Business Editor for the NZ Herald

Double-booked top lawyer won't stop defamation lawsuit

Trends chairman David Johnson (l) and his son Andrew Johnson at Trends Publishing in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
Trends chairman David Johnson (l) and his son Andrew Johnson at Trends Publishing in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

A top lawyer being double-booked isn't enough for Callaghan Innovation to put off a defamation and breach of contract lawsuit brought against it by Trends Publishing International.

Trends' claim is one part of a High Court stoush involving the Auckland-based magazine publisher and the Government agency that supports science and technology businesses.

It also follows Callaghan publicly announcing in 2014 that it had cancelled Trend's $383,000 taxpayer-funded research grant and that it had referred the matter to the Serious Fraud Office.

The other side to the High Court dispute concerns five of Trends' creditors — Accident Compensation Corporation, AdviceWise, Callaghan Innovation, MediaWorks Radio, and Webstar — applying to unwind a compromise reached last May.

The group of creditors are collectively owed $450,000 and last December successfully applied to have the unwinding action and Trends' claim heard separately.

Trends' claim for defamation and breach of contract is due to go ahead in November and take 10 days.

Earlier this month, Callaghan tried to adjourn the hearing because senior lawyer, Queen's Counsel Daniel McLellan, is not available at that time because of a trial in the Cook Islands.

Justice Paul Heath, in a recent decision, did not think this was enough to justify putting the hearing off.

The right of a litigant to go to trial with their lawyer of choice must be balanced with other considerations, he said.

Trends' lawyer Kalev Crossland said the value of his client's business had been adversely affected by Callaghan's statements.

"While that contention is disputed, the possibility of additional financial harm caused by delay is a relevant consideration on an application of this type," Justice Heath said.

"As the trial is not due to commence until 21 November 2016, there is ample time for alternative counsel to be instructed. I am not persuaded that, in the circumstances of this case, Callaghan's presumptive right to counsel choice should override the desirability of a prompt decision...," the judge said.

Trends chairman David Johnson castigated Callaghan in 2014 when it released the allegedly defamatory press release.

Johnson "absolutely" denied Callaghan's allegations and said Trends met the criteria for its grant.

- BusinessDesk

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