Big Rob outside Byron Bay Local Court on Friday.
Big Rob outside Byron Bay Local Court on Friday. Liana Turner

Big Rob cleared: Lismore mayor withdraws AVO

AFTER more than a year in the courts, controversial Lismore social media personality Big Rob has been sensationally cleared of breaching an apprehended personal violence order in relation to Lismore mayor Isaac Smith.

The 47-year-old former take away shop owner was today cleared of one count of contravening the interim AVO following a critical post Mr Rob made against the mayor in the wake of last year's Lismore flood.

In a lengthy judgement in Byron Bay Local Court, Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy said while a reasonable person "would have to know" that the posts would be intimidating, Rob did not "knowingly" breach the order.

He said Mr Rob was "deeply concerned about a number of public policy issues affecting Lismore" and was "quite fixated" on Mayor Smith and unable to "see the wood from the trees" in separating the mayor as a person from his policy role.

In a shock turn of events, Mr Smith's solicitor Clint Braid then withdrew the mayor's original application for an apprehended violence order against Mr Rob, and a further legal costs application against him.

No reason was given.

Mr Rob was originally charged for contravening the interim AVO in April 7 last year, following the two widely read Facebook posts in which Mr Rob had lambasted what he described as the mayor's "frivolous and vexatious" pursuit of an AVO against him and posted his personal phone number (which was then publicly available on the Lismore City Council web page).

Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy said the case, while apparently simple, raised "complex legal issues".

Magistrate Dunlevy noted that the original AVO application came after an increasing tension between the two men, with Rob regularly criticising the mayor on his widely followed Facebook pages following the 2016 election, in which he also ran for mayor.

Smith had applied to the court for an AVO in January after Big Rob had shared a photo on his popular Facebook page of the mayoral sedan parked outside the Smith's home with L-plates on it.

A caption attached to the photo had words to the effect of 'I wish I could use a ratepayer funded vehicle to teach my daughter to drive'.

An interim AVO was then granted in Lismore Local Court on March 9 last year.

A month later, a few days after the Lismore flood, police allege Rob breached the order by posting the disparaging remarks about Mr Smith on April 4 and April 6, in the week following the flood.

In the first post Mr Rob also accused Smith of lying under oath in court, making up "complete fabrications" and that a "biased magistrate" granted an interim AVO.

He wrote that the order was only made "because Mayor Isaac Smith wants to use a ratepayer funded vehicle to teach kids to drive and not be publicly questioned about his misuse of public assets".

A second post made on 6th of April, he said: 'I would rather die before backing down... bring it on I say'," he wrote of the AVO application.

Magistrate Dunlevy said at the initial hearing on February 16, Smith gave evidence that he felt harassed by the "vociferous nature of these personal attacks" and was concerned that his contact details were included in the posts.

"His position was there was a menacing undertone," Magistrate Dunlevy said.

But the court found there was no evidence that Rob's posts had breached a special condition of the APVO which prevented him from mentioning Smith's family, his place of residence, or his personal vehicles (with the exception of the mayoral vehicle).

"I am going to consider only whether Rob has knowingly breached the order by harassing or intimidating Mr Smith," Magistrate Dunlevy said.

He said that it was "the accused's actual state of mind that must be proved" and that "what they believed, not what they ought to have believed" was the key legal reference point.

"Even though on one reckoning it is a relatively simple case, it actually does raise some significant matters of concern and complex legal issues," he noted.

"It did come out that Mr Rob is someone who is deeply concerned about a number of public policy issues affecting Lismore," he said.

"He does regard himself as being an important member of the Lismore community, or at least playing a role in that community."

He said from one point of view, in light of the content of the posts and the evidence of Mr Smith, the case was almost a "lay down misere" in favour of the prosecution, because a reasonable person "would have to know" that engaging in such criticism of a human being would have to make them feel intimated.

"(But) as I said at the start of this case, the state of mind of a hypothetically reasonable person is only a frame of reference. It is the actual knowledge of Mr Rob that must be tested in this case

He also described Mr Rob as "quite fixated with Mr Smith" and couldn't "see the wood from the trees" between the person and the public policy issues.

And Magistrate Dunlevy said despite Mr Rob's "fixations", the posts, in Mr Rob's mind, consisted of him either complaining about the AVO, which was not illegal... or "raising issues of public interest" such as the free sharing of public information during an emergency.

"I do have to find that while the alleged victim has been harassed and intimidated... that the defendant in his conduct that brought about these results did not knowingly bring about those results."

"Consequentially... I am required to find Mr Rob not guilty."

Mr Rob was elated after the judgment, claiming he had been cleared of "seven of seven" criminal charges brought against him in the last 12 months.

He still faces one traffic matter in relation to his alleged driving on the wrong side of the road during the Lismore flood, which is due to be heard this afternoon.