Claim that payments were not for Whale Oil blog posts “a fiction”

Cameron Slater was back in court yesterday after failing to avoid being orally examined in a long running defamation case brought against he, Carrick Graham and others by three public health academics, Boyd Swinburn, Douglas Sellman and Shane Bradbrook.

Slater had tried to avoid appearing, claiming that as he was now bankrupt he was not liable, and that he was medically unfit. He had also for years delayed defamation proceedings brought against him by Matthew Blomfield, until finally being found to have no defence in October 2018. Damages in that case are yet to be awarded but are likely to be substantial.

In July last year the High Court ordered him to appear – from ] SELLMAN v SLATER [2019] NZHC 1666 [17 July 2019]:

In this proceeding, three medical professionals sue Mr Cameron Slater, and other defendants, for defamation. In an interlocutory judgment of 23 November 2018, I ordered Mr Slater to provide further particular discovery and to attend court to be orally examined. Since then, Mr Henry, for Mr Slater, has: applied for a temporary stay on the basis Mr Slater’s medical condition prevented him giving instructions; foreshadowed an intention to apply for appointment of a litigation guardian; advised of Mr Slater’s bankruptcy; and advised that he has instructions to oppose new applications but that Mr Slater no longer defends the substantive proceeding.

The plaintiffs have applied for orders that Mr Slater comply with the court orders for discovery and oral examination or be held in contempt of court. Mr Henry now submits, on Mr Slater’s instructions, that Mr Slater is no longer a party to the proceeding or able to engage a solicitor, because he is bankrupt, and he seeks a formal hearing on that issue. Mr Henry also says there are medical reports from February 2019 confirming Mr Slater is unable to give evidence in court.

This proceeding was commenced three years ago, in mid-2016. The plaintiffs are three medical professionals, Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Mr Shane Bradbrook. They sue Mr Slater who they allege defamed them in a series of blog posts on his Whale Oil website. They also sue Mr Carrick Graham and his company Facilitate Communications Ltd (FCL) for defaming them in comments on the posts. And they sue Mrs Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Ltd (NZFGC) for allegedly procuring Mr Slater, Mr Graham and FCL to publish the substance and sting of the alleged defamation.

Under the discretion, on 20 March 2019, I ordered this proceeding to continue against Mr Slater. I consider it is an implicit term of that order that Mr Slater must comply with orders made against him in the proceeding, which was one of the reasons why the plaintiffs sought its continuation against him. If that was not sufficiently implicit, I now make it explicit under that discretion and/or under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to supervise proceedings before it. That means Mr Slater must comply with the court orders irrespective of Mr Henry’s argument about the effect of his bankruptcy.

Mr Slater must comply with the orders personally if the Official Assignee cannot do so through the exercise of the Assignee’s powers. The order to be examined orally must be complied with by Mr Slater personally, subject to what I say below about his medical condition.

It finally got to court yesterday. Tim Murphy reports at Newsroom: The return of Dirty Politics

Slater and Graham had to appear in the witness box at the High Court at Auckland to provide answers to questions from the lawyers for three health academics, Boyd Swinburn, Douglas Sellman and Shane Bradbrook, who are suing the pair for defamation.

They had been attacked on the Whaleoil blog for their research and calls for public health and policy action on alcohol, tobacco and sugar.

Justice Matthew Palmer ordered Slater and Graham in late 2018 to appear to give evidence in person, but Slater had had a stroke and was incapacitated, and then in rehab, through most of last year.

Slater did not have a lawyer representing him but his former advocate Brian Henry was in the back of the courtroom, declining the possibility raised by Justice Palmer of assisting the court and Slater. Henry said he was suffering from shingles and “no longer appearing before this court”, adding he was there because it “was too good a show to miss”.

Henry said in his experience, Slater would be able to concentrate for up to an hour on the stand before the judge might notice “he starts to no longer be with this court”.

Salmon repeatedly asked if Graham had been paying Slater to publish blog posts against his clients. “No. He was not. You seem to think if that’s what you ask me again and again it will change my answer. I’ve sworn an affidavit. It’s my opinions. No one can buy those opinions.”

Asked about payments detailed in documents Graham and Slater had turned over, totalling $93,840 “from Mr Graham and his company to you and your company”, Slater said they would have been for media services, public relations advice and social media expertise, not posts themselves.

He agreed Graham was the PR man providing such media services, but added: “He needs advice on that.”

Later he said: “No one pays me for blog posts, contrary to the fantasies of Mr Hager. That’s never happened.”

I think that’s contrary to what was disclosed in the Blomfield case.

On blog posts that might have been drafted by Graham, Slater said: “They are articles that I have written about and published under my name, so therefore I take ownership of those articles but I receive briefings, as anyone in media does, about intricacies in various cases.”

Asked again if Graham had “procured you to publish” those posts, he said: “No.”

Was he paid by Graham? “I was paid for advice.”

Slater claimed he had provided in the the discovery process everything that he had, but told Salmon he had been hacked and a huge amount of damage had occurred to his IT systems. “I do not know what I do not know. If documents are not there I don’t know why they’re not there. Did they go missing? Did I delete them ? No idea. I don’t have them. They are not under my control.”

He has no idea if he deleted them?

Carrick Graham also denied he paid for blog posts against the three academics.

Salmon pointed to one invoice Graham had issued which mentioned blog posts at $300 each.

Graham: “The client realised Mr Slater would not do it for free and showed no interest in doing it for free but at the same time he heard what went on and what happened and would do a post.”

To another document Graham had provided, listing his work in ‘drafting online posts x 3″, Salmon asked if that corresponded to a line on an invoice for $900. “Possibly,” Graham answered.

Salmon wanted to know, if Graham had not paid for blogposts, whether anyone else of Graham’s clients had paid Slater direct to publish views against the academics.

Salmon used a different total to Graham than he had earlier put to Slater, for payments between his business and Slater. “Payments between your entities and Mr Slater’s entities I calculate at $124,434 – payments you have said you have made to Mr Slater. Correct?

“Yes”.

Salmon: “Are you able to agree that there is a surprising number of invoices paid there that are divisible by $300?”

Graham: “If you say so. Could be divided by all sorts of numbers.”

He said work he did for various clients to do with alcohol, tobacco and the sugar and food industries was “about intelligence… what’s going on. Not the blog posts in question.”

Salmon: “In your own time?”

Graham: “I’m personally interested in these issues.”

Salmon told Justice Palmer that when the case goes to trial, the plaintiffs would argue the claim that payments were not for blog posts “is a fiction”.

One can make their own conclusions about this, but it will be up to the court to decide on whether payments were made for posts or whether they were just coincidental payments for other work done that had nothing to do with the Whale Oil  posts.

I can imagine what Slater would be saying if this was someone else making claims like this.

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. He is not the first and he won’t be the last to discover that bankruptcy doesn’t free the bankrupt from any responsibility.

    Reply
  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  18th July 2020

    So many chickens, so few places to roost. Henry hoping to be paid in laughs if not in cash. Truth is still a step too far for his ex client.

    Reply
  3. Duker

     /  18th July 2020

    Its only the discovery phase not the trial itself. So Sellman etc lawyers will have plenty of time to check back over previous claims and present the timeline of blog posts and invoices.
    As usual Slater tries to win over with Bluster and Bull#@%$. So getting paid was it $90k or $125k for advice but not blog posts is his defence.
    Seems like strategically Slater made a major blunder over jumping in on the Colin Craig pile in. He used a proper lawyer after seeing the big win that Jordan Williams got but they both say it turn to dust as Craig was far more dogged and far better funded and he fought back with proper appeals rather than obstruction and delay.
    For him a stalemate is as good as a win.
    Slater had a low opinion of judges but he didnt realise that they get the job because they are far smarter than him- who left school to work as a data bank computer operator- and know the intricacies of the law inside out , and would get advice from other senior judges and of course the submissions of opposing lawyers.
    The end result is that Blomfield, Craig , Sellman etc all sail on while its Slater , who had a previous breakdown before he started his blog has seen his health decline and finances shattered. I bet that Judith no longer chats with or contacts him much at all now. She clearly can see she got what she wanted -finally- by circumstances not the machinations of others including Slater

    Reply
  4. FarmerPete

     /  18th July 2020

    He is a nasty slug on the lettuce of life!

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  18th July 2020

      Slaters repugnant behaviour is condemned by the left and the…right.

      Reply

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