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:

 

 

Sellman, Swinburn, Bradbrook v Slater, Graham, Rich

Stuff: Whale Oil blogger, former MP, and PR specialist could face jury

Blogger Cameron Slater, Food and Grocery Council head Katherine Rich and PR specialist Carrick Graham have failed in a bid to get a defamation claim thrown out of court.

The case was brought by public health professionals Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Shane Bradbrook, who alleged they had been defamed in a series of blog posts on Slater’s Whale Oil blog, and comments Graham allegedly left on the posts.

They also alleged Graham had organised the posts’ publication and authored one of them himself, and Rich – a former National MP – and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council had paid Graham for his services.

The case was prompted by allegations made in Nicky Hager’s 2014 book Dirty Politics.

In a decision released this week, the High Court at Auckland declined the defendants’ bid to have the case struck out.

They had argued the case was filed too late as it was brought more than two years after the first publication of the statements.

However, Justice Matthew Palmer said as the statements were still available on Slater’s blog, they had, in effect, been published multiple times.

This is an interesting and important ruling.

[40] In relation to defamation proceedings Parliament reconfirmed in 2010 that a standard limitation period of two years is appropriate – less than for other claims. That reflects a policy that a person who has been defamed ought to take legal steps to vindicate his or her rights relatively quickly after the defamation has been published, or after he or she reasonably becomes aware of its publication. That may be two years after a blog is first posted. But if the blog is still up on the web, and the publisher cannot show the post has not been accessed in the past two years, I see no reason why a defamed person should not be able to sue for the continuing publication of a blog in order to vindicate their reputation. Accordingly, I consider the multiple publication rule is the law in New Zealand.

So a blog post is an ongoing publication. This must surely also apply to news items posted online by media, as well as tweets and comments in social media like in Facebook.

The judge also found that what Slater claims is ‘colourful language’ is potentially defamatory.

[85] Third, I consider the terms “trougher”, “rorter” and “ripping off”. Where these terms are used in the statements complained of here, the plaintiffs plead that, in its natural and ordinary meaning, the statement means and has been understood to mean, that the relevant plaintiff “has misused public funds”, “has misappropriated public funds”, and “has used public funds for his own benefit, to ‘enrich’ his own life and not in the public interest”. The defendants offer more innocuous meanings, as noted above.

[86] I consider an ordinary reasonable person would understand references to “troughing” and “troughers” to have connotations going beyond the meaning of being funded publicly. The same is true of “rort” and “rorter” and “ripping off”. I consider the ordinary reasonable person, with the attributes identified by Blanchard J, would infer those terms to carry a pejorative connotation of wrongdoing in the use of funding; being, in some sense, morally or legally illegitimate.

[87] These terms do not take their meanings only from the tone or adjectives that
qualify them. And their meanings are not altered by, or an ordinary part of, a context of the robust political debate. The dictionary definitions suggest “rorter” and “rip-off” may have a more fraudulent connotation than “trougher”. Rort, for example, can support a meaning of fraudulent or dishonest. For each, a derogatory meaning is part and parcel of the ordinary meaning of these terms in New Zealand. That seems likely to be why they were used. The reader is likely to think worse of their subject, in a more than minor way.

I think that has often seemed to be the intent of whoever writes and posts at Whale Oil.

[89] The terms “trougher”, “rort” and “rip-off” are capable of bearing the meanings alleged by the plaintiffs here, in the specific passages identified in the annex. Whether they are, here, is a question for trial.

So the applications to strike out were denied.

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.

[126] I am inclined to let costs lie where they fall, since each party has had a measure of success.

[127] Because this proceeding could be the subject of a jury trial, and it is important the jury’s minds not be prejudiced, as the parties requested, the contents of the allegations in pleadings should not be publicly reported. The contents of the allegations are largely contained in the table annexed to this judgment.

So another defamation trial looks likely for Slater, this time accompanied by Graham and Rich.

The full judgment: https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/sellman-ors-v-slater-ors/@@images/fileDecision?r=352.466892743

More from Newsroom: Whaleoil, ex MP, PR man to face jury trial

It will be interesting to see whether a Court accepts claims that Whale Oil has been used to attack people for payment, as claimed by Nicky Hager in ‘Dirty Politics’.

However it may not be ready to go to trial yet.

[123] Prior to the hearing I had directed the parties to propose further timetabling directions for the substantive hearing. The defendants indicated they would seek a stay pending the outcome of any appeal of this judgment, if the strike-out applications were declined. The plaintiffs indicated they would press for their proposed timetable to be ordered.

This is just one of a number of cases considering the use of Whale Oil as an attack blog.

Whale Oil was integral to the defamation case between Jordan Williams and Colin Craig. This initially resulted in a record jury award against Craig, but that was quashed by the trial judge and a retrial may be forthcoming.

Slater is also waiting for the judgment in the related defamation cases between him and Craig.

There is another case involving Slater and Whale Oil that is presumably ongoing. A judgment in July:

[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.

This case has taken a long time.

[26] The primary reason why the case has taken so long to get to trial is the need to resolve an important question of law about whether s 68(1) of the Evidence Act 2006 (protection of journalists’ sources) applied to a blogger such as Mr Slater. That question was first addressed by the District Court in a judgment given on 26 September 2013 by Judge Blackie It was the subject of Asher J’s judgment on appeal. Subsequently, Mr Slater applied for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. An application to adduce further evidence was dismissed on 19 November 2015. Ultimately, on 17 May 2016, the substantive application for leave to appeal was abandoned.

[27] In the meantime, there were also contempt applications brought by Mr Blomfield in respect of alleged breaches of an undertaking by Mr Slater not to publish certain material relevant to the proceeding. Those applications were dealt with in two judgments given by Asher J on 10 February and 18 February 2016.

Slater’s application to strike out the proceeding was also struck out.

Judgment: https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/pdf/jdo/d4/alfresco/service/api/node/content/workspace/SpacesStore/1f0d30c0-f211-43f2-840a-00b90faf848d/1f0d30c0-f211-43f2-840a-00b90faf848d.pdf

In yet another legal action involving  Slater and Whale Oil and also Carrick Graham to attack people: Lawyer Jeanne Denham who tried to destroy ex-husband Peter Clague’s career suspended

Denham was found guilty of misconduct earlier this year over her decision to pursue a private prosecution of Clague for assault which the judge called an “abuse of process”.

She also conducted an elaborate PR campaign against both her ex-husband and Kristin School, with the assistance of controversial PR man Carrick Graham and blogger Cameron Slater.

From NEW ZEALAND LAWYERS AND CONVEYANCERS DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL

[8] Ms Denham engaged the services of a public relations consultant, Mr Carrick
Graham, who in turn provided press releases which were approved by Ms Denham, to the blogger Cameron Slater for the “Whaleoil” blog.

[9] Having equivocated and (she acknowledged in evidence before us) being concerned about the harm she was likely to do to her former husband, his reputation and the reputation of his employer Kristin School, Ms Denham determined in any event she ought to proceed with the media strategy.

[10] On 18 October 2012 she filed a complaint with the police regarding the alleged assault on 10 September 2010. The timing of this complaint was that it shortly followed the response (and opposition) by Mr Clague to her relationship property claim. Some six days after this complaint the first blog post on Whaleoil appeared stating that the head of Kristin School was being questioned by police regarding a
charge of male assaults female.

[11] The blog also named the Chair of the Kristin School Board of Governors and stated that the school had known about the allegations and done nothing.

[12] On 25 October 2012 Ms Denham texted Mr Graham saying “Carrick – Cameron’s blog is starting to generate interest in the Kristin community. It’ll spread like wildfire now!” Two minutes later the response from Mr Graham read “Excellent. We’ll talk more tomorrow about what else we can run on there!”

Many more details followed, including:

(6) That Ms Denham was paying a public relations agent and in turn a blogger (Cameron Slater) to publicise what would otherwise be private matters (at least until aired in Court), is a clear indicator that “justice for a crime committed” would not appear to be the dominant purpose. In examination about Mr Slater’s involvement in her payment to him, both in the District Court criminal trial and before the Tribunal, her evidence was evasive and unsatisfactory. Furthermore she misled the Tribunal in her affidavit dated 30 November 2016 where she stated “I did not have any editorial input into the Whaleoil postings and did not have any real understanding of who “Cameron” was at the time or the true nature of his Whaleoil blog”. Emails to Carrick Graham in late October 2012, in which she seems to have a clear view that her reputation might be tarnished by a connection with Mr Slater, and in which she certainly refers to editorial input to the press releases, if not the blog itself, discredit this assertion.

And from

[74] For example, at paragraphs [31-33] when discussing the Whaleoil blog that referred to “the fool” avoiding “a whole world of pain and trouble (not to mention public attention) by settling the issue when they separated”. His Honour commented at [32]:

“[32] It is difficult to interpret this as anything other than a blatant attempt to
apply pressure to the defendant to settle the complainant’s relationship property
claim, given the timing of the posting, with the affidavits in reply on that claim
due, given the complainant’s acknowledgement that she was aware of the
material which was going up on the Whale Oil site and given that she was
paying Mr Slater for his services.

[33] The complainant denied any input into these postings but against the
overall background as I have set it out I find that impossible to accept.”

Of course the defamation case between Sellman, Swinburn, Bradbrook and Slater, Graham, Rich is yet to be decided, but the latest judgment has found that it should not be struck out and should be tested in court.

Slater must have confidence in his defence, posts attacking those taking this case against him using some of the language detailed by the judge are still published on Whale Oil.

Southern action continues on Invermay

The announcement that the Invermay agricultural research centre may be gutted prompted a rising of concern and action in nearby Dunedin and across the south.

It prompted a Stand Up Otago feature and ongoing campaign by the Otago Daily Times.

And prompted a Southern Summit where mayors and leaders from Otago and Southland gathered to discuss actions that could save the south from further depletion of public service jobs and services.

The campaign has cranked up a gear. ODT reports South Enlists Former MPs.

Southern councils have reached across the political divide by recruiting former Dunedin MPs Pete Hodgson and Katherine Rich to the fight to save 85 jobs at Invermay.

Mr Hodgson, the former Dunedin North Labour MP, was the minister responsible for CRIs, including AgResearch, under former prime minister Helen Clark.

Former Dunedin-based National list MP Katherine Rich’s father, Dr Jock Allison, is a former director of Invermay.

Both former MPs were yesterday named as members of the working party finalising a counterproposal for Invermay, to be presented to the AgResearch board and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.

Good to see them stepping up to join the fight. And southern local government leaders are to meet Bill English.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull yesterday said initial talks had been held with AgResearch representatives, and a four-strong delegation of southern councils would meet Clutha-Southland MP Bill English in Balclutha on Friday.

That delegation would feature Mr Cull, Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead, Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan.

The working party would make a final proposal to the AgResearch board late next month, and after that to Steven Joyce.

The counterproposal would be based on input from more than 50 delegates from organisations across the lower South Island, gathered at a summit held in Dunedin earlier this month.

The meeting was called after AgResearch unveiled a proposal to shift 85 jobs from the Invermay agricultural research centre to either Lincoln or Palmerston North by 2016.

Mr Cull said the counterproposal being prepared would show AgResearch’s plan was ”strategically damaging both to the region and the national economy”.

”Many see Invermay as integral to Dunedin’s economic development strategy, and its loss would have a major impact on the wider regional economy.

”If they take away the sort of infrastructure and services offered by Invermay, they erode our research and economic base and we have nothing to build on.”

Keep up the good work.