Williams v Craig appeal – reserved decision

Not surprisingly the Court of Appeal has reserved it’s decision after a two day appeal hearing in the defamation case between Jordan Williams and Colin Craig.

Stuff:  Jordan Williams might be victim of his own success in defamation case

The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision on his attempt to recapture the $1.27 million award for defamation the jury made against Conservative Party founder and former leader Colin Craig.

It was such a big win  – the largest defamation award in New Zealand, and the maximum Williams had sought – that a High Court judge set it aside, and the Court of Appeal looks unlikely to reinstate it.

After the jury’s award was set aside and a new trial ordered, Williams appealed to have the jury’s verdicts upheld.

The Court of Appeal indicated that the damages probably could not stand.

If damages alone had to be assessed again, it was a question of whether the original trial judge could fix them; whether a jury might do so, based on a more limited body of evidence; or whether the whole case had to be run again.

Williams’ other lawyer, Peter McKnight, said Williams would agree to having the original trial judge fix damages, even though she appeared to have an adverse view about Williams in some respects.

That sounds like an acceptance that a lower award is inevitable, at best, and Williams obviously wants to retain the verdict.

Craig’s lawyer Stephen Mills, QC, said the Court of Appeal had to be satisfied the jury had not reached its decisions through “gross prejudice”.

Craig wants a new trial to have another chance at defending himself.

The original judgment took a long time. The judgment in Slater v Craig is taking a long time – the case was hear in May.

It seems unlikely a decision will be made here before the end of the year.

Williams v Craig appeal

The appeal in the Jordan Williams v Colin Craig defamation case started today.

RNZ: Colin Craig defamation case back in court

In September last year a jury in the High Court at Auckland found Mr Craig had defamed Mr Williams and awarded Mr Williams damages of $1.27 million.

However earlier this year the court ruled that amount was unreasonably high, constituting a miscarriage of justice.

The highest previous defamation award was $825,000 granted to the Auckland accountant Michael Stiassny in 2008.

In her review of the case in April Justice Katz said the damages awarded were well outside any reasonable range by a significant margin.

So it has gone to appeal.

Jordan Williams’ lawyer, Peter McKnight told the Court of Appeal today that Justice Katz had not misdirected the jury and even if she did, it was not on a level requiring a retrial, as sought by Mr Craig.

“There was a very clear determination by the jury as to liability. It is suggested it would be a serious injustice to Mr Williams if he lost the advantages of those findings,” Mr McKnight said.

Justice Harrison questioned why the case had come before a jury in the first place.

“It should have been judge alone from the outset then we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

He also raised what should happen next if the Court of Appeal decides Justice Katz was correct to set aside the damages awarded against Colin Craig.

“Enough judicial resources have been wasted on it already and it would be most unfortunate to have to go through another trial.”

“What we want to know is do we have jurisdiction to order she has [the power] to settle all outstanding issues.”

A lot of time and court resources have gone into what is largely a political spat.

Stuff:  Jury must have ignored judge’s defamation case directions, court told

 

Williams’ lawyer, Peter McKnight, suggested the Court of Appeal could assess the damages, or another High Court jury could be asked to do so, using the first jury’s findings of facts, and hearing evidence only from Williams and Craig. Craig objected to having the trial judge set damages.

At the appeal hearing, one of the judges, Justice Rhys Harrison, said the court recognised the integrity of the jury’s verdict on Craig’s liability, and its provisional view was that Williams was entitled to that verdict unless the court was persuaded Justice Katz had made a wrong legal ruling on one of Craig’s potential defences.

Not surprisingly Williams wants it over as soon as possible, retaining the jury verdict and having damages set. Id that happens they are going to be less but could still be substantial.

Craig’s lawyer, Stephen Mills, QC, thought the case should be started again. The first jury’s decisions looked as if they had not followed the judge’s directions.

Mills said that, after the jury finished its work at the High Court in Auckland in 2016, Justice Sarah Katz had commented that the jury must have hated Craig to have decided as it did.

Mills said the judge had misdirected the jury about a possible defence, but he also agreed that it appeared the jury did not follow the judge’s directions in any event.

And Craig wants a new trial, giving him a second shot at winning, and at worst having the damages award reduce.

The appeal will continue tomorrow.

Craig v Stringer defamation

Details of one of the defamation cases related to the Colin Craig fall from grace in the Conservative Party were revealed in court in Christchurch today.

Stuff: Details emerge of defamation case settlement between former Conservative Party members

Details of a confidential defamation settlement between former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and former board member John Stringer have emerged from a High Court hearing in Christchurch.

The hearing heard that as a part of the settlement in January, Stringer was to pay $100,000 to Craig.

The payment was subject to a “means verification process”, which examined his ability to pay and after that process he was not required to pay anything.

The day-long legal argument was held in Christchurch on Monday after Stringer filed an application to have Associate Judge Rob Osborne recall his judgment, set it aside, and strike out the proceedings.

Alternatively, Stringer sought to have the judgment recalled and reworded to reflect the actual financial payment, without having it struck out.

At the settlement conference in late January, the parties agreed Stringer would apologise, retract his statement, and pay an undisclosed sum.

Stringer told the hearing the amount agreed on was $100,000.

Stringer argued on Monday that all the “financial matters” could not be discussed but in the days after the deal, Craig was reported in the media as saying Stringer would pay Craig an undisclosed sum.

After the means verification hearing, which decided nothing should be paid, Craig said Stringer had published on his Facebook page that the case had been “settled for zero”. A print-out of the Facebook entry was produced to the court.

Associate Judge Osborne said: “Publication of the zero settlement was clearly misleading.”

Craig told the hearing: “Disclosure of the zero payment has devalued the settlement to me.”

Stringer said Craig had disclosed part of the text of the letter from him to McGregor, but the full 12-page text only reached him after the settlement conference. It caused the settlement conference to be unacceptable to him.

Craig said he disclosed the part of the letter that he had kept on McGregor’s employment file at the party office, but he did not have the full letter himself. He had sought it from McGregor through a non-party disclosure application, and she eventually provided it.

The judge reserved his decision and said it would take 5-6 weeks for him to issue it.

This is one of a number of defamation cases related to revelations emerging from the Conservative Party. whose secretary resigned two days before the 2014 election.

Jordan Williams won a record award from a jury last year but that was subsequently set aside by the judge.

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 retrial on the first available date that is convenient to senior counsel.

I don’t know what has happened in the proceeding since then.

 

Craig attempted a defamation claim against ex Conservative staff member J Stiekma.

[36] The entire claim is therefore struck out pursuant to District Court Rule 15.1
pursuant to the Jam eel principle, and particularly because of the extremely limited
dissemination of the admitted statements and the unlikelihood that they would have
any effect whatsoever on Mr Craig’s reputation.

Craig v Slater tit for tat defamation went to trial in May, with the judge reserving his decision on June 1. There is no judgment on that yet.

Source: http://www.defamationupdate.co.nz/2017

Craig ordered to pay costs

Colin Craig has been ordered to pay costs after an attempt by him to sue an ex-employee for defamation was  rejected by the Court.

Stuff on 31 July: Judge throws out Colin Craig’s bid to sue former employee for defamation

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been dealt another blow at court, with a judge throwing out his attempt to sue a former employee for defamation.

Judge Gary Harrison said at the Auckland District Court it would be a waste of time to let the embattled businessman proceed with his attempted legal action.

“I have serious misgivings that it would be appropriate to keep these proceedings alive,” Harrison wrote, in a decision released on Monday.

Craig claimed he had been defamed by Jacky Stiekema, who previously worked as a trust accounts manager for his company Centurion Management Ltd, and he sought $240,000 in damages.

Judge Harrison concluded it was highly unlikely court proceedings would prove Stiekema wrong in her denials, and said the Facebook comments in themselves did not warrant defamation proceedings.

He wrote that only one other of Stringer’s 200 friends responded to the message thread, and Stiekema’s remarks would have had little impact.

“I regard the effect they would have on Mr Craig’s reputation as minimal,” he said.

“The costs associated with a trial that would occupy the order of five days, perhaps more, are simply not justified.”

RNZ yesterday: Colin Craig ordered to pay $17k in costs to woman he tried to sue

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been ordered to pay more than $17,000 in costs to a woman he tried to sue for defamation.

In a decision released today, Judge Harrison awarded Ms Stiekema $17,600 in costs.

Whale Oil has posted Colin Craig smacked with costs, used law suit for “ulterior motive”

What Colin Craig did to Mrs. Stiekema is awful. He is out for vengeance and flailing away at anyone who dares speak the truth about him.

I agree that what Craig tried to do here was awful.

I also think this is awfully hypocritical of Cameron Slater, given how much vengeful flailing he has been associated with in the courts, as unsuccessfully as Craig was here.

This unsuccessful flailing by Craig should serve as a deterrence to anyone trying to use the courts to shut truth telling up.

The courts are starting to wise up to his multiple law suits and to why he is doing it.

That reminds me of someone else.

MacGregor files lawsuit against Craig

It was revealed recently that Colin Craig had filed defamation proceedings against Rachel MacGregor in November last year but hadn’t served her. He said he may or may not proceed with it.

MacGregor said that the media report was the first she knew about it.

Today from NZ Herald:  Rachel MacGregor files lawsuit against Colin Craig

Last week Radio New Zealand reported that Craig was planning to sue MacGregor for defamation if he lost the case against Whale Oil.

But Craig denied that report to the Herald, saying he had “historically” considered suing MacGregor but decided against it.

In response MacGregor said she had been advised that Craig’s “failure” to serve those proceedings on her or her lawyers for several months was a breach of the High Court rules.

Craig confirmed to the Herald that defamation papers had been filed last November, but would not say whether they had been served to MacGregor, whether it was an abuse of process, and whether he planned to withdraw the defamation suit as requested.

The Herald can reveal that MacGregor is counter-suing Craig and filed papers in the High Court at Auckland today.

It is understood those papers have been served on Craig.

“When media alerted me that Mr Craig had sued me I sought legal advice,” she told the Herald tonight.

“That advice was that I needed to file a document by today in order to protect my legal position.

“I will not be commenting further at this stage as the matter is before the court.”

The defamation saga involving MacGregor, Craig, Jordan Williams, Cameron Slater and John Stringer has yet another complication.

 

Craig, Whale Oil and weaponising of the court

Colin Craig has won his appeal against a judgment in which from Judge Mary Beth Sharp had ruled his copyright claim on a ‘poem’ as “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court”.

NZ City:  Craig wins appeal in poem lawsuit

The former Conservative Party leader has won his appeal of a decision to throw the case out as “vexatious”, despite those opposing him saying he’s had enough court time.

Mr Craig’s lawyers this week appealed that decision in the High Court, saying he should have been cut a “bit more slack” because he wasn’t a legal expert and had run the case himself.

Justice Mark Woolford has now allowed the appeal, saying “Mr Craig’s claim cannot be seen as groundless”.

“Even if Mr Craig’s primary motivation was to protect his reputation, I am of the view that his copyright claim should still be determined on its merits,” he said.

“He is entitled to have his day in court.”

Justice Woolford also noted Mr Craig viewed himself as “a poet of some literary merit”.

To me that’s a very dubious claim but Craig’s view may be pertinent in a legal sense.

Whale Oil has quoted this article at length but doesn’t appear to have attributed it to the source.

‘Whaleoil staff’ also offers substantial detail and opinion on a case before the court. They again seem to be trying to prove their case to their readers in advance of the court hearing it.

Of particular interest to me:

It is therefore a good time to point out the elephant in the room.  In my view, Mr Craig does not consider winning necessary.  To him, grinding down all his opponents in a never-ending series of court events is enough of an achievement.   While he has millions to spend, he knows his opponents do not.

That may or may not be Craig’s aim, it is simply speculation.

Colin Craig currently has 12 current defamation/copyright cases on the go.  All related to one originating incident.  The stepping down of Rachel MacGregor.

Such weaponising of the court system is indeed  “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court”.  And treating the copyright case as a stand-alone event totally divorced from anything else is a serious error in legal judgement.

I don’t know what is motivating Craig but there are indications it has been a mixture of things, including defending his reputation (that is in tatters as a result of this saga), and of holding an attack blog to account.

If Craig has been weaponising the court system and is indeed  “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court” then I have some sympathy with the targets of his legal actions.

But that sympathy is somewhat mixed, given the apparent hypocrisy from Whaleoil here.

Someone who appears to have an association to someone with a close association with Whale oil posted a comment here two days ago under the pseudonym ‘Albert’, which included:

I think you will find defamation doesn’t work that way. The last few months have been a free for all in your comments against Slater with some really defamatory things said…

I have been careful to moderate anything that I think could be at risk of being considered defamatory.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Slater didn’t task that mouth breather Belt to collect everything ready for when he beats Colin.

You might find third party discovery a real bitch…

That sounds like a threat.

Much and all as I loathe Slater, he is that cunning to sit an wait and collect months of data. The publisher is Yournz not the commenters.

I’m not a lawyer but Slater is nasty when cornered…and if he has money then I doubt he’d hold back going after someone like you who is a soft target.

Freedom of speech Rights etc won’t stop him…and he will grind you down. He’s that much of an assholes.

There are some ridiculous statements here.

The “mouth breather belt” and “loathe Slater” references need to be taken with a grain of salt, self criticism is a common ploy to try to disguise a source.

I think there is a clear implication from someone probably close to Slater that if Slater gets award a big payout in his case against Craig he will use that to finance vexatious legal actions. He has already been involved in some against me, unsuccessfully, so “soft target” may be a misjudgement.

It will look highly hypocritical if anything comes of this, but I think it is more likely to be empty threats in yet another attempt to try to shut me up.

I think that weaponising of the court system is indeed  “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court” – and with record of this already happening against me, further attempts would be seen as a continuation of an obsession with trying to shut down any criticism and holding to account.

I don’t agree with some of what Craig has done and some of the measures Craig has taken, but I think his attempts to hold a dirty blog to account have some merit.

NOTE: I will moderate anything that I think steps over any lines. As usual I will allow rights of reply but I will have low tolerance for deceit in pseudonyms and attempts by sock puppets to plant ‘incriminating’ comments.

Craig’s poem back in court

Colin Craig is back in court this week, appealing a High Court decision that found his copyright claim on publication of a poem he wrote was vexatious.

Most media seem to have had enough of Craig in court but NZ City covers it:  Colin Craig’s poem lawsuit back in court

Judge Mary Beth Sharp threw Mr Craig’s copyright lawsuit out in December, calling it “vexatious”, “improper” and a “deception perpetrated on the court”.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Craig appealed that decision in the High Court at Auckland, saying a literary work didn’t have to reach “Tolstoy’s standards” to be protected and that there were legal arguments that still needed to be heard.

Lawyer Kevin Glover said the case shouldn’t have been thrown out over a procedural error made by Mr Craig – who failed to file a reply to a document – because he had been arguing the case for himself as a “layperson”.

“Mr Craig should have had a bit more slack cut to him,” he said.

There had been no other agenda behind the lawsuit as found by the judge, Mr Glover said, adding the decision had been “coloured” by media coverage of other legal cases Mr Craig was involved in.

“He has a legitimate claim for infringement of copyright.”

But this claim was opposed.

But Mr William’s lawyer, Peter McKnight, told Justice Mark Woolford the case could not be considered independently of Mr Craig’s numerous other legal proceedings, reading out a long list.

“He’s had his day in court. In fact, he’s had seven-and-a-half weeks,” Mr McKnight said.

And counting. But court decisions aren’t based on quotas. Slater’s  days in court must be clocking up too – most not of his choice, but he has certainly stretched out some procedures.

Mr Slater’s lawyer, Brian Henry, said Mr Craig had chosen to run the case himself and could have easily hired lawyers as he had done in past.

That’s an odd point to pick out. The item concludes:

The hearing continues.

But ‘Whaleoil staff’ state:

The judgement was entered in favour of Mr Craig, who now gets to pursue his copyright claim in a separate court case.

I have no idea why Craig continues with all his legal crusades. he seems to think that his honour is at stake but I don’t think he is enhancing his fairly tattered reputation – the wrecking of which seems to have been the aim of Williams and Slater. They have succeeded, but they didn’t help their own reputations in the process.

Whale Oil is again allowing criticisms and comments against Craig in relation to ongoing court proceedings they are involved in. I think this is unwise, and find it highly hypocritical given their accusations and threats here over the last few days. ‘Albert’ posted “The last few months have been a free for all in your comments against Slater “, which is not true, while they allow a virtual free for all against Craig to continue.

Statement from Rachel MacGregor

Statement from Rachel MacGregor

I have become aware that Colin Craig filed defamation proceedings against me in November last year.

Despite filing those proceedings nearly seven months ago, Mr Craig has not served papers on either me or my lawyers. I only became aware of the claim after media comments by Mr Craig in the last few days.

My understanding is that the proceedings relate to matters that I consider were resolved in mediation before the Human Rights Commission and in my subsequent case before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

I have been advised that Mr Craig’s failure to serve those proceedings on me (or my lawyers) for several months is a breach of the High Court rules. It is unclear to me why Mr Craig would want to file proceedings but not give me notice of them.

I strongly believe Mr Craig’s claim against me is an abuse of process.

Over the last year I have been dragged unwillingly into being a witness in two Court proceedings by Mr Craig and others. I have been required to give evidence that was both highly personal and highly distressing.

I would like to get on with my life.

I invite Mr Craig to put an end to this by withdrawing these proceedings.

I intend to make no further comment at this time.

Craig files defamation papers against MacGregor

Good grief!

RNZ:  Colin Craig files papers to sue former press secretary Rachel MacGregor

Colin Craig has filed papers in the High Court in Auckland to sue his former press secretary for defamation.

Mr Craig has confirmed to RNZ the papers have been filed against Rachel MacGregor but said the case would only go ahead if his case against Cameron Slater did not go in his favour.

That case finished last week, with Justice Toogood reserving his decision.

In that case, Mr Craig sued Mr Slater for posts he made on his Whale Oil blog about Mr Craig and his relationship with Ms MacGregor. Mr Slater counter-sued Mr Craig for statements made in a leaflet sent out to 1.6 million households around the country.

Ms MacGregor said she was not aware of the new proceedings until contacted by RNZ.

She said she had not been served with documents, and declined to comment.

Mr Craig said he would not go into details about the case but confirmed it was a defamation proceeding.

As I understand it MacGregor’s evidence in the recent Craig v Slater trial cannot be defamation as it was stated in court. I wasn’t aware MacGregor had said much publicly outside court. My guess is that Human Rights Commission mediation details can’t be used in defamation either.

In the recent case:  Colin Craig threatened to ‘destroy’ Rachel MacGregor, court told

Rachel MacGregor has told a court that Colin Craig threatened her by saying he’d set aside $1 million to “destroy” her.

Craig’s former press secretary claims the threat was made during a Human Rights Commission mediation after she brought a sexual harassment complaint against him.

The sexual harassment complaint had been withdrawn as a result of their settlement agreement, but Henry asked MacGregor whether she had withdrawn the allegations.

“There is no way I have ever withdrawn my allegations,” MacGregor said.

“To this day my allegations stand concrete strong. I withdrew my complaint because I had no longer time or energy to deal with this very weird man. I withdrew the complaint because I couldn’t afford to deal with him any more.”

It looks like Craig is becoming a full time litigant.

New lawsuit one of at least five before the courts

Mr Craig said he has taken what he called a “limited approach” in his defamation cases. So far he has sued Mr Slater and a board member of the Conservative Party, John Stringer.

This is a limited approach?

His case against Ms MacGregor is one of at least five before the courts at present.

Last year the head of the taxpayer’s union, Jordan Williams, sued Colin Craig over comments he made about Mr Williams in a booklet sent to 1.6 million households around New Zealand.

The jury found in Mr Williams’ favour and awarded him $1.27 million in damages – the highest amount ever in a New Zealand defamation case. That was reviewed by the trial judge, Justice Katz, who found it to be excessive. Both parties are appealing.

Mr Craig has also sued John Stringer, a former board member of the Conservative Party. That was settled out of court but Mr Stringer is now bringing another case against Mr Craig.

Mr Craig has also sued Cameron Slater over copyright in the Auckland District Court, after Mr Slater published Mr Craig’s poems on his blog. Mr Craig lost the case. He is also appealing against that decision to the High Court.

Lastly, there is the defamation case against Cameron Slater which concluded last week.

In April Newshub reported a sixth case:  Colin Craig suing again

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is involved in another defamation case.

This time he’s suing a former employee for $240,000.

His claim alleges a defamatory publication was posted by Jacqueline Stiekema on a Facebook page and that she made other defamatory publications to a third person.

It will be heard in the District Court rather than the High Court, according to a recent decision by High Court Associate Judge Roger Bell.

Truthful comment and genuine opinion is fine but please be careful what you say about Craig here.

Craig v Slater – trial summary

Steve Braunias covered the Colin Craig versus Cameron Slater defamation trial for NZ Herald and summarises in Craig v Slater: The end of the affair – here’s a summary of that.

Craig claimed Slater libelled him on Whaleoil. Slater counter-claimed Craig libelled him in Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, a piece of fulminating junk mail delivered to 1,623,402 letterboxes. Their judge-alone trial was set down for three weeks. It dragged on for four, fizzling out on Thursday afternoon.

What was all that about? What was the point of the exercise, what was the moral of the story? Can any sense be made of it?

The key questions are what Justice Toogood makes of it. In short, who defamed who (or not), and what value damages can be applied if any.

The judgment could provide a useful legal guide to what is appropriate for a blog to publish when revealing alleged wrong doing of a politician, and also what is an appropriate level of response to a perceived political attack.

The problem they had with each other dated back to 2014, at the last election. Craig’s Conservative Party lost out on getting into Parliament and one of the factors may have been the abrupt and most newsworthy departure of his press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, 48 hours before election day. She later accused Craig of sexual harassment and took his ass to the Human Rights Commission. It was settled in mediation.

There it might have remained, but Slater posted spectacular revelations on his blog which set out to expose Craig as a lunging, panting, poetry-writing sex pest. Craig said: “See you in court!” Slater more or less responded: “Not if I see you first!”

Craig filed for defamation against Slater, and Slater filed for defamation against Craig. The trial combined these counter claims.

Craig defended himself. He learned on the job; he was amateur, and rambling, and now and then was the cause of much vexatiousness to Justice Toogood, but he kept his cool and was methodical, sometimes effective.

Slater was able to sit back in the far corner of the public gallery and chew gum. He was represented by Brian Henry and Charlotte Foster.

(Henry’s) closing addressed the matter of costs; his client, he said, was seeking $450,000, and then there was his own fees, which were $12,000 for every day of the trial.

$450,000 is a lot more realistic than the over $16 million mentioned in opening arguments in the trial.

Craig and Slater were like shadows of their former selves at the trial; 2014, the setting of much of what was said in court, was when both were key players in New Zealand politics, were taken seriously, were in the public eye.

Craig has disappeared since he stepped down as leader.

Slater, too, seems like a blast from the past. His media profile was immense until the wrecking ball of Nicky Hager’s 2014 book Dirty Politics.

The influence of both in politics has diminished significantly since their very public clash.

Which left the sex, or the absence thereof. Henry argued that it was entirely fair and accurate of Slater to write that Craig had sexually harassed MacGregor when she worked for him as press secretary.

Craig argued it was a total slander. It didn’t happen; it couldn’t happen; for it was his duty to tell the court that MacGregor found him sexually attractive, that they had an “emotional affair”, that she came onto him on a flight to Napier … They were chaste, but their sexual longing was epic. It was, Craig stressed, a love story.

“It’s a figment of his imagination,” said Henry.

“Weird,” said MacGregor, over and over, describing Craig when she appeared in court. She was subpoenaed to give evidence against Craig at the trial. She might be described as a hostile witness, which is to say her contempt for Craig was thick, constant, thorough.

Notably more hostile than when she appeared as a witness in Williams v Craig.

Craig told the court that they had different stories: “One of them must be right. They both can’t be true.” And so he set about trying to establish a reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of MacGregor’s story.

The credibility of Craig versus MacGregor is a critical aspect of the case. It is for Justice Toogood to work this out.

…from Madeleine Flannagan, the Orewa lawyer who Craig called to give evidence. She told the court an astonishing story. As Henry later said, in his closing address, “In my 42 years in the law, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Flannagan said she had acted for the Craigs when they were wanting to adopt a child. Their application, she said, faced a potential barrier when Slater made it public that he had information MacGregor wasn’t the only person to fall foul of Craig, that there were “other victims”.

What to do? Flannagan came up with a novel idea: she would phone Slater, who happened to be a friend, and ask him what he had on Craig – without revealing that Craig was her client. Slater took her call to mean that her client was, in fact, another “victim”. He was very, very eager to want to believe that, she said.

Craig had fought to get Flannagan admitted as a witness. It was a victory he must have savoured. Her evidence was designed to make Slater look bad in court. Well, it was a hell of a way to go about it. As Slater subsequently said to Henry on the witness stand, “I’m lost for words, Mr Henry, at the betrayal of someone who I considered a friend.”

Reported during the trial:

Justice Kit Toogood asked Slater: “You say you felt betrayed, but did you not betray her express injunction that this [conversation] cannot go anywhere else?”

“I did dance around on that but I guess technically I did,” Slater said.

This is another key aspect of the trial because it seems to be the potentially Slater’s biggest vulnerability – whether his claims of a ‘second victim’ were true or not, whether based on fact or assumption.

UPDATE: Slater has revealed that he tried to suppress information about Flannagan “to protect a source”:

Flannagan seems to be under the impression that I called her as a witness. I did not. It was Colin Craig. What she does not know is that up until Colin Craig declared her to be his witness I had sought and won suppression orders for her name, her practice and her location. Colin Craig opposed all of those.

I sought to protect a source until a) the judge ordered me to file a confidential memo to him only naming my source and the circumstances of our conversations and b) it was revealed by Colin Craig that she was his lawyer. After that the gloves came off and rightly so too.

Presumably he also preferred that her evidence wasn’t heard in the case.

‘Whaleoil staff’ have suggested that Slater is unhappy that this evidence was allowed. It will be up to Justice Toogood to decide how much veracity and weight it will be given.

Braunias:

Craig brought 13 separate causes of action against Slater in his defamation claim. He made what seemed to be a pretty good job in arguing that at least a few of Slater’s remarks were a nonsense – the accusation that there were “other victims”, and that Craig paid MacGregor a kind of hush payment of $107,500 to settle her sexual harassment complaint. Neither stacked up.

Equally, though, Henry raised strong arguments that Slater’s opinions ought to be protected by qualified privilege. The nature of Craig’s resignation as Conservative Party leader, for example, was the subject of perfectly legitimate media inquiry, he said; Slater was just one of many media commentators expressing strong opinions about that, so what was the problem?

Henry put it even more long-winded than that. Justice Toogood attempted an edit.

“Is it your point, Mr Henry, really this – once Mr Craig elected to call a press conference, to say, ‘I’m standing down’, that created legitimate media and public interest, and from there on in, any allegation that Mr Slater, or anyone else for that matter, was acting with an improper motive, can’t be sustained?”

“Yes, Your Honour,” said Henry, “that is a very apt summary.”

‘Whaleoil staff’ claims that Slater and Whale Oil only initiated the story and other media took over from there, but as I remember it WO also kept pushing it hard – including the later ‘second person’ claim of sexual harassment.

Such exchanges raised vaguely interesting issues about media practice, and press freedoms. But they were minor kinds of skirmishes. The trial kept coming back to its central theme – whether Craig sexually harassed MacGregor, or whether she returned his feelings.

The only two people who know the truth are Craig and MacGregor, and he has his version and she has hers, but very often it really didn’t look too good for Craig in court. MacGregor’s hatred for him was intense. Her denials of his story were vehement, disgusted, complete.

The judge will need to decide whether those expressed feelings now were true back in 2014 or have escalated since.

Press gallery journalist Barry Soper gave evidence, and talked about the widespread rumour that Craig and MacGregor were having an affair.

Craig: “Did you form any impression?”

Soper: “I thought the relationship was a very familiar one.”

“I did not sexually harass Miss MacGregor,” Craig droned, repeatedly, in his closing address on Thursday. He was stating things for the record but sometimes it felt as though he was talking to himself. “Ours was an affectionate, mutually appreciative relationship … Myself and Miss MacGregor took place in a workplace romance … At the very least, Miss MacGregor had feelings for me.”

He read out her texts and emails that were produced as exhibits. “Hug, hug, hug,” he recited. “Smiley face … Hug, hug.

An unwelcome personal relationship under pressure in a professional environment? Or at least some mutual involvement until it turned sour? Relationships gone bad and then raked over can both amplify and suppress.

The key points as I see it:

  • The nature of the relationship between Craig and MacGregor while MacGregor worked for Craig. I think it was inappropriate in a professional employer/employee situation, but whether it was sexual harassment is under dispute.
  • According to ‘Whaleoil staff’ Slater accepts he got the ‘second person’ claim wrong so how this affects the outcome may depend on whether Flannagan’s evidence is allowed.
  • Whether Slater’s posts at Whale Oil were an appropriate use of a blog/media in the circumstances, or whether they went to far.
  • Whether Craig’s response via press conferences and the pamphlet delivered throughout the country was acceptable in the circumstances, or was excessive.

Justice Toogood needs to work this all out in a legal context.

I won’t make any predictions, I have not heard the evidence and have only seen reports of the trial.

The verdict may favour one or the other of Craig or Slater, in which case both damages and costs may be awarded.

But if defamation is found proven against both of them then I presume the judge will decide on damages for each, and also costs, and they may partially or totally balance out to not much or nothing.

Hopefully the decision will be accepted and that will be the end of this matter, but both Craig and Slater have been involved in drawn out legal actions involving appeals so it may drag interminably on if either of them choose to take the decision to another level.