Colin Craig guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment

Another court has found Colin Craig guilty of sexual harassment of his ex-Conservative party assistant Rachel MacGregor.

Justice Toogood: “the seriousness of the harassment is aggravated by its origins in an abuse of power in a workplace relationship. I assess the sexual harassment as moderately serious.”

Craig continues to deny that de sexually harassed MacGregor. From NZH: Judge rules Cameron Slater defamed Colin Craig who sexually harassed Rachel MacGregor

In a statement, Craig said he was “pleased but not surprised” by the court’s decision.

But he also maintained he had not sexually harassed anyone.

“I was disappointed by a finding that I had done so on two occasions,” he said.

Craig had written poems and letters to MacGregor, which he claimed were received with positive responses at the time.

“This is a perplexing outcome,” Craig said.

“If someone tells you it’s a great letter and they are re-reading and re-reading it, I think a normal person would consider the letter welcomed.”

I find it perplexing that Craig cannot understand or accept what he has done. He was in a party leader/employer position of unequal power and abused that.

From Justice Toogood’s SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS AND DECISIONS:

[17] For the reasons set out below, I have found that:

(a) It is not established that Mr Craig was guilty of sexual harassment of Ms MacGregor up to and including the incident on election night 2011 when there was intimacy between them, because I am not satisfied that Mr Craig’s behaviour was unwanted by Ms MacGregor at that time.

(b) It is true that Mr Craig was guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment of Ms MacGregor, on multiple occasions from early 2012 to 2014 by telling her that he remained romantically inclined and sexually attracted to her, and that those expressions of his views were not welcomed by Ms MacGregor at the time they were communicated to her. Ms MacGregor chose not to complain about the harassment because of her concern about the effect of a complaint on her
employment.

(c) The imputation that Mr Craig sent “dirty text messages” to Ms MacGregor is not strictly true, but it is materially true in substance in that he sexually harassed Ms MacGregor by communicating to her sexually oriented written messages between early 2012 and 2014 that were unwelcome.

(d) The imputation that Mr Craig sexually harassed Ms MacGregor so seriously that he settled the sexual harassment claim by paying her a six-figure sum of money is not strictly true, but it is materially true in substance in that he provided Ms MacGregor with a substantial financial benefit in exchange for her agreeing she would not pursue a justifiable claim that Mr Craig had been guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment.

[455] I infer from the timing of Ms MacGregor’s submission of the sexual harassment complaint to the Human Rights Commission on the day of her resignation that her distaste for Mr Craig’s sexual overtures was both genuine and an operative factor in her decision to resign when she did. I do not accept that the formal complaint to the Commission was contrived as a device to give her leverage in inevitable negotiations over a settlement of her pay claims

[457] Mr Craig’s continuing indications after 2011 that he retained a romantic interest and sexual attraction were unwanted by Ms MacGregor and wrong. I have found that Ms MacGregor chose not to complain about the harassment because of concern about the effect of a complaint on her employment. Although the manner of the harassment was not at the higher end of the scale of seriousness, it had serious consequences for Ms MacGregor in that it was an operative factor in the loss of her job, and Mr Craig’s post-resignation behaviour aggravated the harm she suffered.

Moreover, as I have held, the seriousness of the harassment is aggravated by its origins in an abuse of power in a workplace relationship. I assess the sexual harassment as moderately serious.

[459] It is proper and reasonable to infer that the overall financial settlement, including the benefits that that were not related to her pay claim, influenced Ms MacGregor’s decision to withdraw her sexual harassment claim. I accept her evidence that she would not have settled the sexual harassment claim without also resolving her pay claim and the issue of her debt to Mr and Mrs Craig. That means that, although no payment directly related to the sexual harassment claim was made, Mr Craig made a substantial financial settlement with Ms MacGregor in exchange for the withdrawal of her sexual harassment claim to the Human Rights Commission

The statement that Mr Craig paid Ms MacGregor a six-figure sum is not true, but the material element of the allegation – the sting – is that Mr Craig provided Ms MacGregor with a substantial financial benefit in exchange for her not pursuing a justifiable claim that he had been guilty of sexual harassment. The  potentially damaging aspects were the inference that serious sexual harassment had occurred and the inference, available from his agreement to a financial settlement, that Mr Craig acknowledged the complaint was well-founded. I have found that, in fact, the harassment was moderately serious.

[460] Taking the statement as a whole, I am satisfied that it has been proved that the third imputation, in substance, was not materially different from the truth in substance in that Mr Craig provided Ms MacGregor with a substantial financial benefit in exchange for her agreeing she would not pursue a justifiable claim that he had been guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment.

[520] For the reasons given in relation to Publication 1, I find:

(a) The imputation that Mr Craig sexually harassed Ms MacGregor is true.

(b) The imputation that he sexually harassed her so seriously that he settled her sexual harassment claim by paying her a large sum of money many tens of thousands of dollars more than what he had told the board of the Conservative Party he paid her, was materially true in substance. Mr Craig provided Ms MacGregor with a substantial financial benefit in exchange for her not pursuing a justifiable claim that Mr Craig had been guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment and misled the board intentionally about the true nature of his behaviour with and towards Ms MacGregor, the foundation and merits of Ms MacGregor’s allegations against him, and the true nature of the settlement with her.

(c) The imputation that Mr Craig sent Ms MacGregor numerous sexually explicit text messages, which were unsolicited and a form of sexual harassment is materially true in substance, in that he sexually harassed Ms MacGregor by communicating to her sexually oriented written messages that were unwelcome.

So that is a fairly comprehensive finding of sexual harassment as an employer.

Alison Mau (Stuff):  Colin Craig defamation case breaks new ground for victims of sexual harassment

In his ruling as to whether blogger Cameron Slater defamed Craig, Justice Toogood found that Craig certainly did sexually harass MacGregor – but his decision could have far greater impact for many more people than just Craig, MacGregor, Slater and the number of others Craig has sued over this sorry mess.

Justice Toogood is saying that if, as an employer, you think you can go around doing the kind of stuff Craig did to MacGregor, the court will assume it’s unwelcome. That will be the baseline assumption.

Instead of the victim having to prove your attention was unwelcome, you will have to prove that it was not.

That is, of course, simplifying things – Justice Toogood’s decision is hundreds of pages long and makes for difficult reading at times, particularly if you’re squeamish or easily embarrassed. It describes a murky situation where lines were crossed by both players at one point, and where Craig’s attention was welcomed before election day 2011 – but not afterwards.

It acknowledges the complexity of the situation, yet finds MacGregor was harassed, and has since been dragged through the courts against her will on multiple occasions.

More importantly (no offence to MacGregor), the judgment makes some powerful statements about how the courts will view sexual harassment in the future. This should give New Zealand women a tiny warm glow in the midst of the scorched-earth landscape in which survivors of sexual harassment are often left.

It talks about the power imbalance – Craig as the wealthy employer and MacGregor  as the much younger employee – and how it’s reasonable to infer the sexual conduct or language was unwelcome, “whether the complainant objected at the time of the alleged harassment or not”.

It says that as an employer, Craig should have known “that the appropriate course for him to follow was not merely to reassure her that her job was safe notwithstanding what had occurred. He ought to have assured Ms MacGregor that he also recognised that it was inappropriate for him to give any form of expression to being sexually attracted to her and thereafter to refrain from any communication or conduct of that kind”.

It answers that old chestnut, “why didn’t she complain before now?” Justice Toogood accepts MacGregor could not have been expected to do that, as she feared for her job.

This should be noted as a warning to employers and others (like politicians) in positions of relative power. It applies to both males and females.

 

 

 

 

Craig v Slater – the biggest losers

Finally after waiting eighteen months for a judgment on their tit for tat defamation trial Colin Craig and and Cameron Slater are both claiming some sort of victory, but the overwhelming response is that they are both losers.

Craig technically won – he succeeded on two claims that Slater defamed him. But:

  • he lost most of his claims
  • there was no award of damages because “the reputational damage which Mr Craig suffered throughout the events traversed at length in the judgment resulted almost entirely from his own actions”
  • “It is true that Mr Craig was guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment of Rachel MacGregor, on multiple occasions”

Technically Slater succeeded in defending most of Craaig’s claims, but he failed on both his claims of defamation, as Craig was found to be “entitled to the defence of qualified privilege in reply to an attack on him by Mr Slater”, so no damages there either (he asked for $8,117,010).

Costs are yet to be decided. Craig represented himself so cannot claim much in the way of costs and disbursements.

Slater lost the case, and Craig won a part of his case, so Slater may have difficulty claiming much if any of what will be substantial legal costs. There seems no chance of him getting all costs, and any he might get will be going to his lawyers, so the dream of a legal fighting fund that was mentioned when Whale Oil eyes lit up when Jordan Williams was awarded over a million dollars (now quashed) is now a financial burden, if not nightmare.

Summary from Courts of New Zealand:

The claimant, Colin Craig, laid 15 separate defamation claims in relation to statements made by Mr Slater
either on his blogsite or in other media.

Mr Craig alleged that he suffered serious damage to his reputation as a consequence of allegedly untrue statements published by the defendants, Mr Cameron Slater and Social Media Consultants Limited (SMCl) (the company which establishes the Whaleoil blog).

Mr Slater made two counterclaims.

The matter was heard by judge-alone over 17 days in May – June 2017, with final submissions not received until September 2018.

In brief, Mr Craig alleged that Mr Slater and Whaleoil caused him serious reputational damage by publishing untrue statements based on information leaked to him by a friend of Ms MacGregor, Mr Jordan Williams, and a Conservative Party board member, Mr John Stringer, about Mr Craig and the Party’s internal problems; electoral funding and the Party’s finances; and a rumoured sexual harassment claim by Ms MacGregor.

Mr Craig sought declarations under s 24 of the Defamation Act 1992 that the defendants are liable to him
in defamation. He also claimed general, aggravated and punitive damages of unspecified amounts and
costs.

Mr Slater counterclaimed, saying he was himself defamed in a booklet entitled Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas which Mr Craig published, allegedly in defence of the attacks he claims Mr Slater and others made upon him, following his resignation in 2015. The booklet was circulated to more than 1.6 million New Zealand homes. Mr Slater claims that the contents of the booklet defamed him by implying, among other things, that he developed or coordinated the strategy to defame and spread lies about Mr Craig and published material on his blog knowing it not to be true.

Mr Slater claimed general damages of $8,117,010 on a proposed basis of $5.00 for each of the 1,623,402 New Zealand homes to which the booklet was delivered.

The result and orders

Mr Craig failed on his principal causes of action against Mr Slater. He did so because the Court found, for reasons set out in full in the judgment, that Mr Craig had been guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment of Ms MacGregor; that he had made a substantial financial settlement with her on confidential terms in exchange for the withdrawal of her claims to the Human Rights Tribunal; and that he had deliberately misled the Conservative Party board about those matters.

The court found other statements and assertions were untrue statements. However, the court held that Mr Slater could rely on the defence of “responsible communication on a matter of public interest” with respect to all but two of these untrue statements and imputations.

This new defence was available to Mr Slater despite his personal animosity towards Mr Craig, because the Court found he was principally motivated to release into the public arena information which he believed to be reliable and which would inform public discussion on a matter of undoubted public interest.

The Court found that to hold that Mr Slater was deprived of the defence of responsible communication on a matter of public interest, merely because of his views about Mr Craig, would be to tilt the balance between freedom of expression on a matter of public interest and protection of reputation too far in favour of the latter. Such a finding would have an unduly chilling effect on political discourse of the kind which the public interest defence is designed to recognise.

HELD: The Judge declared, under s 24 of the Defamation Act 1992, that Mr Slater and SMCl are liable to Mr Craig in defamation for only two untrue statements:. The Court found Mr Slater had no defence for the untrue statements that Mr Craig:
(i) had placed Ms Rachel MacGregor under financial pressure to sleep with him; and
(ii) sexually harassed at least one victim other than Ms MacGregor.

The Judge dismissed the remaining causes of action in defamation, either on grounds that the defence of truth was upheld or on the basis the publications were responsible communications on a matter of public interest.

While this meant Cameron Slater and Social Media Consultants Limited were liable to Colin Craig in defamation for these two statements, the Court ruled he was not entitled to an award of damages because the reputational damage which Mr Craig suffered throughout the events traversed at length in the judgment resulted almost entirely from his own actions.

Mr Slater’s counterclaims

Mr Slater counterclaimed for allegedly defamatory statements made in the booklet.

The Court dismissed Mr Slater’s counterclaims against Mr Craig. It found that while many of the assertions Mr Craig had made about Mr Slater in his booklet Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, were untrue – including the assertion that Mr Slater made up allegations and was a liar – Mr Craig was entitled to the defence of qualified privilege in reply to an attack on him by Mr Slater.

On that basis, Mr Slater’s counterclaim in defamation was dismissed.

From the judgment on costs:

Bearing in mind that each of the parties has both succeeded and failed in the proceeding in varying degrees, and having regard to the complexity and significance of the proceeding, it will be obvious that the determination of costs will require careful consideration by the parties and by the Court.

Costs are reserved for the exchange of memoranda and will be determined on the papers unless the Court directs otherwise.

This could take some time.

Full decision of J Toogood: PDF document icon CSEJ.pdf — PDF document, 1.82 MB, 250 pages

Craig has claimed a win but acknowledges that is limited. He says he is considering an appeal.

Mr ‘explaining is losing’ Slater has done a number of posts on the judgment at Whale Oil claiming some sort of victory and vindication, but it looks like trying to make a silk purse out of a boar’s bum. There has been only a a little bit of congratulations and support in comments, seemingly from a mix of blind supporters and sycophants with perhaps some sock puppets.

David Farrar seems to have obtained an advance copy of the judgment and what looked like a pre-prepared post that appears to be trying to paint lipstick on a pig – Zero damages in Craig vs Slater.

Comments there are overwhelmingly negative towards Craig and to Slater in particular.

There was a brief flurry of response on Twitter, largely critical of the two litigants, and also praising the ‘both losers’ result.

Craig’s reputation was already in tatters, this just reinforces that. The decision puts pressure on his ongoing defamation proceedings versus Jordan Williams – arguing appropriate damages in Williams v Craig, and his counter suit Craig v Williams.

Surely Craig must now drop his defamation claim against Rachel MacGregor.

And any political ambitions must be gone or futile.

Slater comes out of this with his reputation of a political activist and dirty attack blogger largely intact (remember that his attacks were based on information supplied by Jordan Williams in a breach of MacGregor’s privacy and highly questionable for a lawyer). His financial stress remains.

And Slater has another legal headache looming as he awaits a judgment on the Blomfield v Slater defamation case. This is similar in that involved a series of attacks on Matthew Blomfield via Whale Oil, but it is different in that Blomfield didn’t get drawn into a public spat and overreach like Craig. Blomfield just tenaciously pursued Slater through the courts, despite numerous appeals and delays.

Whale Oil has also suffered. Slater’s bold claims of legal success have proven to be like many of his claims, over-optimistic and overblown, so his credibility has taken another hit, at the same time that he continues shedding support due to his ongoing attacks on National.

In five consecutive posts on the decision at WO there have been a total of 56 comments (23 on one post is the most), compared to 85 comments on a single post at Kiwiblog.

 

Craig v Williams strike out attempt fails

This is another chapter in the widening litigation after Colin Craig was attacked via Whale Oil and Craig retaliated via a media conference and a nationwide mail-out of a pamphlet.

Craig is counter claiming defamation against Jordan Williams in a parallel case to the original claim Williams made against Craig.

Williams v Craig

Williams took Craig to court for defamation. Williams won and was awarded a record amount by a jury. However this was overturned by the judge. Wrangling on this case recently got as far as the Supreme Court, and remains unresolved.

Craig v Williams

Meanwhile, Craig also later filed separately for defamation against Williams.

This differs from the Craig v Slater v Craig claim and counter-claim which were heard at the same time (early last year, still no judgment).

Earlier this year Williams applied to the High Court for:

(a) striking out the plaintiff’s (Mr Craig’s) claim as an abuse of process;

(b) if the proceeding is not struck out, transferring the proceeding to the Wellington Registry of the Court; and

(c) if the proceeding is not struck out, ordering Mr Craig to provide security for Mr Williams’ costs

Williams partially succeeded but largely failed.

The claims made by Mr Craig

[4] On 29 May 2017, Mr Craig filed this proceeding (“the Craig proceeding”) against Mr Williams, alleging that Mr Williams made defamatory statements about Mr Craig in the period between 26 May 2015 and 26 June 2015.

[5] Mr Craig’s statement of claim pleads six separate causes of action, each relating to statements allegedly published by Mr Williams.

Conclusions on the strike-out application:

[99] In my view, the issue of whether Mr Craig sexually harassed Ms MacGregor (by means falling short of sexual assault) has been conclusively determined against him in the Williams proceeding.

The causes of action and parts of causes of action that argued whether Mr Craig sexually harassed Ms MacGregor were all struck out.

[128] The pleaded meaning that Mr Craig had sexually harassed Ms MacGregor will be struck out, for the reasons discussed earlier.

But other parts of five of the six claims were allowed to stand. Craig was directed to file and serve an amended statement of claim.

[129] I do not consider there is a sufficient basis to strike out the other pleaded meanings, both of which are concerned with sexual harassment of women other than Ms MacGregor.

Williams also asked that the proceedings be struck out due to the existence of other proceedings. This was declined.

[159] Mr Williams points to numerous Court proceedings Mr Craig has now filed against a number of parties, including Mr Slater, Ms MacGregor, and Mr Stringer. It appears that all of these claims relate broadly to the same series of events in 2015.

[160] I do not think I can make anything of these other claims in the context of the present application. I did not receive any detailed submissions on the nature of the other claims, and I have no basis for finding that they were unnecessary or improper, or otherwise an abuse of the Court’s process. I am dealing here with a strike-out application in respect of this one proceeding, and I think it would be dangerous to conclude from the fact that there are a number of other proceedings commenced by Mr Craig that this proceeding was commenced for an improper collateral purpose, or was otherwise an abuse of the Court process. I decline to strike out the Craig proceeding on the basis of the existence of these other proceedings.

Williams also applied for an order for security of costs. This was dismissed.

Williams also applied for an order transferring the proceeding to the Wellington registry of the Court (from Auckland). This was dismissed.

Craig has failed to re-litigate findings that he sexually harassed MacGregor, but otherwise he successfully opposed Williams applications.

So this means that as well as Williams versus Craig continuing on it’s way through the courts, Craig versus Williams is now also able to proceed.

Full judgment here

 

Craig and MacGregor admit defamation trial is of no benefit to either of them

The Colin Craig versus Rachel MacGregor defamation trial has now been going for a week. I don’t have any interest in rehashing old evidence dragged up again.

There are two things worth noting.

One is the bizarre situation where, accused of harassment but acting for himself, Craig is able to cross-examine MacGregor as a witness. Stuff:  Colin Craig begins cross examination of Rachel MacGregor in defamation trial

In an awkward interaction, Craig cross-examined MacGregor on Friday afternoon, with MacGregor refusing to look at her former employer.

It is the second time this has played out – Craig cross-examined MacGregor at his defamation trial against blogger Cameron Slater last year.

The second:

Craig told MacGregor on Friday he did not “consider that this proceeding is in the interest of either party”.

“Do you accept that?” Craig asked.

“Yes, I do,” MacGregor replied.

So why the hell is it happening? Courts are overloaded with important stuff, so this is a drain on limited resources.

I think it’s unlikely this is MacGregor’s choice. Craig seems to have become obsessed with using the courts to try to prove something. There has been:

  • Williams versus Craig (not Craig’s choice)
  • Craig versus Slater & Slater versus Craig
  • Craig versus Stringer
  • Craig verses Stiekema
  • Craig versus MacGregor & MacGregor versus Craig

Obviously the last of those is before the court still. Stringer may be finished with, but all the others are in various states of progress through the courts.

Related to these (having also been caused by posts on Whale Oil):

  • Blomfield versus Slater (due in court in October)
  • Sellman, Swinburn, Bradbrook versus Slater, Graham, Facilitate Communications Limited, Katherine Rich, New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Inc

The latter provides some insight into claims that seem to be common across all of these cases:

[11] In 31 causes of action the plaintiffs seek general damages, aggravated and punitive damages and costs from Mr Slater, Mr Graham and FCL in various combinations for defaming them in different combinations in the 31 posts. In nine more causes of action (numbers 32 to 40) the plaintiffs allege Mr Graham and FCL defamed them in various combinations in comments on the posts. In one cause of action, number 41, all plaintiffs seek general damages, aggravated and punitive damages and costs from Ms Rich and the NZFGC for procuring Mr Graham, FCL and Mr Slater to publish the substance and sting of the defamatory statements.

[12] The defendants deny the allegations against them and offer several affirmative defences

(a) a number of the causes of action are time-barred;

(b) all statements on all causes of action are true and statements of honest opinion;

(c) all statements attract qualified privilege as part of robust political debate about matters of legitimate public interest regarding the regulation of alcohol, sugar, fat and tobacco

Result

[125] I decline the applications to strike-out the causes of action except in relation to the pleaded meanings identified in the table annexed to this judgment.

SELLMAN & ORS v SLATER & ORS [2017] NZHC 2392 [2 October 2017]

That judgment was almost exactly a year ago. I presume this case is still progressing, slowly as defamation cases seem to. They tend to be drawn out and expensive.

What you see in news reports is mostly just on actual trials. There can be a lot of other processes including submissions, rulings and court hearings involved.

I doubt there will be any real winners in all of this. Some may get enough damages and costs to cover their expenses, but most reputations have been irreparably damaged, and that gets amplified by all the court carry on.

Defamation trial – Craig versus McGregor

A two week judge only defamation trial between Colin Craig and his ex-party secretary Rachel McGregor is due to start tomorrow. There have been a number of high profile defamation cases involving Craig, and McGregor has been a feature of most of them, but this case has not received much if any attention so far.

Stuff: Public appeal for funds ahead of Rachel MacGregor’s defamation action against Colin Craig

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor go head to head in a defamation case at the High Court in Auckland on Monday.

In the latest stage in the ongoing very public saga of the pair’s work relationship, the case goes to court after Craig filed defamation proceedings against MacGregor in November 2016.

Craig’s case is based on what he alleges are three separate defamations of him.

MacGregor has responded with a counterclaim alleging Craig defamed her in four separate incidents.

The issues at the heart of the proceedings came to public attention when MacGregor resigned as Craig’s press secretary two days before the 2014 election. The same day, she filed a claim of sexual harassment against him with the Human Rights Commission, allegations he denied.

At mediation, they settled the sexual harassment claim and a financial dispute, and signed a confidentiality agreement.

MacGregor subsequently complained to the Human Rights Review Tribunal that Craig had breached the confidentiality agreement, by doing media interviews and holding two press conferences.

The tribunal found in her favour, and ordered Craig to pay MacGregor $128,000.

In an interview with Stuff Circuit, timed to launch a public appeal to help her fund her legal defence, MacGregor said: “I don’t have any assets. I am just absolutely nowhere as wealthy as Colin Craig.”

MacGregor said it’s been a tough four years having to navigate the legal system.

“I would not be able to do that on my own and I don’t know how people are expected to navigate it on their own.”

She is still bound by the confidentiality agreement and said, “There’s a real asymmetry. People have mainly heard his side of the story and … the little bits of mine that they’ve heard, I haven’t been able to lead the narrative. I haven’t been able to tell my story on my terms and it’s really frustrating.”

This is not a great way to get to tell one’s side of a messy story.

Defamation trials can be very expensive. Craig is representing himself.

McGregor has already been dragged into two related defamation cases as a subject and a witness. One is Jordan Williams versus Craig, currently heading to a Supreme Court appeal and cross appeal:

A Leave to appeal and leave to cross-appeal is granted (Williams v Craig [2018] NZCA 31).

B The approved question is whether the Court of Appeal erred in allowing the appeal to that Court in part and dismissing the cross-appeal to that Court.

The other is Craig versus Cameron Slater. The trial was held in May-June 2017, but there has been no judgment yet. It is possible the judge in that trial is waiting on outcomes from Williams versus Craig.

Slater is heading for another defamation trial next month, taken against him by Matthew Blomfield, also as a result of posts on Whale Oil.

Craig has also been to court versus John Stringer. I find the last judgment: CRAIG v STRINGER [2017] NZHC 3221 [19 December 2017] confusing between plaintiffs and defendants but it includes an order rewording a previous judgment including:

[2] The wording of the judgment is amended to now read:

(a) There is judgment for the plaintiff against the defendant in relation to the following publications alleging:

(i) The plaintiff sexually harassed one or more women other than Rachel MacGregor;

(b) The plaintiff’s claims, save his claims in relation to publications alleging that the plaintiff sexually harassed Rachel MacGregor, are otherwise dismissed.

There have been a number of ugly aspects to these protracted defamation proceedings. They are set to get another airing in court over the next two weeks,

Williams versus Craig in the Supreme Court

The Jordan Williams versus Colin Craig defamation saga reached the Supreme Court this week. Most media must be over this spat as it was largely ignored.

But for those who aren’t over it yet, Asher Emanuel covered it well for The Spinoff – ‘Who do you despise more?’ Jordan Williams and Colin Craig at the Supreme Court

The jury seem to have despised Craig the most, but the trial judge said that tainted their decision.

Here’s the ‘the very abbreviated version” of the background:

Earlier this year an appeal court said that these long-running defamation proceedings had “exposed serious flaws in the characters of both protagonists”, which is also a fair description of the events which led to this week’s Supreme Court hearing.

In the weeks before the 2014 general election, polls showed the Conservative Party to be a genuine prospect to enter parliament. Two days before the vote, Colin Craig’s press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, resigned unexpectedly. The party ended up falling a percentage point short of the threshold required to make it.

After the election, MacGregor told Williams, an acquaintance of hers, that Craig had sexually harassed her. She later filed a claim of sexual harassment with the Human Rights Tribunal, which was settled in mediation with Craig in early 2015. The settlement included a confidentiality agreement and she considered the matter at an end.

Despite promising MacGregor and her lawyer he would keep her story and documents she’d entrusted to him confidential, Williams used the information in what a judge later described as a “campaign” to have Craig removed as leader of the party. Williams told the party board members, informed Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust that he should prepare to fill the party leadership, and authored posts for Whale Oil under the pen name “Concerned Conservative” alleging Craig sexually harassed MacGregor as well as publishing a poem Craig had sent her.

Craig responded by calling a press conference to announce a pamphlet he’d put together about “the dirty politics agenda and what they have been up to in recent weeks”. There had been a campaign of defamatory lies about him, he said. He’d never sexually harassed anybody, claims otherwise were false, and in the next 48 hours he would be suing Jordan Williams, Cameron Slater, and a member of the Conservative Party board member John Stringer for $300,000, $650,000 and $600,000 respectively.

At a cost of $250,000 he had the pamphlet — replete with strange capitalisation, a cartoon and an obviously fictitious interview between Colin Craig and a Mr X (actually also Colin Craig) — sent to 1.6 million homes.

Williams sued Craig, saying Craig had defamed him by calling him a liar and implying Williams was dishonest, deceitful, a serial liar, not to be trusted, and lacking in integrity. Williams won and was awarded $1.27 million, the largest defamation award ever made in New Zealand. (The trial judge did, though, find there was some evidence that Williams had been dishonest and deceitful, and could not be trusted.)

Both Craig and Williams had their reputations tarnished by the trial, but the jury decided that Craig’s responses to Williams’ attacks were excessive.

The appeal court worried that the size of the original award was more about punishing Craig than vindicating Williams’ reputation. Indeed, Craig’s lawyer had said, pretty candidly, that the he thought the jury “hated” Craig.

And Williams’ reputation was not worth $1.27 million.

“The trial process revealed that Mr Williams had accused Mr Craig of sexual harassment against Ms MacGregor but himself harboured offensive attitudes towards women,” the court said, referring to Facebook messages between Williams and Cameron Slater published by the hacker Rawshark and put in evidence by Craig.

“A damages award should restore Mr Williams’ reputation to the status it ought it to have enjoyed if this element of his character was known publicly. The law must be concerned with the reputation he deserved and compensate accordingly.”

Williams won’t have been well known to the general public but many of those who followed politics and ‘Dirty Politics’ are likely to have not rated his reputation highly before his spat with Craig.

And this week the spat reached the Supreme Court.

The precise legal issues involved are particularly technical and arcane — for instance, which elements of the defence of qualified privilege are for a judge to decide, and which are for a jury.

But the essence of each party’s case is simple enough. Williams wants the jury’s verdict to stand, including the enormous damages award. He disagrees with the trial judge’s decision to order a retrial of the whole case, and the appeal court decision that any damages should be far more modest.

Craig, presumably, just wants it all to go away. The jury shouldn’t have taken away his defence. He had been defending his political standing, his lawyer explained. He had retaliated to “protect his reputation as a man, a husband and a father.” Williams, by contrast, was overly hasty, exaggerated his claims, breached various assurances of confidentiality, was uninterested in evidence which contradicted his views, et cetera.

In this case, the privilege Craig relied on is the right to respond to an attack on one’s reputation. Williams attacked Craig, so Craig was entitled to respond. But there are limits. For instance, Craig would lose the defence if he was mainly motivated by “ill will”, including if he didn’t believe what he was saying was true.

Craig’s lawyer said he honestly believed that he had not sexually harassed MacGregor, and that the relationship was close and to some extent reciprocated. The judge’s instructions to the jury made it seem like it was easy for Craig to lose his defence, the lawyer argued.

Williams’ lawyer said Craig knew he sexually harassed MacGregor, he knew his remarks about Williams were false, and the defence was not available to him, as the jury decided.

The lawyers, who must have already cost their clients huge amounts of money, went over all of this over two days in front of five Supreme Court judges.

The outcome will be awaited. The jury’s verdict could be reinstated. A retrial could be ordered, either in whole or just on damages, which retrial could in turn give rise to further appeals, and so on and so on. Unfortunately, the courts cannot substitute their own view on damages unless the parties consent. And agreement to let the court assess damages has not been reached, despite some pleading from the appeals court.

In time a verdict will come out, but that will only determine who this saga will proceed to yet another court.

And that’s not all for Craig. He is still waiting for a verdict on his defamation and counter claim versus Cameron Slater, now well over a year after the trial. perhaps that has been waiting to see the outcome of this saga, as any monetary award would have to add up alongside whatever Williams ends up with being awarded.

And that’s not all for Slater – Blomfield v Slater trial date set

A defamation proceeding brought by Matthew Blomfield against Cameron Slater that was started in the District Court in 2012 will finally go to trial in the High Court in October. It will be judge only (no jury), and is expected to run for four weeks or six weeks (two recent judgments give different durations).

It’s hard to see there being any winners out of all of this, financially at least. The cost of taking defamation to court is horrendous, and as Williams and Craig have found out the cost to their reputations can be high as well.

Craig versus Williams granted leave to appeal and cross appeal

The Colin Craig versus Jordan Williams defamation saga continues, and it’s getting a bit complicated legally.

Williams won a record payout in a High Court jury trial. However the judge had concerns about that verdict.

Craig took it to the Court of Appeal, which ruled earlier this year hat it was “satisfied that the jury’s award of both compensatory and punitive damages was excessive or wrong, and must be set aside accordingly.”

Today the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal that to Williams, and also leave to cross appeal was granted to Craig.

So it’s looking increasingly likely the only winners will be the lawyers.

NZH: Supreme Court allows Craig v Williams defamation appeal over compensation amount

New Zealand’s highest court will allow challenges to a court’s ruling that $1.27 million in compensation for a man defamed by former politician Colin Craig was “excessive or wrong”.

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams sued Craig, the former Conservative Party leader, for defamation after Craig, in 2015, delivered 1.6 million pamphlets criticising Williams to homes across the country and held a press conference.

Williams sought compensatory damages of $400,000 and punitive damages of $90,000 for the remarks against him, and a further $650,000 in compensatory damages and $130,000 in punitive damages for the leaflets.

So this is likely to take at least a few more months, if not longer.

In the meantime Craig is still waiting for a judgment on the judge only defamation he took against Cameron Slater, who also took an action against Craig.

The Court of Appeal ruling: WILLIAMS v CRAIG [2018] NZCA 31 [5 March 2018]

High Court ruling: WILLIAMS v CRAIG [2017] NZHC 724 [12 April 2017]

Blomfield v Slater trial date set

A defamation proceeding brought by Matthew Blomfield against Cameron Slater that was started in the District Court in 2012 will finally go to trial in the High Court in October. It will be judge only (no jury), and is expected to run for four weeks or six weeks (two recent judgments give different durations).

Blomfield claims he was defamed in a series of thirteen posts at Whale Oil, while Slater claims that taken in context the posts were not defamatory, and also that the posts expressed truth and honest opinion.

The publications

[6] Each of the blogs was published between 3 May and 6 June 2012. They occurred after Mr Slater came into possession of a hard drive containing emails sent to or by Mr Blomfield. Other material was also stored on the hard drive, including photographs of Mr Blomfield’s family.

This is rather ironic given the complaints Slater has made about Nicky Hager obtaining material that was hacked from Whale Oil and Slater. I don’t know whether it has been established that the hard drive was obtained illegally or not.

[7] There is no dispute for present purposes that Mr Slater caused the blogs to be published on the Whaleoil website notwithstanding the fact that the website is apparently operated by the second defendant, Social Media Consultants Limited. There can also be no dispute that the blogs related to Mr Blomfield because he was named in each. Each of the blogs also contains material that is arguably defamatory of Mr Blomfield.

In late 2017 Blomfield made a successful application joining a second defendant Social Media Consultants Limited as a party to the proceeding. This was done after Slater pointed out that the publications forming the basis of the defamation claims
are posted on a website operated by that company.  Shareholders and directors of the company are Cameron Slater and Juana Atkins.

This information and an outline of the defamation claims are detailed in two judgments available at Judicial Decisions Online:

These two judgments cover interlocutory issues and an on application by Blomfield for summary judgment and/or strike out.

They show that Slater has incurred more costs awards against him, and an application by Slater that security of costs be paid by Blomfield was declined because Slater is acting for himself so won’t be able to claim costs, unless he engages a lawyer for the trial.

Some of the arguments are related to the inability of Slater to provide emails as a part of the discovery process because they were deleted in the wake of ‘Dirty Politics’.

The judge notes that some comments in the posts “are clearly defamatory” but that Slater can argue truth and honest opinion.

[42] Despite the relatively extreme nature of Mr Slater’s assertions, and the sketchy particulars provided in support of the defences of truth and honest opinion, I am not prepared to enter summary judgment in respect of this publication. Sufficient particulars have been provided to enable Mr Slater to advance the defences at trial. He will obviously need to re-formulate his particulars so that they provide sufficient detail to enable Mr Blomfield to respond to them.

Most applications by both Blomfield and Slater were declined in the judgments. The need to finally get the proceeding to trial with no further delays was an overriding factor in some of the decisions.

This looks like a complex case. I have no idea of strength of the complaints or the defences. That will be for a judge to decide when it goes to a four or six week trial in October.

In other defamation proceedings, Slater is still waiting for a judgment in defamation claims and counter claims versus Colin Craig after a trial that concluded in June last year – see Craig v Slater – reserved decision.

Slater is involved in another defamation case started against him (and others) in August 2016, related to another series of posts at Whale Oil. This is summarised in SELLMAN & ORS v SLATER & ORS [2017] NZHC 2392 [2 October 2017]:

Summary

[1] Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Mr Shane Bradbrook are public health professionals. They allege they have been defamed in a series of blog posts by Mr Cameron Slater and comments on the posts by Mr Carrick Graham. They sue Mr Slater, Mr Graham and Mr Graham’s company Facilitate Communications Ltd (FCL). They also sue Ms Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Inc (NZFGC) for allegedly procuring Mr Slater, Mr Graham and FCL to publish the substance and sting of the alleged defamations.

Both this proceeding and Blomfield’s allege that Slater (or Social media Consultants) was paid to do attack posts on Whale Oil. This was also alleged in Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’.

One thing is clear – defamation proceedings can be complex, time consuming and very expensive.

Williams versus Craig: will there be an apology?

Jordan Williams has sort of won the latest round in the defamation proceedings he brought against Colin Craig, but it’s hard to are any either his or Craig’s reputation or bank balance coming out of this in the positive.

Williams was originally awarded about $1.2 million in ordinary and punitive damages by a jury, but the judge set that aside, saying it was an excessive award and it should go back to trial. Williams appealed that and won – it won’t go back to trial to determine defamation, that stands, but it will go back to trial or the judge to determine an appropriate award. Craig cross appealed and lost.

A key question in the original trial was whether Craig’s reaction to attacks and provocation from Williams was justified or over the top. The jury ruled it was excessive and that stands, but the Court of Appeal ruled they didn’t take the behaviour and reputation of Williams into account when awarding damages.

Judgment of the Court

A The appeal is allowed in part. The order made in the High Court for retrial of the appellant’s claims for liability and damages is set aside.

B Judgment is entered for the appellant in accordance with the jury’s verdict on liability. An order is made directing a retrial of the appellant’s claim for damages.

C In all other respects the appeal and cross appeal are dismissed.

D The respondent is ordered to pay the appellant 50 per cent of costs as calculated for a standard appeal on a band A basis with usual disbursements. There is no order for costs on the cross-appeal. All costs issues arising in the High Court are to be determined in that Court in accordance with this judgment.

However they also ruled that it was appropriate to set a limit on the level of damages.

[58] Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of an unsustainable award. His claim was pitched at a plainly extravagant level. There was no request for a direction about the appropriate parameters of an award. In this case an appropriate direction would have been up to $250,000 for compensatory damages
including aggravation, and for punitive damages no more than $10,000.

[78] It will be for the retrial Judge to decide procedure for a damages claim.

(b) Mr Williams is entitled to a compensatory award, which should be anywhere up to a maximum of $250,000 for damage to his reputation, including aggravating factors…

(c) an award of punitive damages was also available but should not be more than $10,000.

So a maximum of $260,000 recommended, about a million dollars less than the original award.

A lack of an apology from Craig was a factor, and remains a factor.

[41] The circumstances of this case are much less serious than those of Siemer v Stiassny and Holloway. We acknowledge the jury’s finding that Mr Craig’s statements about Mr Williams were false and defamatory and would tend to lower his standing in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. Its verdicts must be respected. We acknowledge also the gravity of Mr Craig’s attack on Mr Williams’ reputation, the nationwide and repetitive circulation of Mr Craig’s defamatory comments, Mr Craig’s persistence with his defence of truth and attack on Mr Williams’ reputation, and Mr Craig’s refusal to apologise. However, some perspective is necessary. We refer to two particular contextual factors.

[42] First, Mr Williams cannot point to any special harm. He is not a public figure. He is the leader of a little-known political group. Nor was he defamed in performing his professional duties as a lawyer. He was defamed in response to his actions taken with the aim of removing Mr Craig from his office as leader of a small political party. Whether Mr Williams’ objective was purely personal or linked to his role as a lobbyist for fiscal conservatism is of no real moment. His tactics — such as private messaging and the use of a pseudonym — were covert so as to keep himself out of the public eye.

[43] The trial process revealed that Mr Williams had accused Mr Craig of sexual harassment against Ms MacGregor but himself harboured offensive attitudes towards women. Mr Williams’ Facebook exchanges with Mr Slater, on which he was recalled for cross-examination at trial, were sexually crude and disparaging of women, particularly those of a different political leaning. In a written apology, which he read aloud at trial, Mr Williams accepted that his messages portrayed him in a poor light. It may fairly be observed that the trial process exposed serious flaws in the characters of both protagonists.

[79] …The trial Judge will provide extracts from the evidential transcript. Mr Craig may also wish to mitigate damages by tendering an unequivocal apology to Mr Williams.

This suggests that if Craig tenders “an unequivocal apology” the damages will be mitigated – that must mean reduced.

I don’t know if Craig will be prepared to apologise, but if he does, properly, the award should shrink further.

This has been a very costly trial, both monetary and to both reputations.

Williams was awarded just 50% of the costs of his appeal, and none of the costs for the cross appeal.

On a retrial on damages he may also be awarded costs, but that may not be all of the costs there, and I don’t know how the costs of the original trial will be determined, if at all. It’s hard to see Williams being awarded all costs given the Court of Appeal stated “Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of an unsustainable award”.

In one respect Williams has won – the defamation decided by the jury stands. But he has not helped his own reputation with the trial, and he may not come out of this very well financially either. It could end up being a win-lose outcome for him.

It’s just a lose-lose situation for Craig. He was understandably at the attacks on him and the fairly clear attempts to destroy his political career and his Conservative party, but he over-reacted in response, using the power of his money excessively. That has cost him a lot. If he apologises it will cost him a little less perhaps.

Williams versus Craig – retrial of damages only

The Court of Appeal has ruled in the Jordan Williams versus Colin Craig defamation, saying there should be no retrial of the defamation, but the costs should go before the Court again.

 

After noting Wiliams’ Facebook exchange with Whaleoil was “sexually crude and disparaging of women” the Court of Appeal said of the damages award: “The law must be concerned with the reputation he deserved and compensate accordingly.”

The Appeal Court on Colin Craig “We agree with Mr Mills QC that the size of the award suggests the jury’s particularly adverse judgment on Mr Craig’s character, credibility and conduct of his defence. Mr Mills pitched it at the level of the jury’s hatred for Mr Craig.”

But a different take from Stuff:  Taxpayers’ Union boss wins right to argue claim for $1.27m in damages

Taxpayers’ Union co-founder Jordan Williams may be able to claw back the $1.27 million in damages originally awarded to him in a defamation case.

The High Court judge presiding over the case later set aside the damages – the largest defamation award in New Zealand, and the maximum Williams had sought.

But on Monday, the Court of Appeal released a decision allowing part of Williams’ appeal, which would see a retrial of his claim for damages.

Other aspects of Williams’ appeal and Craig’s cross-appeal were dismissed. However, the retrial relating to the damages alone, would give Williams the chance to claw back at least some of the initial $1.27m he was initially promised.

That’s different to the headline and initial paragraph. Stuff has a copy of the decision.

[78] It will be for the retrial Judge to decide procedure for a damages claim.The process should be analogous to trial of a claim on admitted facts, or admitted pleadings, and be relatively straightforward. The Judge could properly direct the jury to this effect:

(a) Mr Craig defamed Mr Williams in two separate publications, the Remarks and the Leaflet, at least a week apart, by stating that Mr Williams had acted dishonestly, untruthfully and deceitfully for making the allegation that Mr Craig had sexually harassed Ms MacGregor, which was necessarily rejected by the first jury;

(b) Mr Williams is entitled to a compensatory award, which should be anywhere up to a maximum of $250,000 for damage to his reputation,including aggravating factors, taking into account that:

– any damage was caused primarily by the Remarks and compounded marginally by republication in the Leaflet;

– some of the allegations made by Mr Craig about Mr Williams’ conduct relating to the defamatory statements had elements of truth in that some aspects of his conduct had been dishonest, deceitful and untrustworthy, but not in making the allegation of sexual harassment;

– Mr Craig’s statements were made in a political context and in a counter-attack to criticisms made by a man whose own attitude to women was questionable;

– elements of Mr Craig’s  conduct of his defence may have compounded the original damage; and

(c)  an award of punitive damages was also available but should not be more than $10,000

That sets maximums at less than a quarter of the original award.

79]

The Judge’s approach will ultimately be influenced by the parties’ decisions.

[80]
There is of course a more pragmatic and sensible solution. The parties can simply agree that Katz J should determine damages.  The Judge alluded to this option in her retrial decision.  She invited counsel for the parties to submit memoranda.Both sides have since shadow boxed on this proposal, which remains in limbo. It isthe most obvious path to resolution if the parties are genuinely seeking finality. Katz J is fully familiar with all the evidence and would only require focused submissions from counsel to complete the exercise.

Can they be pragmatic?

[118]  The appeal is allowed in part. The order made in the High Court for a retrial of the appellant’s claim for liability and damages is set aside.

[119]  Judgment is entered for the appellant in accordance with the jury’s verdict onliability. An order is made directing a retrial of the appellant’s  claim for damages.

[120]  In all other respects the appeal and cross-appeal are dismissed.

[121]  The respondent is ordered to pay the appellant 50 per cent of costs as calculatedfor a standard appeal on a band A basis with usual disbursements. This reductionreflects the fact that the appeal was only partially successful. There is no order for costs on the cross-appeal. All costs issues arising in the High Court are to be determined in that Court in accordance with this judgment.

The decision online: http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/williams-v-craig-1/@@images/fileDecision?r=514.731640769

Statement from Jordan Williams re Court of Appeal decision

Naturally, I am delighted with the success of my appeal at the Court of Appeal overturning Justice Katz’s earlier decision to set aside the jury verdict in my defamation claim against Colin Craig. Justice Katz had ordered a full re-trial on the basis that the $1.27 million damages award was so high.

I am very relieved that there will not be a full re-trial, and that the issue is now simply damages. It means Mr Craig has failed in his efforts to re-litigate, yet again, this whole matter.

The judgment is totally clear that I was defamed by Mr Craig, and that the jury’s findings, now confirmed, have vindicated me.

No one can take away from the fact the jury were unanimous in my favour. The jury believed me, believed Rachel MacGregor, and not Mr Craig. Today’s decision has confirmed all of that.

As I said immediately after the jury verdict, I never entered into these proceedings for the money, nor did I want these proceedings at all. It was only Mr Craig’s own threats of legal action against me which saw us in Court. I sought to prove that Mr Craig’s allegations were wrong and to put a stop to Mr Craig’s egregious assault on my reputation.

But overplaying his hand on money has resulted in this legal mess.

[58] Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of anunsustainable award. His claim was pitched at a plainly extravagant level. There was no request for a direction about the appropriate parameters of an award. In this case an appropriate direction would have been up to $250,000 for compensatory damages including aggravation, and for punitive damages no more than $10,000.