Black robes, white lies

Okay, Justice Hammond ruled in yesterday’s record $920,000 Court of Appeal ruling against kiwisfirst publisher Vince Siemer, “We have not had our attention drawn to any worse case of defamation in the British Commonwealth, and our own researches have not disclosed one.”

The judge who wrote New Zealand’s handbook on judicial conflict of interest would know. Hammond, after all, was the trial judge in 2001 who appointed Michael Stiassny, the alleged victim, receiver of the debt-free company with $175,000 cash at the centre of the case, and to whom Stiassny reported – “We had begun disbursing monies to unsecured creditors on the basis of our understanding that funds would be provided by shareholders to support ongoing trading costs as provided in our cashflow forecasts. We now have no such assurance and accordingly no further funds will be released to pre-receivership creditors”.

Judge Hammond had been formally requested to disqualify himself in Stiassny’s lawsuit against Siemer. When Hammond refused, Siemer took the refusal to the Supreme Court. Mr & Mrs Siemer both provided affidavits to the court swearing Stiassny bragged about Judge Hammond being his good friend and the Judge was a material witness to Stiassny’s alleged accounting misrepresentations. In response, His Honour provided a statement to the Supreme Court claiming he had no conflict because his previous involvement was before Stiassny became involved. When evidence was provided to the Supreme Court showing His Honour had lied – he not only appointed Stiassny but had dealt with Stiassny in the case over seven months – the Supreme Court issued this Minute. Any lawyer will tell you the most likely reason the Supreme Court would issue a Minute rather than the appropriate ‘judgment’ was to keep evidence of Judge Hammond’s material deceit out of the official record. Proving justice is blind, the judges on New Zealand’s highest court publicly stood by their orginal ‘judgment’ that “bias, actual or apparent, could never have been responsibly alleged”.

Same with the Stiassny defamation claim. Astute observers would have noticed the Court of Appeal earlier prohibited appeal against the defamation judgment, allowing challenge to only the quantum of the award. Why did it limit the statutory right of appeal? Could it be there is something the court is hiding?

The lynchpin in the defamation claim had always been whether Siemer was lying about the most powerful insolvency practitioner and employer of judges in New Zealand falsely labeling a solvent company insolvent. Understandable. If evidence existed that Stiassny wantonly labeled a solvent company insolvent, his professional reputation would be justifiably hammered. So forget about what Siemer says. The honourable Court of Appeal has declared Siemer is maliciously telling falsehoods and Stiassny is the poor victim – after preventing challenge of the defamation finding which was the product of a closed hearing where only Stiassny, his lawyers and the High Court judge met. That is right: the ‘trial’ itself was ex-parte. Rather, look at the two separate handwritten file notes of Stiassny’s lawyer Robert Fardell QC six months into that receivership (note that “Ferriers” refers to Stiassny’s insolvency company Ferrier Hodgson).

Long before his judgment yesterday, Justice Hammond was the subject of a Judicial Conduct Commissioner complaint over his alleged conflict of interest in this case. Now that Hammond has replaced Geoffrey Palmer as President of the Law Commission, expect the JCC, who has been sitting on the complaint for two years, to claim lack of jurisdiction. As any law-abiding citizen, Siemer has nowhere else but the Courts to turn for redress.

Such is justice in the New Zealand Courts. Anyone who believes this is an unusual situtation can be forgiven for not knowing how the courts routinely and secretly operate here. Perhaps it takes the “worst case of defamation in the British Commonwealth” to open the public’s eyes.