The year was 2003, and Nicola Gobbo found herself teetering on the edge of a slippery slope.
It was two years before Ms Gobbo would become a registered police informer, and the criminal barrister faced a choice.
On Grand Final Day, there had been a burglary at one of Tony Mokbel’s drug houses in the south-eastern suburb of Oakleigh, and disgraced drug squad detective Paul Dale, his police partner David Miechel, and Terence Hodson were arrested for stealing $1.3 million.
A police internal affairs investigator, Peter De Santo, called her for help. Tony Mokbel was pumping her for information. Paul Dale wanted legal advice.
She was a woman under incredible pressure, pressed from all sides.
And, as the Lawyer X royal commission heard today, she chose the police.
Regret over ‘totally inappropriate’ arrangements
In what could be considered the opening act to her prolific performance as a police informer, she told the royal commission that she wanted to “live up” to Mr De Santo’s expectations.
“I know it sounds pathetic but to live up to what his expectations were of me and the pressure I felt he had put on me, right or wrong that’s the way I felt,” she said.
“I was also being pushed in the background by Tony Mokbel who wanted to find out what, as much as he could about what police did and didn’t know.
“Dale wanted to know if Tony wanted to kill him because he’d burgled a place that belonged to Tony.”
Asked by counsel assisting, Chris Winneke QC, whether she knew it was wrong that her continued involvement with all these characters “was for a barrister absolutely wrong”, she said yes.
“Did you know it was wrong at the time,” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” Ms Gobbo said.
“Isn’t your interest your first responsibility to your clients, not to the police?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you believe you acted inappropriately?
“Looking back there were a lot of things that were, that were at best confused and at worst, yes, totally inappropriate,” she said.
And then, with a benefit of hindsight, a moment of clarity.
“Part of the reasons why what happened, and what put me on the path that I ended up on in 2005 is because of being so, so far off the right track and out of my depth, in and out of control in … 2003, 2004,” Ms Gobbo said.
“I felt pressure from all around and you’re right, I should have walked away from all of them.”
A missed ‘perfect opportunity’ to get out
For the second day in a row, Ms Gobbo’s testimony was often conflicting.
“I’m not trying to make excuses and I don’t want to come across that way,” she said first.
And then: “You know, emotionally where was my head? Completely different to where it is now.
“Could I see my way out of the forest through the trees back then? No, I couldn’t. Was I accumulating information and on one level trying to impress people around me? Yes, I was.”
Ms Gobbo said it wasn’t as simple as using the stroke she experienced to disentangle herself from police.
“If you were concerned at that stage you needed to get out, that was the perfect opportunity,” Mr Winneke said.
But Ms Gobbo said it wasn’t that simple.
“I want to make it clear, I’m not offering this as a cop out,” she said.
“In my mind at the time, it wasn’t as simple as, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll just stop working.’ I had huge financial commitments and loans.
“It sounds easy to say now in hindsight, ‘Why don’t you pack it all up, stay in hospital and walk’ … because of the impact that all of this has had on my life irreparably, and have on the lives of my children.
“I didn’t feel that I could walk away and let people down.”
She said she felt trapped.
“Should, would have, could have is a nice way to put it now, but it isn’t what happened, and do I regret it? Yes, every day.”
Ms Gobbo continues giving evidence on Thursday.