, the former long-serving chief counsel for the Northern Land Council is not able to represent the Jawoyn any longer.
The court also heard changes at the top at the Northern Land Council at the end of 2018 were also involved in the move of Mr Levy from one claim to the other.
The court heard there are two competing native title claimants for Katherine - the Katherine Families Claim, which was identified as the Dagoman claim and the Jawoyn Claim.
The issue erupted into angry conflict outside the Katherine Showgrounds in March 2018 where the Jawoyn protested over being refused access to a Northern Land Council meeting.
The meeting was being held to discuss the native title issue but the Jawoyn claimed they were refused access.
The Federal Court was told "internal instability within the NLC caused distractions in the NLC's normal functioning. There was a turnover in senior staff. And, it may reasonably be inferred, there was some internal tension regarding the NLC's operations".
The Federal Court was told last month Mr Levy had represented the Jawoyn in seeking to have the Katherine Families Claim dismissed, which had focused attention on Mr Levy's representation.
The court was told Mr Levy's involvement began in April 1998 when Mr Levy and other NLC staff "met with various people in Katherine to explain the process of making a native title application and obtained agreement to continue with the process of making a native title determination application".
A timeline was presented to the court which showed Mr Levy's continued involvement in the original claim.
In 2001, Mr Levy provided advice to the NLC in relation to a proposed native title claim over Katherine that the application had been made for the Dagoman people and that the NLC certify the application as having been made properly on behalf of the Dagoman people.
Judge Griffiths found "tThere is a long history of disputation, some of it acrimonious, between the Jawoyn people and the Dagoman people as to who has native title rights and interests in land and waters in and around Katherine.
"I also find that Mr Levy has a conflict of interest and has assumed a position on behalf of the Jawoyn Claim applicant which is directly hostile to the Katherine Families Claim applicant. In particular, I find that this applicant is "as good as" the applicants in the Original Katherine Claims, who were Mr Levy's client, from at least 2000 to 2014.
"I find that the Katherine Families Claim applicant has demonstrated that Mr Levy had access to the relevant information and I believe that there is a reasonable basis to infer that he still has "possession" of that information in the relevant sense. It is true that there is no evidence to support any proposition that Mr Levy has retained copies of the relevant documentation. It is sufficient for current purposes, however, to infer that he may still have a sufficient personal recollection of the substance of the relevant information. Moreover, I accept that it is reasonable to take into account the risk of a subconscious misuse of the information by Mr Levy."
Judge Griffiths said the Jawoyn applicants could still secure other legal representation.
"The Jawoyn Claim applicant has not persuaded me that it would suffer significant prejudice if it were to lose Mr Levy as its counsel at this stage. There was no suggestion that there were no other suitable alternative counsel available. Moreover, having regard to the relatively undeveloped nature of the substantive proceedings, I do not doubt that competent counsel should be able to get on top of the brief reasonably quickly."
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