Pacific Media Watch

17 April 2014

NZ: Justice campaigner awarded $535,000 over defamation

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Justice crusader Joe Karam ... Facebook campaign against his integrity was the "worst four years" of his life. Image: Otago Daily Times

Jared Savage

AUCKLAND (New Zealand Herald / Pacific Media Watch): Former New Zealand All Black rugby player and justice campaigner Joe Karam has been awarded NZ$535,000 in a defamation case against two men who launched an "all-out assault" on his reputation because of his support for miscarriage of justice man David Bain, The New Zealand Herald reports.

The online comments by Kent Parker and Victor Purkiss accused Karam of being dishonest in his motivations for helping Bain after he was cleared in 2009 of murdering five members of his family.

Some of the remarks compared him to a Nazi leader, and one used his name to coin a word - "Karamalisation" - to describe how he allegedly misrepresented facts.

Karam said the public campaign against his integrity was the "worst four years" of his life, and Justice Patricia Courtney said she believed the former All Black.

In her ruling, released yesterday, the judge identified about 50 defamatory statements published on Facebook and on a private website by Parker and Purkiss - members of the Justice for Robin Bain group - to which there was no defence.

She ordered Parker to pay damages of $350,500 and Purkiss to pay $184,500.

She further punished the men by awarding indemnity costs against them because they "behaved egregiously" in choosing to use the defence of truth at the trial last October.

Purkiss did not attend it, but Parker admitted under cross-examination by Michael Reed, QC, that he could not prove his claims.

NZ$1 million total
The legal bill could be $500,000 according to Karam, bringing to around $1 million the cost to the defendants. That would make it one of the largest defamation damages and cost awards in New Zealand history.

Karam said if the pair did not pay him, he would take bankruptcy proceedings against them.

Justice Courtney's judgment noted evidence of Karam's "integrity, generosity and altruism".

Karam said the men had made "an all-out assault on me [in] an attempt to show that I'm shonky".

He and Fairfax NZ had earlier agreed to settle defamation claims, on a confidential basis, arising from articles on that drew attention to the websites that contained the defamatory comments by Parker and Purkiss.

At the trial, Reed laid out the case that the comments conveyed that Karam lacked integrity, was dishonest, was motivated to support Bain for financial gain and had defrauded the legal aid system.

One of the posts compared Karam's campaign to free Bain to Nazi propaganda, while another coined a new word to describe Karam's knowledge of the case.

"Karamalisation equals to 'fudge the facts"' was one of the 50 comments which Justice Courtney said was defamatory and without defence.

Positive reputation
In awarding costs (yet to be decided) and damages, the judge said Karam had enjoyed a "positive and significant reputation" before becoming involved in the Bain case, with success in sport and business.

She accepted his evidence of the great distress the comments had caused him and Reed's description of the defamation as a "full-scale assault on Mr Karam's reputation".

"He described the period during which these statements were posted as the worst four years of his life and I believe him," the judge said.

"Few aspects of Mr Karam's reputation were left untouched."

Justice Courtney also ordered that all defamatory messages be removed from the websites.

Purkiss could not be reached for comment yesterday as he now lives in England.

The Herald understands that the defamation case was a factor in the break-up of his marriage.

Parker posted the judgment on his website and said yesterday that he had "learned a lesson" to be more careful in the future.

However, he planned to appeal against the decision and said he could not afford to pay the $350,500 in damages awarded against him.

He believed they were too high for comments posted on a website with a small readership.

Libel lawsuit awards
• Michael Stiassny v Vince Siemer — $825,000 and costs
• Ray Columbus v Truth newspaper — $675,000 and costs
• Terry Quinn v TVNZ — $650,000 and costs
• Joe Karam v Kent Parker and Victor Purkiss — $535,000 plus indemnity costs estimated to be $500,000
• Jung Nam Lee v New Korea Herald — $250,000 and costs

Pacific Media Watch

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