Freehills partner quits

Stephen Stern has left Freehills Melbourne office to set up his own niche trade practices law and intellectual property firm following a disagreement with management over how the IP section was run.

Stern is currently suing Nicole and Andre Coutrelis of French firm Coutrelis & Associe for defamation after they accused him of "morally, ethically and questionable" behaviour at an international wine law conference.

The French pair complained that Stern – who was president of the International Wine Law Association (IWLA) at the time – had an extra-marital relationship with an associate in order to obtain "some personal advantage in the Association or against our firm".

The allegations were made in a letter from the French lawyers to Freehills' Melbourne managing partner, Paul Montgomery in September last year. The letter says: "In our opinion, Mr Stern's behaviour in Europe in his capacity as President of the IWLA reflects very poorly upon the international reputation of your firm."

Stern has obtained a default judgment against the French lawyers after they failed to file an appearance in the matter and a hearing for damages is set for February.

However, the Coutrelises have invoked Article 15 of the French Civil Code which provides privilege of jurisdiction in favour of French nationals