Sydney, Jan 19 : It's a tale of two lawyers who were like any other legal professionals till July last year, but suddenly rose to fame after they decided to defend Indian doctor Dr Mohammad Haneef, who was falsely implicated for having links with terrorists. During the nearly six-month long battle, the two lawyers - Peter Russo and Stephen Keim - attracted much media attention as they gave innumerable TV interviews defending their client.
The best recognition for the duo came when they were named The Weekend Australian's Australians of the Year, this weekend.
Commenting on being selected for the honour, Keim said: "The suggestion that Peter and I would be Australians of the Year, for being two ordinary lawyers doing their ordinary work, seems ridiculous."
He, however, added: "But the ordinary work that ordinary lawyers do all the time is exceedingly important work and if the publicity that Peter and I have got helps people recognise the importance of that work, then that's a good thing."
According to the Aussie daily The Australian, they have displayed the determination and professional skill that makes exceptional men stand out from the crowd. Unbowed by political and social pressures, they took on the might of the federal government, the Australian Federal Police and, initially, public opinion to prove the charges against Dr Haneef were unfounded and that the decision to withdraw his Australian visa was flawed.
Russo and Keim have cemented themselves among the leading human rights advocates this country has produced, it added.
Russo, a 51-year-old father of two, had built a strong reputation in Queensland for his defence of clients in criminal cases but was an unknown in national terms a year ago. That changed when he received a chance call from the Brisbane city watchhouse, late on a Thursday afternoon in July, alerting him to Dr Haneef's detention.
In the following weeks he became Dr Haneef's voice, giving hundreds of interviews to media from across the globe and making the public aware that Dr Haneef, far from being a terrorist, was a hard-working medical practitioner whose only link to British terror suspects was through family.
Keim, well known on Brisbane's legal scene as a man of integrity and honour, became concerned with media reports about his new client. After noticing that the highly speculative media reports were detrimental to Dr Haneef's case, Keim decided to liberate the truth and handed over the transcript of the AFP's (Australian Federal Police) interview with Dr Haneef to Hedley Thomas, a senior reporter for The Australian.
The publication of Thomas' articles rocked Australia, as they revealed how slim the case against Dr Haneef was. Such was the criticism of the stories that the then prime minister John Howard condemned this newspaper and the story and was joined by his attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, and AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty.
But, Keim stepped forward to identify himself as the source of the documents and explained he had merely put on public record information the government and the police were attempting to hide.
For his honesty and bravery, he was made the subject of a formal complaint to the Legal Services Commission -- the body that governs lawyers -- by Keelty who said Keim had acted unprofessionally. The matter was referred to the Queensland Bar Association and is yet to be heard. "I would do the same thing in the same circumstances again," Keim said yesterday.