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,

Manafort trial judge has received threats

The jury in the Paul Manafort trial are still deliberating. There’s a pile of papers and 18 charges so it’s not surprising it is taking a while to arrive at verdicts.

In a bizarre twist the trial judge says there have been threats made against him.

NBCNews:  Judge in Paul Manafort trial says he has gotten threats

District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, who is overseeing the bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, said Friday that he has received threats that necessitate U.S. marshal protection to and from the courthouse.

“I had no idea that this case would excite these emotions, I will tell you that frankly,” Ellis told the court as the jury, which was not present for his comments, deliberated for a second day. The case is being tried in Alexandria, Virginia.

Ellis’s admission came during an afternoon hearing brought by a coalition of media outlets, including NBC News, to unseal juror names and bench conference transcripts of conversations the judge has had with the defense and the prosecution.

Ellis refused to reveal the names of the jurors because he fears they would face similar threats — without being afforded the same protections.

“I have no reason to believe that, if those names are unsealed, there won’t be threats against them,” he said.

Ellis also said he would not unseal the one bench conference related to the ongoing investigation, because he did not want to interfere in it, though at the conclusion of the case, he will unseal transcripts related to the administration of the jury.

Manafort is facing 18 charges of tax and banking fraud, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors have painted Manafort as a liar who hid millions from U.S. tax authorities in overseas accounts for years, while Manafort’s attorneys sought to paint him as a talented political consultant who had served several elected officials, including Trump, while pinning the blame for any wrongdoing on Rick Gates, Manafort’s former protégé and the key witness against him.

Threatening a trial judge is a very serious allegation.

“What we are living with is pre-fascism”

New Zealand is largely unscathed, so far, but here is a plausible claim that the US at least is at threat of an unfolding progression towards fascism.

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

Trump’s rise has certainly not been solely on his own merits. He has defied predictions, he has defied common sense. To many he is a blundering buffoon, but he has secured a strong, sizeable minority support base who defend him regardless of what he does.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections.

All major elections are ‘rigged’, in that they are dominated by PR machines that are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Even New Zealand elections have become battles of media coverage and promotion of shallow imagery.

Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities.

I don’t know if this is happening more than in the past, or is just more apparent with the advent of social media.

It is a lot easier to portray discord and division, and to accentuate it, than it is to promote tolerance and sensibility.

Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

There’s certainly signs of this in the US in particular, but also in the UK, which is in a political mess that keeps deteriorating.

How much can be attributed to single conspiracy, and how much is just different bunches of blundering political organisations, is difficult to judge.

But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

The ostracising of large groups of people is certainly a common tactic of Trump – Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, North Koreans, Chinese, Canadians, Europeans, Germans, Britons have all been attacked by Trump to different degrees.

Some of these groups are under sustained attack, some attacks are followed by reversals and contradictions.

Is this just Trump’s erratic behaviour, or is it a carefully staged strategy? It could feasibly be both.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.

Possibly. But is this different politicians in different countries trying similar approaches because it seems to be successful, or is it a coordinated conspiracy?

Some of it is opportunist copy cat campaigning. It is likely that is all we have had here in New Zealand.

But there are some known common denominators. Like Cambridge Analytica, which played what some think was a significant role in the surprise Brexit result, and the shock rise of trump in the US.

There are other factors playing parts as well. It’s hard to see Hillary Clinton’s poor campaign as a deliberate aid to Trump. And it’s hard to see Theresa May’s misjudgement in calling a snap election, and her poor leadership since, as part of a grand plan. These two have helped head their countries into political chaos, but that is likely to be inadvertent assistance.

Back to the fascist conspiracy.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

This is plausible.

But even if these a examples of deliberate pre-fascism trials, I can’t help thinking that “cock-up, not conspiracy” is never far from politics anywhere.

Again, perhaps there is some of both. Smart campaigners and manipulators will learn from mistakes as well as from deliberate trials.

This is greatly encouraging for the pre-fascist agenda. The blooding process has begun within the democratic world. The muscles that the propaganda machines need for defending the indefensible are being toned up. Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable. So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality.

They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.

There are some plausible claims in all of this. There is no doubt that there has been increasingly sophisticated use of and manipulation with social media. Both media and increasingly social media play a large part in politics, in elections and in PR.

How else can you explain Trump’s shocking siding with long time arch enemy Russia, and at the expense of trashing his countries own intelligence agencies? Diminishing the credibility of the FBI and other intelligence agencies seems to be an ongoing tactic of Trump’s.

Is Trump a blundering fool, or is he a fascist tool?

Perhaps he is both, unless the buffonery is a part of the plan.

Is fascism a deliberate end goal? Or is it just where powerful people and powerful conspiracies end up – riding roughshod over democracy and decency may just happen t tend towards a state of fascism.

Source – Fintan O’Toole: Trial runs for fascism are in full flow

See another trump trial?: Trump back flips over Russian election meddling

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.

Craig v Slater – reserved decision

As expected, after closing addresses the judge has reserved his decision in the defamation case between Colin Craig and Cameron Slater. Don’t be surprised if it’s not Spring before a decision comes out.

For Slater:

RNZ: Closing addresses in Slater vs Craig trial

In his closing address in the High Court in Auckland, Mr Slater’s lawyer, Brian Henry, said Mr Craig displayed unacceptable behaviour towards Ms MacGregor.

Mr Henry said Ms MacGregor had been put in a difficult position, giving evidence about very personal matters and being cross-examined by Mr Craig, who he described as her “nemesis”.

“We have a written plan, written in the wee hours of the 18th of September, 2015, that he was going to deliberately destroy her reputation by alleging in a failed attempted blackmail.”

He said Ms MacGregor also made an allegation that Mr Craig stopped paying her in an effort to force her into having sex.

“Put simply, Sir, for her, this is a total disaster. She settled it – confidential – gone. And if it had stayed that way, she would have her life and the plaintiff [Mr Craig] would actually have his life.”

But information was leaked and Mr Slater wrote about their relationship, he said.

Mr Henry said Mr Slater was defending the defamation case based on defences of truth, honest opinion and qualified privilege as a journalist writing about a matter in the public interest.

He said the story was then picked up by mainstream media and Mr Craig chose to hold news conferences, and to then stand down from the Conservative Party with little explanation.

“The evidence is clear, [Mr Slater’s] publications have not caused the damage. It was the plaintiff’s [Mr Craig’s] conduct, his expressly exciting the media by a grand press conference to announce his standing down from the leadership which had the consequences of being able to avoid a [Conservative Party] board meeting where his behaviour with his press secretary was the sole topic on the agenda.”

He said that led to media investigating and publishing information from sources suggesting Mr Craig had acted inappropriately.

Mr Slater had originally sought $16 million in damages but that has now been scaled down to $450,000 plus legal costs.

That’s a major scaling down, but now much more realistic, should Slater succeed.

For Craig:

Mr Craig, who is defending himself, told the court that the case revolved around the true nature of his relationship with Ms MacGregor, the responsibilities of a blogger and the ability of a public figure to, as he put it, “hit back” with a booklet.

“On the evidence, Mr Slater and the Whale Oil blog were reckless in publishing the serious allegations. They often were publishing allegations based on mere rumour or an inference that Mr Slater had himself drawn. They did not take appropriate, or even basic steps to check the veracity of the allegations, such as seeking any comment from myself or Ms MacGregor.”

Mr Craig said Ms MacGregor might now regret their relationship but he said that didn’t amount to sexual harassment.

“While I may have acted inappropriately at times – which is absolutely conceded – or as Ms MacGregor put it, ‘being dodgy’, that does not amount to sexual harassment.

Continued in Judge reserves decision in Craig vs Slater trial

Mr Craig finished closing his case today, in which he alleges Mr Slater was part of a conspiracy to remove him as leader.

One of the defences Mr Slater has claimed is qualified privilege as a journalist.

Mr Craig said privilege was to facilitate public discussion.

Justice Toogood said Mr Slater had nothing to gain by Mr Craig standing down, and asked if Mr Slater’s motivation in writing the posts had any relevance to the case.

Concluded:

A High Court judge has reserved his decision in the defamation case between the former leader of the Conservative Party and the blogger Cameron Slater.

Justice Toogood said it would take him some time to deliver his judgement.

It could be a long wait, especially for Slater and Whale Oil.

Talking of Whale Oil, they have continued to comment on the case despite saying they had been advised not to. ‘Whaleoil Staff’ in  Craig v Slater Day 17 (media roundup) acknowledges possibly Slater’s biggest vulnerability, the alleged ‘second victim’:

As for the “second victim”, I would like to write about this in more detail at some stage. But as we have discovered from media reports, Mr Craig instructed a lawyer to phone Cameron Slater and ask for all the evidence Whaleoil held on the Craig/MacGregor story for a client she was working with that “had Colin Craig as a factor”.

On that basis, Cam Slater had an honest belief that another victim had sought legal help against Mr Craig.  In spite of subsequent calls to Cam Slater from that lawyer, some of which were reported back her client – Mr Craig – Auckland lawyer Madeleine Flannagan never revealed to Cam she was working for Mr Craig.

Mr Craig knew Cam had the wrong end of the stick just a few days later, and years before appearing in Court.  A situation he kept to himself during the discovery process and most of the trial when he dramatically introduced one of Cameron Slater’s own witnesses as a lawyer working for him.  That may seem like awesome strategy and cool made-for-TV court drama, but both Madeleine Flannagan and Colin Craig are expected to face consequences for deliberately subverting proper process to gain advantage over a legal adversary.

Whaleoil feels confident that the case will be decided in its favour, especially since the ‘second victim’ issue became what we view as a Fraud on the Court.

An acknowledgement that incorrectly alleging a second victim was a potential problem for Slater’s defence but a probably slanted view that makes making excuse and claims that that evidence shouldn’t have been considered.

There are various possibilities with the outcome due to there being claims of defamation and counter claims. They include:

  • Finding in favour of Slater
  • Finding in favour of Craig
  • Finding that Slater and Craig defamed each other
  • Finding no defamation

Damages and costs could be substantial against one of them, or they could work both ways and partially or totally cancel each other out, or they could be minimal or zero.

All this legal stuff must be hard for Craig, financially and mentally, but to an extent it is just another step on a very long drawn out campaign to try to redeem himself. That is a very difficult task. And despite his supposed wealth it will be proving very costly even before damages and costs awards come into play.

It will be an anxious time for Slater and Whale Oil, There may not be much reputation riding on it, but financially it could result in a legal windfall, or it could break the blog. They are continually having to raise funds just to keep Whale Oil going so it will be difficult for them if they have to pay any damages or costs, or even if they are not awarded damages or costs.

The rest of us will go on to other things in the meantime, until the decision eventually pops up.

 

Craig v Slater trial – funkstille

There has been radio silence (no media coverage) of the Craig v Slater defamation trial yesterday for legal reasons that will remain unknown until next week when the trial resumes. However ‘Whaleoil Staff’ couldn’t resist saying something about it – against advice.

Yesterday there were no media reports of the trial, and I couldn’t find anything on it this morning.

Until Whaleoil Staff explained. They claim to be journalists and media, and have reported on court proceedings, so I believe I’m allowed to repeat a media report from Court.

Yesterday, the media published nothing regarding the Colin Craig v Cameron Slater defamation case.

1/ the day finished early for a reason we can’t publish

2/ critical twists and turns are suppressed

3/ something…. happened

Yes, I’m teasing you.  But I wish I could actually tell you.  I just about begged to be allowed to give a broad-brush outline of events in court on Friday, but I got a firm “no”.

‘Whaleoil Staff’ then goes on to give a broad brush outline of events.

The day started off with Cam Slater in the witness stand and Colin Craig continuing his questioning.  It was mostly around the issue where the responsibility lies if one media organisation republishes content from another.

After Cam was stood down from the witness stand, Colin Craig asked the Court for permission to introduce new evidence.  After some debate, the Court has allowed it.

This caused a TV-like plot twist that left everyone reeling.

Sadly, that’s the extent to which I’m allowed to cover the detail.   But it explains why no other media has filed on Friday’s proceedings, and we all will have to wait until 10 am Monday morning for the case to continue to discover what, if anything, will be allowed to be published.

With this end of week cliff hanger perhaps Whale Oil will get the attention and publicity they seem to want when Court resumes on Monday.

UPDATE: ‘Spanish Bride’ (Juana Atkins, WO author and Slater’s wife) posted in what looks like graphical exasperation, and has added in comments:

I wish I could tell you all what was revealed unexpectedly yesterday but I can’t. Suffice to say it threw the court into disarray and we were unable to continue. We finished for the day early and retired to a wine bar to process the revelations.

Edit: The revelation struck Cam speechless and I was so shocked tears came to my eyes.

I can imagine that a court case like this with potentially so much money at stake – and potentially the future of Whale Oil – it will be harrowing and emotionally draining. And to be hit with something totally unexpected will make it even harder. The pressure is showing.

Pete Belt has also posted ‘An Easy Weekend’

You people say “I don’t know how they do it every day, filling that blog”.

Well, I do.  And I’m seriously ground down.

So if some of you want to fire off a guest post, I’ll put them up if you email me.

We’re probably going to have a pretty soft weekend to try and recuperate a bit.  I normally don’t let you people see what it takes but I was still working at 1:30am the night before to get all the stuff sorted.

With “developments” late on Friday, it may be that the court case will run over its three week timetable.  So to ensure those of us that make the smoke and mirrors do what they do are not going to fall apart by the end of next week, we’re going to phone it in this weekend.

It will have been a full on week for them. And the trial may be only half way through, according to a comment from Belt:

But I had paced myself for a 3 week trial. Told my mum I was coming to visit for a bit afterwards. And now it looks like it may be a 4 week trial. So it required a reset in thinking, planning and pacing 🙂

The strain is palpable.


UPDATE: One media article has since come out this morning but it’s in general about the trial only – Craig v Slater: Please make it stop

What to make of the shabby and often excruciating slow-motion train wreck smashing into tiny pieces every day at courtroom 14 in the High Court at Auckland, where former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater are talking about sex while going at each other in a defamation counterclaim?

Craig claims Slater wrote libellous things about his conduct with his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor and “other victims”. Slater claims Craig wrote libellous things in response. Yeah, whatever. It’s all so unseemly. And kind of pathetic. Not even titillating. “Please,” emailed one of our most cherished broadcasters this week, when I mentioned to her how I was spending my days, “make it stop”.

…Forget Slater. He doesn’t give a stuff what Craig says about him, couldn’t care less. He’s heard a lot worse, he’s a tough cookie. The real damage is to MacGregor. She took her boss to the Human Rights Commission on sexual harassment allegations, and this is what happens?

…Slater’s lines are the same: “Politics is the best game in town. There are no rules”, etc. At one point he said, “Most MPs I know use the same cab driver all the time because they know they can trust them.” Everybody’s got something to hide. Yeah, whatever.

…And so there’s Craig, the politician manque (everybody’s got something to hide, including a manque), with his soft-faced McKenzie friend Tom Cleary beside him, much of the time going it alone, bashing through the jungles of his personal life. As a skilled defamation lawyer performing the art of cross-examination, he makes a good accountant. “You can’t ask questions he can’t answer,” Justice Kit Toogood admonished him, during his lengthy cross-exam of Slater. On another occasion, he said: “This is not appropriate, Mr Craig.”

So much inappropriate behaviour.

Craig’s argument with Slater is all mano a mano but the people who have to suffer it the most are two women. MacGregor is due to appear in court on Monday or Tuesday. This week, it was Helen Craig’s turn.

“Horrible…Deeply upsetting…Stressful…Horrible….A nightmare….Horrible,” she said in court. She was describing the trauma of reading Slater’s blog posts on Whaleoil. What about her husband’s long, secret history of “inappropriate” poems and all the rest of it? “I was not happy with Colin…I was hurt and annoyed.” Annoyed? Is that all? Improper to ask and even to wonder.

Private lives, private distresses.

All exposed in court – two people trying to prove points against each other, and the rest are collateral damage.