Tuesday 31 August 2010

Is Cairns Council paying for Blake's defamation case?

Cairns Regional Council's CEO has suspended any legal support for Councillor Blake in the defamation case against CairnsBlog, pended "legal consideration."

Following an email to Councillors last Friday, CEO Lyn Russell said the matter is in the hands of the court, and it is important that councillors make no comment on the substance of the matter.

When questioned if Council was paying for Blake's legal defence, Lyn Russell's answer on Friday was inconclusive, telling councillors that if they were asked, they should refer that matter to the CEO. This follows discussion about indemnifying councillors and staff in March this year, when CEO was vested with the power to decide when Council should fund legal action.

"You will recall that Council delegated this power to the CEO in a resolution on 17th March 2010," Lyn Russell wrote. "If asked this question directly, we suggest that you advise this position how we spend ... resources to indemnify councillors or staff and the cost of legal maters has been delegated to the CEO as an operational matter," Lyn Russell said on Friday.

As the CEO's statement implied that Cairns Regional Council may be paying for the legal expenses of Alan Blake, I put the question Ms Russell. Here is her reply:
  • FROM Lyn Russell
    Michael Moore, CairnsBlog.net
    Val Schier, Sarah Philpott
    DATE 31 August 2010 @ 12:35
    RE: Council legal fees - Councillor Blake defamation action

    Hello Michael,

    Thanks for your enquiry.

    This issue is currently under legal consideration, so unfortunately I'm unable to respond to your queries at this stage.


    Lyn Russell PSM FAIM FLGMA Chief Executive Officer
    Executive Cairns Regional Council
    t: 07 4044 3017 m: 0417717601 w: cairns.qld.gov.au
    Mail: PO Box 359, Cairns Qld 4870 Office: 119-145 Spence Street, Cairns

It's probable that Council have already paid for Blake's initial expenses, including preparing the Statement of Claim with FNQ Legal, which spanned eight pages. This could have cost as much as $2,000.

In a July 2009, a ruling from the then Acting CEO, Peter Tabulo [see right], it was determined that Blake's actions in contacting my employer and threatening them to 'deal with me' (which I outlined in a posting August 2009), which is at the centre of this defamation case, was a "personal matter."

"The actions of Cr Blake were not directly or indirectly in relation to a Council matter and as such is deemed to be a personal matter," Peter Tabulo said last July. "I have however reminded Cr Blake about his ethical and behavioural obligations pursuant to the Code [of Conduct]."

With this 'ruling' in mind, one that I questioned at the time, it would make any financial support from Council questionable.

The spirit of the discussion to indemnify councillors and staff in March, will certainly be under careful scrutiny now. Most ordinary meaning of that decision, is when a case is taken against a councillor or staff, not the other way around. It will set a dangerous precedent if councillors know there's a honey pot of money to dig into when they want to fire of legal threats to all in sundry willy nilly.

Like most ratepayers, I am concerned about the incidence of a defamation action, especially when it's bought about by a politician against a private citizen. This of course has the grave potential for the diminution of free speech and democracy.

If Council pays legal support for Councillor Blake, which could amount to thousands of dollars, it is a matter of fundamental public interest. There is of course a degree of irony in all this. A citizen, and a ratepayer at that, speaks out about a local politician, then the politician uses public rates to stop people from talking about them in the first place.

I ask those that want a free local media like CairnsBlog, to assist by way of donation to the Fighting Fund. You can do this by either emailing me, or using the PayPal 'donate' button on the right-hand side. It's likely that my 2010 Council community grants for blogging won't be approved.


Jude Johnston said...

My understanding is to indemnify the councillors against action taken by the public/ratepayers for damage to property and or themselves through council decisions they voted on.
eg residents who live downstream of Glencorp Units in Clfton Road who might be subject to flooding after the developer of Glencorp was allowed to strip the creek of all vegetation and dig the creek out.
From all accounts, the action taken against Mike is a personal one by Mr Blake and not an action taken by Councillor Blake on behalf of the Cairns Regional Council.
If Mr Blake is allowed access to council funded legal aid for a private claim then I am sure that there will be many like myself who will make sure the current councillors will not be in office at the next election.

kate said...

Well, yeah sure. We can always vote them out next time.

But can we stop this - if indeed they do plan to expend public funds on Blake's case.

Is there some kind of legal precedent to prevent such expenditure? Any lawyers out there??? If so, pls help...

Clifton Ratbags Rule said...

Love ya', Jude, but a lawyer you ain't. If the CairnsBlog has merely published items unrelated to a councilor's private life, council legal support would be unjustified. But when Moore has used the blog to attack councilors in the public duties, council financial support is required. What private citizen would do any public service if they can be attacked and slandered as a result of their public service?

Noj Nedlaw said...

The CEO's lack of a definitive response (yea or nay) only leads Cairns ratepayers to suspect that CRC is indeed helping out Blake.

The prior determination that the employer harassment was a personal matter is the correct precedent to follow.

Lyn, and I am sure that you will read this, grow some gumption and answer Mike's question. The Cairns ratepayers deserve to know.

Alison Alloway said...

Jude, you are right. I have been wondering what type of precedent this will set if it is granted. Let's see.....
A Councillor is approved ratepayers funds to launch legal action against a community member for "defamation". However that same Councillor has himself committed defamation against the Mayor of his Council. Wouldn't it be logical therefore to expect that the Mayor could also ask and be approved funds to launch legal action against that Councillor?

What's that saying? Oh, what a tangled web we weave....

Bryan Law said...

CEO Lyn Russell has admitted she is considering using ratepayers money to support Alan Blake’s defamation suit, because she is taking legal advice on doing so.

I am unspeakably angry that my money could be used in this way. It must not happen.

I think Alan Blake is a despicable cad for being shameless enough to even request public money for his private business. I think that Councillor Blake must completely repudiate the use of public money in his defamation – or he must resign as a Cairns Regional Councillor immediately. In fact, you should drop the suit altogether.

If you don’t do that Alan, then not only are you a despicable cad, you are a coward, a bully, and generally lower than a dead Dingo’s donger. Alpha male, but still a Gorilla, not a gentleman.

As for what to do about this, I’m not waiting for any election. I’m writing to the CEO, the Mayor, and all the CRC Councillors demanding they ensure that NO rate-payers money will be used in Alan Blake’s defamation suit.

If they fail to do that then I challenge their continuing legitimacy to govern, and I reckon a good sized delegation of citizens for free speech and government accountability ought show up to one of their meetings and take up a conversation with them about these things.

Any takers?

Harringtons, Edmonton said...

Why is Mayor Val so bloody quiet on all this???

Spineless one-term wonder she turned out to be....

Tom said...

If CRC are funding this action and Blake were succesful in his claim, shouldn't any damages awarded be retained by CRC?

kate said...

Excellent point, Tom!! Though small comfort for MM.

Alison Alloway said...

It would stand to reason Tom. So if Val then decides to launch legal action against the administrators of the facebook site, "Val Schier is a Crap Mayor" and some of the posters there who have made comments such as "Val is a drunk", then the CRC logically should also fund her legal expenses.
I'm also wondering if all of this will result in the internet filter being brought in? It could have far reaching ramifications.

Bryan Outlaw said...

I split a gut laughing at Bryan Law's thinly-veiled threat to attend a council meeting to disrupt it.

Bryan will be the guy holding the ladder.

What a dickhead!

Dutchie said...

Love the analogy Alison!

Jude Johnston said...

Hey Clifton Ratbag, have never professed to be a lawyer, just a humble ratepayer who gets incensed that a person who has taken public office would expect the legal tab to be picked up for private action taken against another private indvidual. Having read the recommendation, it still reads to me that it is intended to protect the employees and councillors who do their duty "in good faith". There is the discretion for the CEO to look at requests for legal aid, but more over whether the councillor is being sued for defamation not the other way.