News, Culture & Society

Magistrate ‘Rod Rocketman’ can all but kiss goodbye to a sweet retirement gig

A wealthy magistrate who fought to strip his dead fiancé’s grieving mother of her daughter’s super payout will now likely miss out on millions.  

In a case of poetic justice, grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins, 70, faces being overlooked for a lucrative post-retirement gig that would have netted him as much as his ill-gotten super payout each and every year for at least a decade. 

The magistrate – who bizzarely referred to himself as Rocketman Rod in an online alias – has been slammed by ordinary Australians after receiving the $180,000 super and life insurance payout intended for the struggling mum of Ashleigh Petrie. 

Highly-paid magistrate Rod Higgins (above at home on Tuesday) fought to win the $180,000 super and life insurance payout of his young fiancee, who was 45 years his junior 

Magistrate Rodney Higgins referred to himself as Rod Rocketman in online profile obtained by Daily Mail Australia

Magistrate Rodney Higgins referred to himself as Rod Rocketman in online profile obtained by Daily Mail Australia

Miss Petrie,23, excitedly accepted and called him 'the love of her life' after he proposed to her in Fiji in 2019. The couple is pictured together just weeks before her untimely death

Miss Petrie,23, excitedly accepted and called him ‘the love of her life’ after he proposed to her in Fiji in 2019. The couple is pictured together just weeks before her untimely death

But court sources have told Daily Mail Australia Mr Higgins stood to earn that amount each and every year upon retirement acting as a reserve judge. 

Daily Mail Australia can reveal Mr Higgins’ behaviour in his home town remains the subject of some scrutiny.

Sources have told Daily Mail Australia the elderly lawman’s erratic behaviour before and after Ms Petrie’s tragic death would be long remembered.

Mr Higgins and Ms Petrie had been living together in Mirboo North, four hours from Shepparton in northern Victoria. 

Ms Petrie was struck by a vehicle and killed on Metung Road near Lakes Entrance in eastern Victoria about 1am the night she died. 

Her death sparked an outpouring of emotion and anger at the fact her relationship was made public shortly before her death. 

Sources have claimed Mr Higgins had asked Ms Petrie’s family to destroy her phone shortly after she was killed.

He was later accused of performing a ‘bizarre’ eulogy at her funeral which left already shocked mourners beside themselves with anger.  

Mr Higgins had been living with the 23-year-old for about 12 weeks when she was hit and killed by a car in October 2019. 

Mr Higgins had reportedly inquired about securing his fiancee’s superannuation death benefit within 24 hours of her tragic death.

He remains employed as a magistrate earning $324,000 each year until he retires in the next few weeks.

Like many judges and magistrates, Mr Higgins has indicated his desire to continue working as a reserve magistrate, earning $1,380 a shift.

Retired magistrates continue working for years, covering weekend and fill-in positions for as long as they are physically able. 

Over the course of a year, a reserve magistrate could earn more than $180,000. 

Calls from angry Australians to have the magistrate removed soared upon news of the grubby cash grab breaking. 

In Victoria, only Parliament has the power to sack judges and magistrates.

The Magistrates’ Court Of Victoria did not respond to Daily Mail Australia’s inquiries about Mr Higgins’ future on Wednesday.  

Sources have said pulling the magistrate’s lucrative retirement plans from underneath him could be considered the next best option. 

‘Going on the reserve list is not assured,’ a court insider told Daily Mail Australia.

‘If you’re (trouble), the appointment won’t happen. So while it’s not a sacking, you can take away a good five-to-10 years of continued earnings, which is a pretty good result. Higgins does not deserve to be on the reserve.’

By Wednesday morning, more than 12,000 Australians had signed a petition demanding the super fund give the cash to Ms Petrie’s mother, as per her wishes.

Controversial magistrate Rod Higgins asked about securing Ms Petrie's superannuation and life insurance payout within 24 hours of her tragic death

Controversial magistrate Rod Higgins asked about securing Ms Petrie’s superannuation and life insurance payout within 24 hours of her tragic death 

Ashleigh Petrie's death sent shockwaves through the legal community. The results of a coronial inquiry remain a secret

Ms Petrie posted this photo on Instagram just days before here death

Ms Petrie posted on Instagram just days before her death

Mr Higgins proposed to Ashleigh Petrie (pictured together), from Mirboo North in Victoria, during a romantic trip to Fiji months before she died

Mr Higgins proposed to Ashleigh Petrie (pictured together), from Mirboo North in Victoria, during a romantic trip to Fiji months before she died

Timeline of romance

2016-17: Rod Higgins and Ashleigh Petrie meet living next door to each other in Shepparton, Victoria

2017: She is a guest at a party celebrating his appointment as magistrate

2018: The two start a secret relationship under the nose of his second long-term partner

Early 2019: Court colleagues are shocked to discover the relationship and raise concerns. Mr Higgins is moved to another court far away

September: Mr Higgins proposes during a romantic trip to Fiji

October 9: News of their relationship, engagement, and colleague concerns breaks in the media

October: Mr Higgins’ ex-partner controversially gets a restraining order against Ms Petrie with allegations of bias against chief magistrate who granted it

October 28: Ms Petrie is killed when she is hit by a car as a pedestrian. Her death is later found to be a suicide

She had bequeathed the entire balance and death benefit to her mum, but Mr Higgins successfully argued he was her ‘dependent’ and therefore entitled to her super payout upon her death. 

After Ms Petrie’s death, Mr Higgins moved back to the riverside home in Shepparton he shared with his former partner, Lurline Le Neuf, to resume their 18-year relationship.

On Tuesday, the pair were seen sauntering about town in pricey duds looking every inch the millionaire couple. 

What happened the night of Ms Petrie’s death remains clouded in mystery. 

It is understood Mr Higgins had become aware in her final days that his young fiancé had been the unnamed source in articles surrounding their own relationship.  

A coronial inquest later ruled Ms Petrie had taken her own life, but the investigating coroner determined that the finding would not be published.

News of the couple’s relationship had only become public weeks earlier, which saw the nation’s left-leaning press blame the Melbourne tabloid that broke the story for Ms Petrie’s tragic demise.

But the young clerk had not only been in on the story, she had been actively feeding the journalist information on a court workplace she had described as ‘toxic’. 

Ms Petrie had been in close contact with the reporter up until just days before her death on October 28, 2019. 

In happier days: Ashleigh Petrie and Rod Higgins at the local pub. She often took to social media to inform friends of her love

 In happier days: Ashleigh Petrie and Rod Higgins at the local pub. She often took to social media to inform friends of her love

Ashleigh Petrie's last post on Instagram. She stated she had been in Metung in East Gippsland and posted a peaceful photo of her view. She died hours later

Ashleigh Petrie’s last post on Instagram. She stated she had been in Metung in East Gippsland and posted a peaceful photo of her view. She died hours later

Ashleigh Petrie was said to be enthusiastic about damning news reports unveiling the grubby underbelly of the justice system

Ashleigh Petrie was said to be enthusiastic about damning news reports unveiling the grubby underbelly of the justice system 

‘I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles,’ she texted him on October 25. 

‘I’ve loved working with you,’ she wrote. 

The editor of the Melbourne newspaper would later tell ABC’s Media Watch Ms Petrie had been helping it research angles and ‘was encouraging us to report on her concerns about the culture within the court’.

Ms Petrie had made it clear in correspondence following the publication of the articles that she was not concerned with the coverage and importantly did not indicate she was suffering any ill-effects as a result of any articles or was in a fragile state, the newspaper argued.

Victoria’s court system had come increasingly under scrutiny at the time.

Ms Petrie had told the publication she had been sleeping with another elderly magistrate for up to a month before she moved onto Mr Higgins. 

That magistrate would later hook up with yet another glamorous, young clerk.   

Ashleigh Petrie and her mum. Ms Petrie had wanted her super fund cash to go to her mum, but Rodney Higgins had different ideas

Ashleigh Petrie and her mum. Ms Petrie had wanted her super fund cash to go to her mum, but Rodney Higgins had different ideas 

Ashleigh Petrie and Rodney Higgins in a social media post before her death

Ashleigh Petrie and Rodney Higgins in a social media post before her death 

The wealthy magistrate's partner Lurline Le Neuf got about town in posh yellow boots and a Harrod's apron on Tuesday morning

The wealthy magistrate’s partner Lurline Le Neuf got about town in posh yellow boots and a Harrod’s apron on Tuesday morning

Just weeks before Ms Petrie’s death the Children’s Court of Victoria was forced to investigate after a clerk boasted to friends that she had been intimate with a magistrate in a courtroom and also in another magistrate’s chambers. 

In January 2018, it was reported a magistrate was accused of groping a young woman’s buttocks and saying he ‘loved her’ after a night of drinking at a Christmas party for court staff. 

In September 2018, a solicitor at the Coroner’s Court of Victoria took her life. 

WorkSafe launched a probe into that court’s allegedly ‘toxic culture’ in February that year.  

The then Chief Magistrate Peter Lauristen was replaced by Judge Lisa Hannan in November 2019 after he retired.    

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