Councillor Paul Funnell is now free to contest the seat of Wagga after a magistrate dismissed an intimidation charge brought against him.
Mr Funnell had previously pleaded guilty to intimidating a drover during an October 8 altercation on his Collingullie property after maintaining his innocence for some 10 months.
The court heard Mr Funnell arrived home one day to discover the drover’s cattle trespassing on his land, causing some $45,000 damage to a very valuable crop.
Police alleged he then threw a shovel towards the drover, but Mr Funnell maintained he was actually throwing it towards the cattle in a bid to get them to move.
After reflecting on the matter overnight, magistrate Imad Abdul-Karim dismissed the charge on Friday morning, allowing Mr Funnell to run in the upcoming byelection with no criminal conviction.
“The defendant gave oral evidence during the sentence hearing, he apologised to the victim for the harm done, and he stated he reacted in the way he did instinctively and out of frustration,” Mr Abdul-Karim said.
“I find the defendant, for relevant purposes, is a person of good character and has dedicated a significant amount of his time to the community.
“I accept that this process has had a deterrent impact on him, and, for this reason, I find the defendant guilty of the offence, but direct the charge be dismissed.”
Under section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act, a court can order the dismissal of charges without recording a conviction after a person has pleaded guilty to an offence.
Fellow councillor Yvonne Braid and retired police superintendent Francis Goodyear both gave evidence of Mr Funnell’s good character on Thursday, which Mr Abdul-Karim said played a part in his decision to dismiss the charge.
After his sentencing hearing, a very relieved Mr Funnell said the incident had been a great lesson in humility for him.
“I believe in political transparency, I believe the people deserve an answer, and I have to front up for this,” Mr Funnell said.
“I would never want to hurt or harm anyone or anything – animal, person or anything – it was a provoked situation.”
Mr Funnell said he was touched and humbled by messages of support he had received from members of the community and was looking forward to continuing his campaign ahead of the byelection.
“From here, we move on – we have a campaign to fight, we have a seat to take,” he said.
“I’m sure I’ll have more to say regarding law and order, property protection rights, et cetera, but I don’t think this is the appropriate time here and now.”