Inspiration for Rake in a spot of legal bother

Charles Waterstreet has been found guilty of professional misconduct at his law firm.

Charles Waterstreet has been found guilty of professional misconduct at his law firm. Photo: AAP

The lawyer who inspired the libertine protagonist of the ABC TV show Rake is in real life legal strife after he was found guilty of sexual harassment and underpaying staff.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday found former criminal barrister Charles Waterstreet guilty of professional misconduct at his Sydney law firm.

Among the allegations against the 73-year-old were that he showed nude images of himself, made sexually-explicit remarks and publicly watched pornography while at work.

The findings stemmed from three separate complaints made against  Waterstreet by three unrelated, much younger women between 2014 and 2019.

He was found to have sexually harassed one of the women, who worked for him as an administrative assistant while she was 24, on multiple occasions. This included watching pornography in her presence and making sexually explicit comments about the female partner of a client.

He was also found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct as he still owed her $1580 in unpaid wages. 

The second woman, who was 27 at the time, alleged Waterstreet sexually harassed her during a job interview, including by showing her a sex toy and asking her if she knew what it was.

“A reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that (the complainant) would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by Waterstreet’s conduct in showing her the sex toy and discussing it with her,” the judgment said.

Waterstreet sexually harassed a third woman, a legal assistant at another firm, by making remarks of a sexual nature while in a lift.

“Waterstreet’s conduct in the lift displayed a total lack of consideration for the feelings of a young woman, in a professional setting, and was a substantial failure to maintain a reasonable standard of diligence in his behaviour as a barrister,” the judgment said. 

“It was a serious failure, with predictable, lasting impact on (the complainant).”

A psychiatric assessment of Waterstreet found his undiagnosed and poorly controlled bipolar disorder “was the dominant causal factor in his offending conduct”, contributing to his lack of inhibition and overfamiliarity.

While claims of professional misconduct were made out, the judges said it did not preclude Waterstreet from being considered a fit and proper person to engage in legal practice, as per the legislation governing legal professionals.

Waterstreet has maintained a high public profile through his involvement in the arts since the 1980s and has published several memoirs.

He parlayed the notoriety gained from the Richard Roxburgh TV vehicle he helped create into a recurring column for Sydney newspaper the Sun-Herald.

Waterstreet will front a hearing to determine his punishment at a later date.

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