Litigation risk – lawsuits can be a very expensive version of ‘Snakes and Ladders’

Record defamation damages winner (oops, then loser) Jordan Williams has announced he’s going to appeal the ruling striking out the damages bonanza a jury awarded him last year.

As we saw previously (See: ‘About that Jordan Williams damages award…‘), the judge presiding over the defamation action Williams took against Colin Craig struck out the jury’s verdict and the ‘record’ $1.27m damages award made to Williams. That had to hurt.

Judge Sarah Katz issued a carefully reasoned 39-page judgement – available in the footnotes here. (Given the high stakes, no doubt it was written anticipating an appeal.) In her ruling, Judge Katz faulted the jury’s reasoning, its application of guidance from the court, and its understanding/ability to calculate damages.

She described the jury decision to award Jordan Williams 50% more in damages than the Commonwealth’s worst defamation case as a ‘miscarriage of justice’ – warranting a retrial. She also dismantled brick by brick the arguments Williams’s lawyers put up in submissions to try to justify the ‘excessive’ damages award as somehow ‘within the available range’. (See my last post for Andrew Geddis’s analysis of a ‘tactical error’ he thinks Peter McKnight made.)


The decision by Team Williams to appeal her ruling wasn’t really a surprise.

Another option offered – that the two parties (Colin Craig and Williams) should accept the jury finding of defamation(!) and agree to let Judge Katz set a more realistic damages figure – was a non-starter. Why would Craig agree to that?

For his part, Colin Craig told Radio NZ he was relieved at the miscarriage of justice finding, describing the judge’s ruling as “bang on”. (Well he would, wouldn’t he?) “The only correct course coming out of that trial last year was to in fact rule it as a mistrial. The law has been properly exercised in this particular case.”

Craig also said he would not be agreeing to any new damages. “The fact of that matter is Mr Williams simply hasn’t made his case against me yet. He is entitled to take this matter back to court. If he does I will defend myself.”

So, given the choice, Craig opted for retrial … which left Williams with few palatable options. Thus:

Patient Zero Jordan Williams (right) with character witness (pic: @jordnz)

Press Release: Jordan Williams
Friday, 28 April 2017, 4:40 pm

Lawyers for Jordan Williams are appealing the judgment setting aside last year’s jury verdict in the Williams v Craig defamation proceedings.

Mr Williams says, “Colin Craig argued that the jury’s damages award was too high. The judge agreed but the High Court is only able to reset the damages if both parties agree.”
“Last week Colin Craig’s lawyers told Justice Katz that Colin Craig was not willing to have her determine the damages; they want a full retrial.”

“I don’t want Rachel MacGregor or my mother or any other of my witnesses to have to go through it all again. The jury made clear findings. At every stage Mr Craig has wanted to stretch things out. We have no assurance he would not appeal after a new trial. So an appeal now could get to the key issues directly. It is the best way forward.”

You might say it’s sweet and humanising that in his Friday afternoon press release Jordan Williams cited his concern for Ms MacGregor (whom the evidence at court showed he repeatedly deceived, betrayed and lied to, as Judge Katz’s judgement related) and also concern for Williams’s mum – not wanting them “or any other of my witnesses to have to go through it all again”. (Note: ‘my witnesses’.)

I’m sure that trial was gruelling on everybody involved.

Call me a cynic if you like (I’ve been called worse, etc etc) but I also wonder, given the revelations at the trial, and Judge Katz’s ghastly catalogue of the ways Jordan Williams himself repeatedly strayed from the path of righteousness, if some of those decent, god-fearing folk called to testify about Jordan’s character might not be quite so… fulsome a second time around.

I’m thinking of Christine Rankin and Ruth Money in particular. Boy, I bet they feel like fools for believing his exaggerations, embellishments and ‘untrue statements’. Given the passage of time, I also wonder how Ms MacGregor herself might now describe the actions of this (let’s face it) untrustworthy person.

Pushing back

Look, nobody’s going to jail over this. The actions of this rubbery cast of characters might be scurrilous but I don’t think they’re criminal.

This case is of interest to me because at its heart, there’s an issue of someone pushing back against the cynical, systematic dirty PR smear machine which Slater runs for his puppet masters and which trades in ‘the politics of personal destruction’.

Those nasty boys have been unrestrained for way too long – scheming, bullying and smearing people (in some cases, it appears, for commercial gain). Nicky Hager’s important book Dirty Politics lifted the lid on some of the subterranean and sleazy actions being carried out by a gang of internet thugs. If you haven’t yet, read that book. Seriously.

It’s been hard for their ‘targets’ to push back.

Businessman Matt Blomfield has been giving it a fair crack with Slater Jnr for years with a defamation action, but he’s an exception.

In court, but as a defendant this time: Slater Jnr’s [alleged] paymaster and ghostwriter, dirty PR bloke Carrick Graham. Who is he working for? (click)

Health researchers Doug Sellman, Boyd Swinburn and Shane Bradbrook, likewise, are going for it having launched a defamation lawsuit against Slater Jnr, Carrick Graham, and Graham’s dirty PR company for a campaign of ‘hits’ published on Slater’s attack blog. They hadn’t been aware of Carrick Graham’s role until they read Hager’s Dirty Politics.  That trial is coming up.

Last year, over their objections, Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council Incorporated were joined to the Slater/Graham case as Fourth and Fifth Defendants. (Archive copy of the Court ruling on that aspect here.)

There’s also another very slow-moving case that I know about – a police prosecution shrouded in suppression orders – involving another bunch of abusive half-wit internet trolls.

Slater Jnr, as I have noted before, suffers from a terrible case of can-dish-it-out-but-just-can’t-take-it-itis.

Reading back on my thoughts when Colin Craig started giving these arseholes a bit of their own medicine with his booklet in July-August 2015 Is Colin Craig ‘defaming’ Cameron Slater and his commercial attack website? I said this:

Jordan Williams in the Luigi Wewege ‘love rat’ role I found very easy to believe, possibly because of my previously expressed (negative) estimation of that low-rent young man’s morals and attitudes towards women. An “attack dossier” shown to people at secret private meetings accusing Colin Craig of sexual harassment sounds right up Jordan’s alley, if you’ll pardon the expression. But it might all be a misunderstanding, eh?

Still, reading Judge Katz’s devastating ruling and what it says about the actions of Jordan Williams, including his broken confidentiality undertakings to Ms MacGregor and her lawyer, one has to wonder what the effect of these revelations might be on own his standing as a legal professional.
I guessed Williams still maintains a Law Society practising certificate, and when I checked at the Law Society website just now, it seems his certificate routinely expires at the end of June. (Snapshot here.) Are they renewed automatically? I don’t know. But surely, with lawyers there’s got to be some kind of ‘fit and proper person’ requirement – doesn’t there? Does anyone know?

It would be deeply, deeply ironic if Jordan Williams’s role in Cameron Slater’s grubby decapitation attack on Colin Craig ended up backfiring on him professionally.

Wouldn’t it?

– P

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

Archive copy of Defamation_proceedings_against_Graham, Slater_June2016.pdf