Williams appealing defamation decision

Jordan Williams has announced he is going to appeal the judgment to set aside the jury decision in the defamation case Williams v Craig, saying he doesn’t want witnesses to have to go through a new trial and an appeal is “the best way forward”. His other option was to walk away with nothing but a huge legal bill.

In general for the public I think this is a good path to take, as the Court of Appeal will help clarify issues of defamation and of appropriate awards.

In September 2016 a jury awarded Williams a total of $1.27 million having found that he was defamed on two counts by Colin Craig.

On count one, the jury ordered $400,000 be paid in compensation caused for the injury to Williams’ reputation and feelings and $90,000 in punitive damages for Craig’s “flagrant disregard” of Jordan’s rights.

On count two, they ruled Craig pay $650,000 in compensation and $130,000 in punitive damages.

At the time Nick R (a lawyer) commented at Kiwiblog:

Court of Appeal can reduce any award of damages it considers to be manifestly excessive. It has done so before for jury awards in defamation cases. The CA has previously indicated that damages in defamation cases in NZ should be modest in the absence of evidence of actual pecuniary loss. That’s why I expect them to reduce this award, potentially by quite a lot.

Immediately following the verdicts Craig’s counsel requested that Judge Katz defer entering judgment as they intended applying to have the jury’s verdict set aside, so the judge deferred entering judgment.

Craig’s counsel subsequently applied to have the verdict set aside, and six months later, on 12 April 2017, Judge Katz delivered a judgment ruling that the damages awards were so high that they constituted a miscarriage of justice.

[109] …I am satisfied that the damages award is well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case. The consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. The jury’s verdicts must therefore be set aside and a retrial ordered, unless both parties are willing to consent to my substituting a new damages award in place of the jury’s award.

Result

[112] The parties are to file memoranda by 3.00 pm on Wednesday 26 April 2017 advising whether they consent to the Court substituting its own award of damages for the jury’s award, pursuant to s 33 of the Act. If confirmation is not received by that date that both parties consent to such a course, then I order that the jury’s verdicts be set aside and the proceedings be set down for a re-trial on the first available date that is convenient to senior counsel.

Craig immediately indicated he would not consent to the Court substituting it’s own award of damages, and it has now been confirmed that he has advised the court that he wouldn’t consent, and Williams put out a press release saying he didn’t want another trial, but would instead appeal Judge Katz’s judgment.

Statement from Jordan Williams

Lawyers for Jordan Williams are appealing the judgment setting aside last year’s jury verdict in the Williams v Craig defamation proceedings.

Mr Williams says, “Colin Craig argued that the jury’s damages award was too high. The judge agreed but the High Court is only able to reset the damages if both parties agree.”

“Last week Colin Craig’s lawyers told Justice Katz that Colin Craig was not willing to have her determine the damages; they want a full retrial.”

“I don’t want Rachel MacGregor or my mother or any other of my witnesses to have to go through it all again. The jury made clear findings. At every stage Mr Craig has wanted to stretch things out. We have no assurance he would not appeal after a new trial. So an appeal now could get to the key issues directly. It is the best way forward.”

It probably is the best way forward for Williams, but it has risks.

A new trial would presumably mean that there was no way that Williams could recover any costs from the first trial, and a new award would likely be significantly lower given Judge Katz’s judgment. Williams’ counsel would have had to seriously consider claiming significantly lower damages to avoid a repeat of the first trial.

NZ Herald have reported a response from Craig in: Jordan Williams appeals to try to avoid retrial in Colin Craig defamation case

Craig said Williams had every right to appeal, but he believed a retrial was the right way forward.

He said Justice Katz’s decision said a miscarriage of justice had occurred so he was not willing to accept the jury’s decision he had defamed Williams.

But Judge Katz said that the miscarriage of justice was due to the damages award being “well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case”, the Judge did not reject the jury’s decision that Craig had defamed Williams.

[110] In relation to Mr Craig’s second ground of challenge to the jury’s verdicts, I reject the submission that there was no evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support the jury’s finding that he had lost his qualified privilege…As a result, there is no basis for entering judgment in favour of Mr Craig (as opposed to ordering a retrial).

So on to an appeal. The Court of Appeal is limited on what it can rule on, I think just on points of law in the judgment. So presumably Williams will ask for the setting aside to be overruled. I don’t know if the amount of damages can be changed on appeal, or if it’s an all or nothing situation.

Judge Katz took months before delivering her Judgment, and is likely to have anticipated a likely appeal, so is likely to have taken a lot of care in her Judgment. That doesn’t rule out having made a mistake in law, but it may narrow the grounds for appeal.

In the meantime there is one other matter from her judgment that I don’t know if it is still relevant or not, costs.

[113] This outcome is likely to raise some difficult costs issues. Leave is accordingly reserved to file costs memoranda in relation to both the trial and the present application, if costs cannot be agreed. Any memorandum on behalf of Mr Williams is to be filed by 5 May 2017. Any memorandum on behalf of Mr Craig is to be filed by 19 May 2017. Counsel are to indicate in their memoranda whether a hearing is sought in respect of costs.

I have no idea what can or may happen with this, given the verdict has been set aside. Perhaps we will find out next month. Or perhaps it will have to wait for the outcome of the appeal.

The Judge Katz decision: http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/williams-v-craig/@@images/fileDecision

23 Comments

  1. Tipene

     /  April 30, 2017

    Not a surprising decision by Williams given his personal circumstances. [Deleted] He picked an illegitimate fight he couldn’t win, relied on people that themselves had a history of not being trustworthy, bore false witness, and was callous in his longitudinal disregard for the truth.

    There is such a phenomenon as the law of natural consequence – and he’s now living it, just as his dirty politics “brothers-in-arms” are doing, to varying degrees (with more to come).

    [Deleted – I don’t want to risk getting dragged into this legal and financial mess. PG]

    • PDB

       /  April 30, 2017

      “He picked an illegitimate fight he couldn’t win, relied on people that themselves had a history of not being trustworthy, bore false witness, and was callous in his longitudinal disregard for the truth.”

      Probably why he won the decision then……..

      I have no time for either Craig or Williams but Williams (rightly or wrongly) won the case and surely if there is an issue with the amount of compensation owed to him then that should be decided without having to go to trial again – the law is an ass in this instance.

      It’s also hypocritical of the left – who generally always complain about the person with the most money buying their way to favourable court decisions – turning a blind eye in this case because they don’t like Williams.

      • Blazer

         /  April 30, 2017

        so you are happy with the outcome of the Little/Hagaman case then…yes!

        • PDB

           /  April 30, 2017

          Little/Hagaman saw the jury unable to make a decision on most points so hardly comparing apples with apples….

          • Quite different cases but both involved the complexities of qualified privilege as a defence to defamation.

  2. Tipene

     /  April 30, 2017

    Fair enough Pete – all in good time.

    • The court is a good (and safe) way of revealing – it has been very enlightening already.

  3. Gezza

     /  April 30, 2017

    So the appeal is so that poor Ms MacGregor, his mum & others of his witnesses don’t have to go through it all again? How *very noble* of him, as always. 🙄

    • Loki

       /  April 30, 2017

      He didn’t care too much about that the first time.
      The terrible reality for JW is that he has no choice but to appeal.
      He is facing financial ruin now. Probably has his liabilities secured against a family members home.
      And frankly he is finished as a lawyer.
      The Katz comments about his truthfulness and character have finished him.
      Silly boy, should have cut Slater loose when all the grown ups did.

      • Tipene

         /  April 30, 2017

        @Loki: Slater wasn’t the one that started all this.

        Neither was Williams.

        Neither was Craig.

        Neither was Stringer.

        As 17th century English dramatist Philip Massinger so succinctly summarised:

        “Malice scorned, puts out itself; but argued, gives a kind of credit to a false allegation”.

      • Sally

         /  April 30, 2017

        Slater thinks Jordan’s win however will win him millions on payout!
        I agree Jordan’s legal career is over. Katz diced and sliced him a new one that surely his own mother couldn’t miss. Quite why the lawyer whom he breached an undertaking to hasn’t cleaned him up, is a mystery. Katz says as much as well as entertaining complaints about his behaviour.

  4. Tipene

     /  April 30, 2017

    @PDB: One cannot win a case for which no judgment has been entered, and for which a jury decision has been set aside.

    Williams won nothing -Craig won the appeal on deferment of a judgment being entered.

    A new trial would have been absolutely justified – because the first one didn’t reach it’s ultimate conclusion – a judgment.

    Innocent until proven guilty, and all that.

    • PDB

       /  April 30, 2017

      The Jury was clear that Craig lost the case – your comment only confirms my suggestion that the law is an ass in this case when a judge is unable to readjust the amount of compensation if felt excessive. Better still, stick with the original democratically arrived-at jury decision – a process agreed to by both parties prior to the case going to court.

      • But the law allows for intervention by the judge for rogue jury decisions and miscarriages of justice – they are a risk of trials, especially civil ones.

        • PDB

           /  April 30, 2017

          True, but in this case the debate isn’t over the decision as such but the award. You shouldn’t have to go through a costly retrial because a judge thinks the compensation is too high. The amount of compensation should be the only thing up for debate now in this particular case.

          • I agree generally – but also whether damages were deserved at all given the behaviour of Williams as detailed by Judge Katz.

  5. I think PDB’s response is common-sense, however I will not hold my breath. he real question in law is whether a Judge can decide a miscarriage of justice has occurred when it is only the nature of the award that is considered unjust

  6. duperez

     /  April 30, 2017

    Williams and Craig should go to that TV judge Judge Judy, if she’s still about.
    She’d likely tell them that they’ve both been silly arrogant twats at various stages of the saga
    and to bugger off and both grow up.

    • Gezza

       /  April 30, 2017

      They sure as hell wouldn’t want their case handled by Judge Rinder.

    • Gezza

       /  April 30, 2017
      • Pete Kane

         /  April 30, 2017

        What about George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem, PC, G?

    • Gezza

       /  April 30, 2017

      I think some litigants (or maybe at least their dads) might’ve preferred him to Judge Rinder tbh Mr K

  1. Williams appealing defamation decision – NZ Conservative Coalition