I had an ‘incomplete’ feeling about that jury award in the Colin Craig/Jordan Williams defamation case – the ‘record’ amount of damages totalling $1.27M awarded in September 2016. It seemed to me there was a step outstanding: It hadn’t been confirmed by the judge in the case.
So every now and then I asked a few people, including the court reporters who covered the trial. Nope. Every week that went past after verdict was announced seemed bad for Jordan Williams, even allowing time for submissions, arguments and counter arguments. (Remember my comment about ‘litigation risk‘?)
By extension, it was also bad news for Cameron Slater, Jordan Williams’s Life Coach and co-conspirator in the ugly, brutal destabilisation campaign at the heart of this defamation action.
Slater Jnr is approaching his own day in court – as defendant in a defamation suit brought by Colin Craig. He’s also facing another, similar lawsuit brought by scientists he [allegedly] smeared on behalf of Carrick Graham’s client Katherine Rich and the food manufacturer lobby group she headed up. More on that another time.
But Slater had crowed about the ‘record’ damages award against Craig to Williams, apparently interpreting it as a good omen. Indeed, he predicted massive success in his own case (in between publishing begging letters to his cult, asking them to help pay his ‘legal fees’).
We all knew the jury found for Williams – found him to have been defamed, and awarded record-setting, ‘breathtaking’ damages. As it turned out, this week, Judge Sarah Katz released her decision: rather than confirming the damages the jury awarded, she ruled that they were excessive, way out of bounds. So excessive, that she ruled the outcome was a miscarriage of justice which qualified for a retrial. Golly.
I remember at the end of last year’s trial (in Jordan Williams judged to have a reputation that could be harmed) saying that Williams had “written himself into the history books, whatever the final outcome.” So it seems. Now he’s an entry under ‘miscarriages of justice’ too. #winning
I don’t propose to re-litigate it here, nor go through the elements of the case it seems the jury got ‘wrong’. But let me say that Williams’s hired gun, defamation law specialist Peter McKnight, must be a very persuasive character.
Case in point: McKnight’s (I thought risible) plea to the jury to award the maximum damages to ‘stop’ nasty rich prick Colin Craig victimising innocent choirboys like Jordan Williams. I’m paraphrasing, obviously. Here’s how the NZ Herald reported Mr McKnight’s hypnotic commands:
“There really must be a stop to this person. He must be stopped from ruining so many lives. I suggest to you that there can be absolutely no doubt that Colin Craig was the author of his own misfortune and it does him little credit that he now somehow blames Jordan Williams for this,” McKnight told the jury. “Something needs to be done about this man and I leave that in your capable hands.”
Honestly, if I’d been there I would have laughed out loud at such nonsense. It was Jordan Williams who was shown to have launched a subterranean campaign to disgrace and destroy Colin Craig. (Judge Katz: “For all intents and purposes he mounted a campaign in the following weeks to remove Mr Craig as Conservative Party leader.”) It was Williams who (um, how can I put this?) exaggerated a great deal; about what he knew, what he had seen, what Craig had supposedly done, said, paid, and ‘sexted’.
According to evidence presented at the trial, it was choirboy/lawyer Jordan Williams who repeatedly deceived Ms MacGregor (see Katz’s blistering summary in para 56 below). He ignored her requests and his promised assurances of confidentiality (remember, he told her he would treat her information as if he was her lawyer – gah!) before he then calculatedly copied and passed on her copies of Craig’s foolish, idiotic, but personal and private communications, which Williams had stored in his office safe for her – and then (according to Judge Katz) lied to Ms MacGregor about his actions.
It seems plain to me that Williams was acting as part of a co-ordinated smear campaign (can you think of a more appropriate term?) against Craig. His close co-operation with Cameron Slater – providing fodder for the drooling readers of Slater’s dirty politics attack blog – reveals his true loyalties. (Not for the first time.) Not so impressive was his professed concern for Ms MacGregor’s welfare, let alone her wishes.
Now sure, Colin Craig may be an awkward dipstick at times. Whatever. He may have been a prize plonker in this matter, and even fudged facts/lied himself, and acted offensively. Those claims were in evidence at the trial. But in my observation, it’s Slater and Williams who are the recidivist manipulative smear artists, not Colin Craig. It’s THEY who should be “stopped”.
But go figure. Seemingly persuaded by silver-tongued Peter McKnight’s appeal to stop a rich man from “ruining so many lives”, the jury ignored, misinterpreted or somehow otherwise bungled trial judge Katz’s directions – among other things, about how to calculate damages, taking into account instances where Colin Craig’s lawyers had proved Craig was right: that Jordan Williams had been involved in a deceitful ‘dirty politics’-style campaign. Craig’s legal team wrung admissions out of the apprentice spin doctor – but it seems the jury treated Williams like an injured innocent, a non-combatant in the grubby little war.
Maybe the jury simply couldn’t get over the at-times tearful Jordan Williams’s claim (actually sworn testimony) about how terribly afflicted he was by the stress of Colin Craig exposing the dirty politics campaign:
Judge Katz’s admirably clear ruling on all this is available here and worth a read in full if you’re interested in these things. So is her earlier, useful ruling that Colin Craig was in a position of qualified privilege arising from the the fact that his character and integrity were under public attack, so he was entitled to some leeway to attack back, defending himself.
In her ruling striking out the damages award you’ll see that Judge Katz says it can be inferred from the jury’s decision/award that the jury was persuaded (Hello, Mr McKnight) that Craig’s ‘ill-will’ motivation towards Jordan Williams (who was determined to destroy him, as discussed) somehow ‘lost’ Craig that qualified privilege. Personally, I disagree, but I wasn’t on the jury.
On another issue, the suggestion that the jury miscalculated/doubled-up in its damages award, Judge Katz deployed a masterful euphemism for ‘they screwed it up’ which I must quote here, it’s so lovely. From para :
In my view it is extremely difficult to see how additional damage to Mr William’s reputation in the sum of $650,000 could be caused by what was largely a further publication of the same defamatory imputations to a similar nationwide audience, unless there was a significant element of double counting. It must necessarily be inferred, therefore, that the jury failed to adequately turn their minds to this issue.
What the ruling says about what Jordan Williams did
As I noted above, Judge Katz’s ruling (among other things) serves as a useful distillation of the to-and-fro of the trial, and what was brought to light about the actions of Jordan Williams.
Here are some excerpts…
One can’t help but contrast Judge Katz’s summary with the sympathetic, soft-focus portrait painted of the young apprentice at trial by his friend Ruth Money – who was also described as “a support person for Ms MacGregor”. (Like that makes sense.)
Ruth Money told the jury that “fun, out-there, funky guy” Jordan Williams is “as honest and the day is long”. Riiiight. She defended his actions overriding Ms MacGregor’s requests not to expose her confidential information. In court, Ruth Money disagreed that it could be ‘disempowering’ for a woman in that situation to have her informal legal advisor/boyfriend act in that way. Hmmm.
For the record, here’s where Judge Katz declares the miscarriage of justice…
As I write this, Colin Craig has been reported as saying he won’t accept Judge Katz’s ‘offer’ to set a damages amount. He says he wants a new trial. (Gawd. But who knows? He might win it!)
The real victim is not Jordan Williams
These events must be galling for the ‘Dirty Politics brigade’ — but even more so for the young woman whose misfortune it is to be caught in the middle of this tawdry public explosion of dickheads.
It’s clear she was an unwilling participant, having settled matters with Colin Craig. As Judge Katz recounts in her ruling, that confidential settlement was comprehensively upset by the deceitful actions of her ‘friend’ Jordan Williams. For the destabilisation campaign against Craig, using whispers, exaggeration, smears and embellishments, naturally led Craig to defend himself — and clumsily breach his confidentiality agreement. (Qualified privilege doesn’t count there.) That was a bad mistake.
But you might see how Craig was wounded and provoked by William’s gossip mongering. In fact, it’s likely the Slater/Williams campaign relied on pressuring Craig, and probably counted on him stumbling somewhere along the line. It’s called ‘Dirty Politics’ because it’s dirty, eh?
In my earlier post about this trial (Why does Jordan Williams expose himself to so much loathing, contempt and ridicule?) I suggested this whole business would be bad for Jordan William’s reputation. It cements his membership of the ‘Dirty Politics brigade’, in the public eye.
He’s getting too old for the ‘youthful exuberance’ mitigation defence his former supervisor at law firm Franks-Ogilvie, Nikki Pender, deployed at the trial:
“Most people do daft things in their 20s but few of us have had quite the public profile of Jordan so our [mistakes] haven’t been played out quite so publicly.
To which I say, Lay down with dogs, Jordan, and you’ll get up with fleas.
I also dispute the assertion that Williams had “a good reputation” prior to his dirty campaign against Colin Craig being exposed. (Well, perhaps in the Twilight Zone world that Jordan’s advocates and character witnesses spun for the jury.) Read a few of my observations about the development of dirty politics wannabe Jordan Williams. I’m sorry to break it to him, but Jordan’s reputation has been unravelling for a while.
After reading Judge Katz’s ruling, obviously I’m not the only one who thinks it reads badly for Jordan Williams. Here’s a comment from Fran O’Sullivan …
But, of course, not everyone sees it that way. Here’s the view of the unpleasant and derivative Islamophobic hate-inciter Juana Atkins, Cameron Slater’s wife:
If I read her correctly, in her disjointed way, Juana Atkins holds to the notion that Colin Craig exposing/publicising the Dirty Politics campaign Jordan Williams and her husband ran against him somehow qualifies as the worst defamation in the history of New Zealand. Good grief.
Never mind that this theory was rejected as faulty logic by Judge Katz’s ruling – despite Peter McKnight’s argument that such a record-setting damages award “was within the available range”. (cf Para 33, right)
Yeah, right, Peter. Thanks for sharing, says Judge Katz (not in those exact words) in para 109.
 Taking all of these matters into account, I am satisfied that the damages award is well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case. The consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. The jury’s verdicts must therefore be set aside and a retrial ordered…
Then there’s the quite different tone with which the Slater family hate blog greets discussion of the rich-person-suing-for-defamation episode featuring the Hagamans and Andrew Little. Quite different. What a shallow band of bigots they must be over there, addled by long hours of copy-and-paste duties to spoon-feed the faithful.
“A tactical error”
Someone I regard as far more qualified and informed about these matters than Juana Atkins (or myself, of course) is law professor Andrew Geddis. Geddis has a view of this case, naturally, and seems struck by some of the same things that strike me. Of shock to some of us in the Peter McKnight fan club, Andrew Geddis detected a ‘tactical error’ (gasp) made by Team Williams. Read on for the twist in the tale…
…it is now apparent that Mr Williams and his legal team made something of a tactical error in their case. By asking the jury for such a high level of damages at the outset, they inadvertantly set themselves up for losing on appeal.
I suspect that they probably never actually expected to win so heavily. Probably their reasoning was something like “if we ask for a really big amount, it’ll make the jury take this matter seriously and we might end up with a decent chunk of money from them (even if not all we ask for)”. Or perhaps the hope was that the sheer size of the claim might cause Mr Craig to cave in and settle the matter in their favour. Or similar.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, the jury took the claimed amounts at face value and went ahead and awarded it in full. Which not only has now resulted in the original win being annulled on appeal, but it also opened the way for a written judgment from Katz J that (in my considered opinion) does not cast Mr Williams in a particularly favourable light.
… I think it is a fair comment, based on my honest opinion after reading the judgment, that Katz J does not view Mr Williams’ conduct in this matter as being particularly noble.
Heh. Funny. See Andrew Geddis’s post at Pundit How to lose when you win.
Like Judge Katz (and probably Andrew Geddis) I also don’t regard Jordan Williams’s conduct as ‘particularly noble’ in this whole business either, for the reasons given here and elsewhere.
But that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Facts are stated to the best of my knowledge and commentary is my honest opinion. Corrections or clarifications are always welcome by email. Comments are open, but may be moderated.
– Best wishes, Peter Aranyi