Setbacks for Slater, Graham in defamation proceedings

Cameron Slater has been the defendant in three defamation proceedings.

Versus Colin Craig a recent judgment found that Slater had defamed Craig but Craig had harmed his own reputation and no costs would be awarded to either. Craig has indicated he will appeal this decision.

Also recently Matthew Blomfield finally (after 6 years trying) got Slater to trial. It appears that later had little or no defence and could potentially face substantial costs, but that is all happening behind the scenes.

And the third proceeding has come up in the courts and news, still pre-trial. Newsroom: Whaleoil and Peters’ lawyer suffer court setbacks

The Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater has lost a bid to have hacked documents obtained by author Nicky Hager excluded from a High Court defamation case.

Slater, and a co-defendant Carrick Graham the son of former national minister Sir Douglas Graham, have also been ordered to front-up in court ahead of the defamation hearing to answer questions from the lawyers for the three health professionals who are suing them for defamation.

Justice Matthew Palmer ordered the cross examination in the court room because Slater and Graham had not cooperated satisfactorily with the written questioning from lawyers for medical researchers Doug Sellman, Boyd Swinburn and Shane Bradbrook.

Justice Palmer’s decisions were the latest setbacks for Slater and his lawyer Brian Henry, the longtime barrister for New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, in the defamation case.

The three health professionals sued Slater, Graham, ex National MP Katherine Rich and her Food and Grocery Council for defamation after Hager’s Dirty Politics book revealed emails and communications linking the defendants in blog posts critical of the three men.

NZ Herald: Hacked emails allowed in Cameron Slater cash for comment defamation case – judge

Blogger Cameron Slater, lobbyist Carrick Graham and former MP Katherine Rich have failed in their bid to have hacked emails excluded from a defamation case.

The High Court has also ruled that Slater and Graham will have to take the stand to be “orally examined” during trial, as their written answers so far have been “inconsistent”.

And all three defendants have been ordered to provide more paperwork to the plaintiffs – a trio of health experts – particularly around what payment agreements were made between them.

Slater, who writes the WhaleOil blog, is accused of being paid to write the posts by ex-National MP Rich through her employer the Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC).

They accuse Graham, son of the former National cabinet minister Sir Douglas Graham, of being the middle man.

Previously, the defendants tried to get the case struck out, but the court declined.

A jury trial should go ahead next year; High Court Judge Matthew Palmer issued a second judgement on preliminary matters before trial today.

In it, the judge declined Slater’s application to exclude hacked documents obtained by the plaintiffs from Nicky Hager – the author of Dirty Politics – at this stage.

He also said the defendants had not complied with discover. While Slater disclosed 32 documents, other than blog posts, including 27 individual emails to or from Rich – there was no evidence of payments received and only one document containing data from the Whale Oil website.

Graham disclosed 172 documents including four emails from Slater and 114 emails to or from Rich or NZFGC. None of the discovered emails to or from Rich pre-dated the publication of Dirty Politics, the judge said.

Rich and NZFGC disclosed around 1200 documents, including 24 items of correspondence with Graham. No correspondence with Slater was included.

The judge said there were grounds for believing Slater and Graham had not provided some documents, and requested they be provided.

Some documents about payments were included, revealing the fact Graham’s company received $365,814 from NZFGC over about five years.

But he wanted a more precise account of the terms and scope of services between Rich and/or the NZFGC and Slater or Graham including any associated documents.

He said the hacked emails would not be struck out because he was not persuaded they were not genuine.

After examining Graham and Slater’s answers to interrogatories, the judge said he was concerned their statements that WhaleOil did not publish blogposts for reward were “not consistent” with the plaintiff’s evidence.

“They are inconsistent with reasonable inferences from the emails obtained by the plaintiffs,” the judgment said.

In other words, the judge has concerns that Slater and Graham have not provided documents under discovery that they should have – and it seems that hacked emails provide evidence suggesting that they haven’t complied. This could be a serious matter, hence the call to answer to the court at a hearing.

“I am also concerned a number of other aspects of the interrogatories may not have been properly responded to, regarding: who was the author of the blog posts; the involvement of each of the defendants in their preparation; downloading of blog posts; authorship of the comments; and payments received. I consider Mr Slater and Mr Graham have made insufficient answer to the interrogatories. “

He said the pair would be required to take the stand for up to an hour during trial.

An important question to be answered is whether Slater, or the company he is director of and jointly owns with his wife Juana Atkins, Social Media Consultants Limited, have been paid to post hit jobs. Nicky Hager suggested money haad been paid in his book Dirty Politics.

Meanwhile possibly not coincidentally and somewhat at odds with what the judge is saying, on Wednesday at Whale Oil:  Whaleoil is not free and telling the truth costs

To continue to service our Oiler community with real-life get-togethers and interesting and entertaining content we have had to think outside of the box as telling the truth can have legal consequences that put a massive strain on the blog’s finances.

Embellishing the truth and making up allegations are more likely to have legal consequences, and can be far more costly.

We don’t want to put out the begging bowl so have instead been working hard on finding alternative revenue streams that give our supporters something fantastic in return.

All this litigation is expensive, even without awards of costs and damages.

It can also be a strain on well being. As far as I know this is till undisclosed at Whale Oil, and Slater’s sudden absence from posts and comments a couple of weeks ago is still unexplained (the absence of curiosity or comment about his absence in comments is very odd).

I have heard claims that Slater may have suffered from one or two strokes and is to some extent incapacitated. Perhaps WO management thinks that telling the truth about this will be expensive if it adversely effects fundraising. Perhaps spanish bride can explain the truth when she reads this.

UPDATE:

 

 

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

 

Blomfield versus Slater trial over?

The Matthew Blomfield versus Cameron Slater defamation trial started last Monday, but I still can’t find any media coverage, so it’s hard to know exactly what is going on.

Slater posted on it at Whale Oil on Tuesday but he claimed this:

Legal action was started six years ago, but given the nature of [redacted], the plaintiff hasn’t actually been very keen to get the case before the court and has used every trick in the book to avoid this trial while I have fought to get the case before the judge.

That is so ridiculous (Blomfield as the Plaintiff could have ended the action any time he wanted to and court judgments show that Slater tried to appeal, delay and strike out the action) that anything Slater claims should be viewed with scepticism.

‘Bill Brown’ claimed here on Wednesday that the trial “Starts next Monday” but that is obviously wrong.

The case was included every day this week on the High Court Daily List, but it shows a change for Monday:

CIV2013-404-5218 Civil Proceeding – Defamation
MATTHEW JOHN BLOMFIELD (F E Geiringer, G Vosper) v CAMERON JOHN SLATE (GF Littlie SC, D Beard)

That suggests Slater was right about one thing, he has another law representing him now.

But I have heard that the trial may have ended on Friday, even though it was set down for up to four weeks. I’m not sure what this means.

I know from past judgments that Slater “has not advanced an arguable defence” on some publications. He may have since done that but this suggests his defence in part at least is not strong. See BLOMFIELD v SLATER [2018] NZHC 1099 [18 May 2018] for a summary as at May this year.

The publications are incapable of amounting to expressions of opinion

[80] As I have already observed, it is for the Judge in the first instance to determine whether, reading the publication as a whole and assuming the pleaded imputations can be proved, the publication is capable of being an expression of opinion rather than a statement of fact.

[81] Mr Geiringer invites me to consider this issue now to avoid wasting time at trial dealing with a defence that is not available given the wording used in the publications. I agree that this would have advantages. I consider, however, that the assessment should properly be made once the pleadings are in their final form. One reason for this is that an order for strike out at this stage gives rise to appeal rights that could jeopardise the trial date. Given the age of this proceeding that would be highly
unfortunate.

[82] Furthermore, and as I have already observed, the defence must be based on the facts referred to in the publication together with other facts that were generally known at the time of the publication. There is no ability, as there is in a defence based on truth, to rely on facts that come into existence after the publication. These factors significantly restrict the scope of the evidence that Mr Slater may adduce to establish the defence. I therefore do not consider there is much scope in the present case for Mr Slater to call a significant body of additional evidence in relation to the defence of honest opinion.

[83] I therefore consider the issue should properly be considered at trial. It will be for the trial Judge to ensure Mr Slater does not call evidence beyond the scope of that permitted to establish the defence.

Slater only needs to lose on one publication to lose the case, but I presume the number of defamatory publications would affect the possible damages awarded. That will be for the judge to decide, which we will find out in due course.

No news on Blomfield v Slater

I previewed the defamation trial between Matthew Blomfield and Cameron Slater here: Whale Oil be fucked? Defamation trial against Slater starting on Monday

As far as I know the trial started on Monday but I can find no media coverage, which seems unusual. Perhaps Slater is too toxic for the media to cover him any more, but that seems unlikely.

It has been on the Court Daily List all week, but there is a curious change. On Monday and Tuesday it was shown as:

NO 8 COURT BEFORE THE HON. JUSTICE DAVISON
CIV2013-404-5218 MATTHEW JOHN BLOMFIELD (F E Geiringer) v CAMERON JOHN SLATER  (D Beard) & ANOR
Civil Proceeding – Defamation

But on today’s list (Wednesday) it has changed from to ‘Civil Proceeding – Defamation’ to ‘Pre-trial hearing’ I have no idea what that means. It could be just a mistake, I think there was a pre-trial hearing on Friday.

SB posted at Whale Oil on Monday:  Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Starting today Cam is back in the High Court for up to four weeks depending on how the trial goes. The battle royale starts today.

It certainly feels very bizarre to be back in the high court for a second case when the first case from over a year ago has still not concluded.

This time around I will not be able to accompany Cam as I was only a part-timer back then but I work full time, seven days a week for the blog now.

Last time Cam was able to do some posts because we rented an apartment that was walking distance from the court so there was no long commute to and from the court each day. In fact, we spent our 25th Wedding Anniversary there. This time around Cam will be doing the long commute between the city and Whangaparaoa each day instead. If the case goes for the full 4 weeks Cam will be spending his 50th birthday.

Last time was Craig versus Slater. The judgment is not yet out, well over a year after the trial.

I know from our last experience that Cam will be mentally, physically and emotionally drained at the end of each week so I have done a Jacinda and made a Captain’s Call. I have put my foot down and told him that he is not to write on the weekends until the case is over.

I have told him to rest on the weekends and that we will all just have to cope without him.

During Craig trial, and when Slater was ill early last year, there were some posts from Slater. Since then Whale Oil has become much less reliant on his input, with SB taking a much more active role and a number of others becoming regular contributors. WO seems to be chugging away ok there, although comment numbers seem to be lower.

We are VERY confident that we will win this latest court case but your guess is as good as mine as to how long it will take to get a judgement.

The Whale Meat Company is currently helping us to fund our court case so your support of our new business is not only feeding your family it is supporting ours while ensuring that Whaleoil will not be silenced.

There were supporting comments and commiserations for the fading political activist.

A curious comment from ‘Loki’ here yesterday:

Things went horribly wrong for our hero yesterday.
No court today !

That appears to be a sarcastic reference to Slater.

‘Bill Brown’, who keeps trying to disguise his association with the case, has not been here reporting any positives so his optimism that some claims had been dropped was a positive may have been premature.

Court cases can be a black hole for information if media don’t cover them, and if you can’t attend in person. I will keep an eye out for any developments, but for now there is little information available.

Whale Oil be fucked? Defamation trial against Slater starting on Monday

Whale Oil potentially be fucked if the defamation trial about to start in the Auckland High Court is successful.

Matthew Blomfield started defamation proceedings against Cameron Slater in 2012 after a series of posts (thirteen) on Whale Oil attacking Blomfield. It finally goes to trial on Monday after Slater ran out of legal options to avoid facing the claims against him.

NO 8 COURT BEFORE THE HON. JUSTICE DAVISON
First Floor 10.00am
CIV2013-404-5218 MATTHEW JOHN BLOMFIELD (F E Geiringer) v CAMERON JOHN SLATER (D Beard) & ANOR
Civil Proceeding – Defamation

The defamation claim

[5] In 2012, Mr Slater ran and administrated the blog website “Whale Oil” under the name http://www.whaleoil.co.nz (Whale Oil). Mr Blomfield had provided marketing services to Hells Pizza until 2008 and had been a director of a company Hell Zenjiro Ltd (in liquidation), which had owned several outlets of the Hells Pizza chain. That company went into liquidation on 9 April 2008 and was struck off the Companies Register on 6 September 2013. Mr Blomfield was adjudicated a bankrupt in 2010 and an order was made prohibiting him from being a director of a company. He has since been discharged from bankruptcy

[6] Hells Pizza had an association with a charity known as “KidsCan”. On 3 May 2012 Mr Slater wrote and published on his Whale Oil website a blog post entitled “Who really ripped off KidsCan?”. It contained a number of statements that Mr Blomfield claims were defamatory of him. On the same day Mr Slater wrote another blog on the Whale Oil website entitled “Knowing me, knowing you – Matt Blomfield”. In that story he made a number of statements about Mr Blomfield. Between 3 May 2012 and 6 June 2012, Mr Slater wrote and published on his website 13 articles that referred to Mr Blomfield.

[7] Mr Blomfield claims that these articles allege that he had conspired to steal charitable funds and was alleged to be a thief, as well as dishonest, dishonourable, a party to fraud, involved in criminal conspiracy, bribery, deceit, perjury, conversion, the laying of false complaints, drug dealing and making pornography. He was also accused of being a psychopath, a criminal, a thief and a “cock smoker”.

[8] The majority of the articles that are the subject of the claim contain extracts of emails to which Mr Blomfield is allegedly a party. They refer to electronic files which Mr Blomfield claims were sourced from his hard-drive and potentially other sources including a filing cabinet of Mr Blomfield.

[9] Mr Slater admitted in his statement of defence that he had in his possession copies of emails, databases and electronic files relating to the affairs of Mr Blomfield. He stated that on or about February 2012 he was provided with a
hard-drive that included approximately one terabyte of computer files previously owned by Mr Blomfield.

[10] Following the publication of the articles on the Whale Oil website, Mr Blomfield filed proceedings in the Manukau District Court in October 2012 in which he claimed that the statements and the articles were defamatory. He sought anorder that the material relating to him be removed from the Whale Oil website as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

SLATER v BLOMFIELD [2014] NZHC 2221 [12 September 2014]

The trial was initially delayed due to arguments about Slater’s status as a journalist, and whether this allowed him to keep secret sources of material he published – he had appeared to be acting on behalf of others. Slaater was found to be acting as a journalist, but in 2014 a judge ruled:

[150] On balance the public interest in disclosure outweighs any adverse effects on the informants and the ability of the media to freely receive information and access sources.

[151] Therefore Mr Blomfield succeeds on overview and there is an order that s 68(1) does not apply, and Mr Slater must answer the interrogatories and comply with discovery in the usual way.

SLATER V BLOMFIELD CA 678/2014 [2015] NZCA 240 [17 June 2015]

Slater applied to adduce new evidence, and tried to appeal, but eventually failed, as did other legal attempts. A judgment from 6 July 2017:

[2] Mr Slater has applied to strike out Mr Blomfield’s proceeding on grounds of delay. Mr Blomfield applies for further discovery, on an “unless” basis. Both applications are opposed. Mr Blomfield contends that the delay in prosecuting his claim to hearing has largely been caused by Mr Slater’s own actions.

[30] Mr Slater referred me to a wealth of information to suggest that Mr Blomfield may not have had any relevant business reputation at the time the articles were published on the Whaleoil site. He submitted that the Court’s resources should not be deployed to deal with such an undeserving claim for defamation.

[31] I do not accept that this proceeding is of such a character as to justify invocation of the Jameel approach. A number of the allegations made against Mr Blomfield go beyond his business activities and/or practices; in particular, the suggestions that he might be a pornographer and/or a psychopath. In my view, while there may be a question about the value of his claims based on business reputation, the same cannot be said about those other aspects of the claim.

[32] In those circumstances, the better course is to ensure the proceeding is readied for trial promptly. Mr Slater’s application to strike out is dismissed.

BLOMFIELD v SLATER [2017] NZHC 1654 [18 July 2017]

The trial is set to start over a year later.

While Slater is in the firing line, if he loses this Whale Oil will take a hit as well. Slater has been far less prominent on the blog over the last few months so it could probably survive without him, but if a sizeable award goes against Slater, or even just costs (costs are eye-wateringly high in defamation proceedings) it would put the blog at financial risk – Whale Oil could be fucked.

Slater has not been acting alone through all this. He was supplied information – one of the sources has been revealed as Marc Spring, and the court ordered that others be revealed but I don’t think that has shown in court judgments.

In 2015 Spring also tried to use Your NZ to continue attacks on Blomfield against a court agreement with Slater and against a restraining order. I believe that me stopping Spring was at least part of the reason he Slater and Dermot Nottingham turned on me, attacking me here, via lauda Finem and via the courts (the legal harassment is ongoing, I have a hearing v Nottingham in the Court of Appeal on Tuesday).

Spring has obvious associations with Lauda Finem, where attacks against Blomfield continued well into 2016, until Blomfield had the site shut down by court order (I think that something on that is also due to come up in court this month).

Nottingham has also been thick in this. Both he and Spring feature here: SLATER v BLOMFIELD [2014] NZHC 2221 [12 September 2014].

And Nottingham continued to assist Slater:

Hearing: 6 July 2017
Counsel: F Geiringer for Plaintiff
C J Slater, in person, Defendant
(D Nottingham as McKenzie Friend for Mr Slater)

With friends like that…

And this year Nottingham was sentenced for breaching non-publication orders (suppression) and criminal harassment via Lauda Finem – see  “Either Dermot Nottingham is Lauda Finem…or he is so intimately related to it…”

It would appear that Slater has a difficult defence on at least some of the claims.

The ninth publication – 17 May 2012

[51] Mr Slater has not responded to the evidence adduced by Mr Blomfield regarding this issue.

[52] The overall tenor of the publication is clearly defamatory because it accuses Mr Blomfield of stealing assets belonging to the company and then selling them to a third party

.The twelfth publication – 6 June 2012

[61] Mr Slater has not responded to this evidence so for present purposes must be taken to have no answer to it. He would therefore appear to have no arguable defence to the claim relating to this publication. As in the case of the ninth publication, however, I propose to exercise my discretion against the entry of summary judgment and for the same reasons.

BLOMFIELD v SLATER [2018] NZHC 1099 [18 May 2018]

The challenge:

[76] Mr Slater needs to be aware, however, that the defences comprise different elements. For that reason the same particulars may not support both defences. In order to establish the defence of truth, for example, it is necessary for the defendant to set out the facts and circumstances relied upon to prove either that the pleaded imputations are true or substantially true, or that the publication as a whole is substantially true.

[78] The defence of honest opinion requires the defendant to establish that, reading the publication as a whole, such imputations as the fact finder has found to exist were conveyed by the publication as expressions of opinion rather than statements of fact. It is for the Judge in the first instance to determine whether the imputations are capable of being opinion rather than fact. Importantly, the facts in the publication must have existed at the time of the publication and must either have been alleged or referred to in the publication. Alternatively, they must have been generally known at the time. The defendant may not go outside these parameters in establishing the defence of honest opinion. Furthermore, the defendant may not call evidence at trial that is outside the ambit of the permitted particulars. For that reason the particulars “serve to focus and confine the evidence which may be given in support of defences of truth
and honest opinion”.

[79] Mr Slater needs to re-plead his statement of defence and particulars bearing in mind these principles. He also needs to be aware that he will not be permitted to call evidence at trial if it falls outside the pleadings in their final form.

The means that Slater cannot use the trial as a way of continuing the campaign against Blomfield by calling witnesses in order to attack Blomfield when this is outside the defence of ‘honest opinion’ – I think his defence has to be based on his own opinion at the time of publishing the posts on Whale Oil, not the ‘opinions’ of his associates and accomplices.

I have a particular interest in this because I got dragged into this as a means to try to avoid court orders.

But there should be wider interest.

If Blomfield is successful there is a real possibility that Whale Oil be fucked.

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.

New public interest defence to defamation – Court of Appeal

Lange v Atkinson[1998] has often been quoted and used as a defence in defamation cases over the last twenty years. The Court of Appeal has just released a decision that will replace this legal precedent.

The judgment recognises the existence of a new public interest defence to defamation claims arising from mass publications. The elements of the new defence are that the subject matter of the publication must be:

  • a matter of public interest
  • and that the communication must be responsible.

Unlike the political focus of Lange v Atkinson the new defence is not confined to parliamentarians or political issues, but extends to all matters of public concern.

This should also apply to blogging and other types of online publications.

An element not agreed on by the Court is ‘reportage’ – verification of content before publication.


COURT OF APPEAL OF NEW ZEALAND

DURIE AND ANOR v GARDINER AND ANOR [2018] NZCA 278

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It does not comprise part of the reasons for that judgment. The full judgment with reasons is the only authoritative document. The full text of the judgment and reasons can be found at http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz.

1. The Court of Appeal today released a judgment recognising the existence of a new public interest defence to defamation claims arising from mass publications. The elements of the new defence are that the subject matter of the publication must be a matter of public interest and that the communication must be responsible.

2. In recognising the new defence, the Court held the form of qualified privilege recognised in Lange v Atkinson [1998] 3 NZLR 424 (CA) and [2000] 3 NZLR 385 (CA) has been replaced. The new defence is not confined to parliamentarians or political issues, but extends to all matters of public concern.

3. The Court was unable to agree on a related issue known as “reportage”: whether mass publication of an allegation without verification of its content is protected where the public interest lies in the fact of the allegation having been made, rather than the truth of the allegation.

Background

4. Sir Edward Durie and Ms Donna Hall issued defamation proceedings in response to a story broadcast by Māori TV and published on its website. Sir Edward was at relevant times co-chair of the New Zealand Māori Council. Ms Hall is a high-profile lawyer specialising in Māori legal issues and had been representing the Council before the Waitangi Tribunal.

5. Sir Edward and Ms Hall say the broadcast and website story conveyed various defamatory meanings. They also complain that the website story did not initially include Ms Hall’s response to the allegations.

6. The High Court had declined to strike out the respondents’ public interest defence that relied on legal developments in the United Kingdom and Canada. The Judge held the defence pleaded was available and would not inevitably fail on the facts. On appeal, the appellants conceded some form of public interest defence might now exist in New Zealand. The argument was on the boundaries of such a defence, and whether the respondents could tenably rely on it.

The Judgment

7. Building on English and Canadian case law, the Court of Appeal has concluded it is time to strike a new balance between the right to protection of reputation and the right to freedom of expression by recognising the existence of a new defence wider than that in the Lange v Atkinson decisions. The new defence is not confined to parliamentarians or political issues but extends to all matters of public concern.

8. The new defence requires the subject matter of the publication to be of public interest, and the communication to be responsible. Both are to be determined by the judge, not a jury. It is available to all who publish material in any medium, and is not part of the rubric of qualified privilege. Therefore, the Lange v Atkinson form of qualified privilege has been replaced.

9. In this case, it was common ground the publications were on a matter of public interest. The key issue was whether communication was responsible. The Court held the public interest defence was untenable in relation to the website story for the period of time before Māori TV published Ms Hall’s responses. Other challenges to the responsibility of the communication were held to be properly left for trial.

10. Concerning reportage, the majority held it is not a separate defence but part of the same spectrum. Reportage is a special and relatively rare situation and need not be pleaded separately. Dissenting, Brown J expressed concerns about reportage including its relationship with statutory defences. If it is to be recognised, Brown J considered it should be viewed as a discrete defence. The Court held unanimously that reportage is not available in this case as one of the most prominent assertions was portrayed as fact, not as an allegation.

Full judgment: DurievGardinerNZCA278.pdf