I’ve been following a current hearing in Auckland’s High Court (Colin Craig vs Cameron Slater) quite closely and share here the takehomes from attending the hearing this morning. I just happened to strike the day when Orewa-based lawyer Madeleine Flannagan took the stand and heard her story of how she was the primary source of the events that led to WhaleOil’s posts and subsequent legal challenges. I found the whole experience interesting to say the least. Enjoy another side of the courtroom stories that journalists have been feeding to the world.
Colin Craig is a deposed and failed politician who narrowly missed securing the 5% threshold with his Conservative Party in New Zealand’s last elections. His departure from the party after founding it has been the subject of bitterness, recriminations and multiple court cases. Central to his demise has been shock-blogger Cameron Slater who it would be fair to say led the charge against him with exposure and allegations. Technically Cam points to his repeating and quoting others but there is little question that he was ‘on the case; in relation to corruption and deception within and relating to the party.
Colin Craig sued Cameron Slater for defamation (libel) and Cameron returned the ‘favour’ with interest, claiming that Colin’s mailout of some 1.6 million booklets to the bulk of New Zealand contained multiple false statements; was intended to mislead the public; was an excessive response and so on.
Some in the media have labeled the whole thing boring – a couple of men having it out in some legal tit-for-tat. Neither man is well liked by the public. Until today, the primary NZHerald journalist appeared to be bored out of his skin listening to the two men slug it out in court. Few others seem to have taken any interest.
I attended today for another reason, it just happened that I had been released from hospital recently and could finally attend. I wanted to see some things relating to Auckland High Court trials in general anyway for some upcoming matters of my own so I took the opportunity to swing by this morning.
The WhaleOil team had left cryptic messages on their posts that things had taken a twist in proceedings on Friday, but I had no prior knowledge of those developments. I walked into court then this morning to hear for the first time that both parties had finally [after previous disagreement and negotiation] agreed that Colin Craig’s family lawyer Madeleine Flannagan had the OK to proceed with her Affidavit as a witness for the Plaintiff, Colin Craig.
She read her affidavit; was then cross-examined and then Cameron Slater too was recalled, spoke and was cross-examined by both Colin Craig and Judge Toogood.
Differences in the stories surfaced and I found myself working through in my own mind who was telling the truth. A judge must identify the facts before he can apply the law – likewise we all had to do this in the courtroom today.
There were two striking things of note today – the first was that Madeleine spoke repeatedly in her affidavit that she made it clear to her friend at the time (Cameron Slater) that she wasn’t dealing with another sexual harassment case. I struggled to understand why she was making a big deal of this at first because I didn’t know the background, but whether it was because she wanted to cover for her actions; or whether it was in her interest to explain this or for more sinister reasons, it came across as a false or at best partial presentation of reality. Her repeating mantra was that she found herself in a difficult position; that only did her best choosing between two friends who were in a conflict situation. That simply wasn’t credible although it may have been partially true.
The other thing that was as obvious as a sore toe was that Cameron was very clearly put out at what he considered his friend’s betrayal. He doesn’t beat about the bush and said this in as many words; more than once. It hurt me to see this because I know both people; Madeleine and Cameron and that they would destroy an 11 year trust over a rich man’s legal battles revolted me. Cameron can be a prickly character, a black and white guy who doesn’t give a lot of latitude when you cross him, and whatever happened and why she did it when Madeleine did what she did to entrap or deceive him she will be living with it for a very long time! It is likely to go down in legal circles like a cup of cold sick – I don’t think you should be attempting to entrap your friends for a rich client’s benefit if you are a lawyer!
In terms of winning or losing the court case, I doubt that Madeleine’s testimony or actions will have influenced the case much. I think Cameron has made his position quite clear that there is no defamation from him and while the grounds for what he said in his blog may have turned out a little shaky and he may have gone a little over the top at times, he looks pretty safe to me at this stage anyway. The judge will also have been forming his opinion as the case has gone along too, and that’s his prerogative to rule as he sees fit.
There is more, a lot more. I watched the Plaintiff in action. Colin had a MacKenzie Friend (a lawyer) sitting beside him and his wife was in court at times, but basically he was on his own, representing himself. He was not incompetent but is no lawyer. It showed. I felt sad for him with what looks to me like an uphill case on his hands.
Helen, his wife became very uncomfortable and couldn’t keep still when she was spoken about. That she despises Cameron Slater is painfully obvious. Cameron ignores fools and prejudices like that. They better get used to each others’ company because the whole bunch of these goons claim that they’re off to the same Heaven when it’s their turn to go!
Assuming that I was a Whale Oil supporter/reader, Spanish Bride bothered to meet and greet. She did well to do this and I hope it helped her when I explained how disappointed I was that Madeleine had apparently betrayed Cameron and how I could tell that her story on the stand didn’t quite gel.
I observed three journalists in court doing their thing – one day I suspect that I too will be up there in the Media Centre, and I noted the other supporters of the Defendant taking their positions in the crowd.
I watched Matthew Flannagan arrive and support his wife while she was on the stand. It is years since I had seen him. People are lucky to have spouses to share their ups and downs with and the Flannagans have had it quite hard for quite a while in the early stages of their family build-up – medical and financial hurdles. It was good to see them having achieved in their careers.
In the End
All other observations set to one side, there is a scripture from Paul who scoffs at Christians going before a secular judge (or system) to have their cases heard. I used to be quite firm, stiff and rigid in this matter, even once letting a recalcitrant ex-employee have her way in an Employment Court once simply because I didn’t want to be seen to fight with her in a secular court of law.
I’m not so rigid now and I can see the sense in using the [legal] systems of our day and age to deal with trouble. Seven years in Samoa has also toughed me up so that if something is wrong, I have less qualms about actually fighting for it now. I note a huge similarity between Cameron and myself, in that we tend to live by principles rather than pragmatism and this is not really valued any more. Sure the population at large will go with the flow but even in Christian circles flexible morals such as what happened with Madeleine Flannagan and the Craigs do indeed influence us. If it takes a reality check such as a court case to snap us into (or out of) a faulty paradigm, then great!
Advice & Encouragement for Cameron
Cam doesn’t take advice well, but I give it nonetheless . . . he has paid a high price for trusting others. He shouldn’t. His blog is his word. In the end he has to take full responsibility for what he writes because that’s just the way things work in the real world.
In court today he said, “I don’t record my friends and I regret that in this case I didn’t. I should have!”
While surely excruciatingly painful, he clearly should have.
Cameron, you CAN’T trust anyone, and certainly not in your business. This doesn’t mean that everyone always lies, to you, it’s just that you cannot trust them NOT to. It’s a subtle but important difference. You have to expect that all could turn on you, and yes that means SB, Pete or others. It’s not that you want this to happen, nor that you expect it, and hopefully it will never but you do have to be ready for it because if or when it does happen, you HAVE to take responsibility for yourself. This is realism Cam, not cynicism.
I conclude with words of encouragement to Cameron Slater summarising my take from watching him in court today:
Cameron, you have and had good grounds for being disillusioned from the betrayal mentioned in court and as mentioned in my words here, but you have what it takes to ride over that and to stand up for what is right. As you tweak and massage your style into something even more constructive in the years ahead, I look forward to watching and supporting you in your quest to speak it like it is. Thank you for the trail-blazing work you have done and are showing to others.