Former Hunter Valley James Estate Wines boss David James tries to head off police subpoena

ACCUSED: Former Hunter Valley wine entrepreneur David James is trying to block police access to documents claiming they are covered by legal privilege. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
ACCUSED: Former Hunter Valley wine entrepreneur David James is trying to block police access to documents claiming they are covered by legal privilege. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

FALLEN Hunter Valley wine millionaire David James is accused of trying to get his estranged wife to sign documents that would prohibit her providing details about his financial affairs, make her disclose information she gave to police and retract any statements she made.

The former James Estate Wines boss has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice by harassing Trudy James about her involvement in a police investigation.

The charges were brought by detectives from the State Crime Command’s fraud and cybercrime squad, who are investigating how $5 million worth of Australia’s best wines vanished amid the wreckage of Mr James’ liquidated Hunter Valley wine empire.

Newcastle Local Court heard on Wednesday that Mrs James was allegedly issued with three different versions of a deed of agreement during a family court separation dispute.

Magistrate Peter Budgen heard arguments about a subpoena issued by police seeking documents relating to the preparation of the deeds.

Mr James has claimed legal privilege over the documents and his barrister Troy Edwards argued that they were prepared as part of legal advice and therefore should not have to be provided to police.

Mr Edwards presented affidavits from Mr James’ former lawyers Julian Castaldi, of Laycock Burke Castaldi Lawyers, and Helen Day-McMahon who were retained for the family court dispute with Mrs James.

The lawyers supported Mr James’ claim that the documents were prepared as part of legal advice.

But prosecution barrister David Hume said the deeds were designed to make Mrs James retreat from any statements she had made to police relating to a separate investigation that had nothing to do with family law.

“What is not explained is how a clause of a deed that seeks to prohibit an individual from speaking to the police, seeks to have that person divulge everything they’ve said to the police and seeks to have them retract any statement they have provided to the police...about a completely separate matter - it has nothing to do with family law - could possibly be related to a retainer to assist with a family law dispute,” Mr Hume said.

He told the court the deeds “seemed to have some other purpose” than family law.

Magistrate Budgen will hand down his decision about the subpoena on September 5.

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