Tinder doctor ‘unfairly vilified’: court

By | October 23, 2020

A former Sydney doctor’s jail term for harassing the partner of an ex-Tinder flame has been overturned as a judge took aim at “tone deaf” comments from the magistrate who sentenced her and the “invasive” media storm surrounding the case.

Radiologist Denise Jane Lee was in March handed a nine-month prison sentence for a relentless campaign against the girlfriend of Matthew Holberton, whom she shared a brief romance with in 2015.

Dr Lee sent thousands of vile texts and emails to Mr Holberton, his partner and mother, sometimes using fake email addresses, in a “revenge” mission that ended in 2017.

“I am going to f..k your life up,” she wrote to Mr Holberton in one message.

Dr Lee has since been diagnosed with a serious mood disorder, displaying symptoms of major paranoia and depression.

In October 2019 she applied in the Local Court to have the matter dealt with under the mental health act, which Magistrate Michael Barko refused despite saying he held “no doubt” she was mentally unwell.

On Friday Judge Penelope Wass overturned that decision in a fiery District Court judgment, saying the 41-year-old had been “unfairly vilified by the media and the magistrate” Mr Barko.

Judge Wass took aim at the magistrate’s description of Dr Lee when sentencing her as “a woman scorned” – in reference to the 1697 play The Mourning Bride – calling it “tone deaf to the case at hand”.

She said the magistrate referencing a play that ended with the titular figure committing suicide was regrettable, considering Dr Lee’s clear mental health issues.

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Judge Wass did not understand Mr Barko’s attitude in dismissing Dr Lee’s Section 32 application last October, having himself said the accused needed “psychiatric help rather than prison”.

The judge also chronicled the “at times inaccurate” and “invasive” news reports of the high-profile legal battle, which she said even made headlines in the New York Post and New Zealand Herald .

Among the “unsympathetic” reports she highlighted was a Daily Mail story that labelled Dr Lee a “scorned psycho doctor”, which carried comments about her alleged lack of sexual prowess.

The Sun called her a “scorned bunny boiler”, the World News said she was “a creepy psycho”, while another report outlined her personal financial assets in a story with “marginal relevance” to her case.

“I find them to be at times examples of the lowest form of so-called journalism,” Judge Wass said.

The judge said she understood those stories sold newspapers and got website clicks but found that having her life laid bare to the public had heaped undue punishment on Dr Lee.

Judge Wass dismissed the four charges the suspended doctor had pleaded guilty to, including three counts of using a carriage service to harass and one of intimidation.

Dr Lee’s offences were “extremely damaging” and required “fanatical planning”, she said, but found they were influenced by a disorder that “seriously impaired” her judgment.

She ordered Dr Lee remain in the care of her GP and the psychiatrist who the court heard had helped her achieve significant improvements.

The two-year community corrections order and 600 hours of community service Mr Barko also handed her were wiped.

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Judge Wass finished by saying the inability of society and the judicial system to properly deal with mental illness “demeans the people involved and has the potential to bring the justice system into disrepute”.

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