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The Amnesia Defense: Lawyer Doesn't Remember Stealing Pricey Art

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on August 17, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lawyers can be forgetful, but how can you forget stealing two pricey paintings from an art gallery and then hanging them up in your own house?

Australian lawyer Michael Sullivan claims that's exactly what happened when he was caught on surveillance video absconding with two works of art valued at more than $14,000 in 2008, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Despite the evidence, Sullivan, 54, tried to use one of the oldest defenses around: He didn't recall doing it.

At trial, lawyer Michael Sullivan backed up his amnesia defense with psychiatric reports. Sullivan suffered from "dissociative amnesia" at the time he committed the crime, experts said.

That amnesia condition led Sullivan to play the character of an "art thief," the judge found, according to The Huffington Post.

But prosecutors countered with a simpler explanation: Sullivan was making it all up.

In fact, security cameras caught Sullivan taking a break from dinner at the art gallery to remove two paintings from the wall. He even "stepped back and examined the two paintings" before he opened a door to place the paintings outside.

Sullivan then made his exit through the art gallery's restaurant and walked outside to collect the paintings, prosecutors said.

When confronted at his home, where the stolen paintings were prominently displayed, Sullivan allegedly told police he'd paid a deposit for the artwork. He stuck to that story at his trial, though there was no evidence to back up his claim.

He must've been a convincing witness, because the judge accepted Michael Sullivan's amnesia defense. Though Sullivan eventually pleaded guilty, the judge declined to record a conviction and instead placed him on a two-year "good behavior bond," HuffPo reports. That means Sullivan can continue to practice law -- that is, if he can remember how to do it.

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