Labour leader Andrew Little's lawyer has urged the jury in the defamation case against him to put aside any sympathy for the ailing hotelier Earl Hagaman when deciding on any award of damages.
Little's lawyer John Tizard delivered his closing statement in the trial, saying he did not believe Little's comments were defamatory but if the jury decided otherwise, they should be "reasonable" when setting damages.
He said the jury may feel some sympathy for Hagaman and his wife Lani Hagaman because Mr Hagaman had only weeks to live and Mrs Hagaman was spending time at the trial.
Tizard said it was not a pleasant for Little to have to defend the claim in such an "uncomfortable situation". However, he said the jury should not base any award on sympathy.
He argued Mr Hagaman's honour would have been restored through Little's apology and the trial coverage.
In response, the Hagamans' lawyer Richard Fowler said the jury were entitled to consider Mr Hagaman's condition. He said Mr Hagaman had led a long and successful life and was a generous philanthropist who benefited many.
"Now as he is about to leave this world, this horrible thing has happened to him. This is hanging over his head while he is literally in the departure lounge."
Tizard also argued that Little could plead a defence of "qualified privilege" on the grounds it was Little's "moral duty" to hold the Government to account as Leader of the Opposition.
Tizard said he did not believe there was a defamation, arguing no inference or claim of actual corruption in the words Little was being sued on - they simply questioned whether there might be and called for it to be investigated.
He said if there was, Little had a responsibility to respond to an issue he believed was in the public interest so should be protected by qualified privilege - a weaker version of the absolute privilege that protects MPs for claims they make in Parliament's debating chamber. "I suggest to you he had a duty to respond." He said there was no ill-will toward the Hagamans in Little's actions.
Fowler disputed whether Little should get the protection of qualified privilege, saying it had to be exercised very carefully and Little had not done so.
"Mr Little spoke of his duty to hold the Government to account with all the fearlessness and nobility that you can characterise around that.
The Hagamans aren't challenging that. But that's not what this case is about. It does not entitle you to defame innocent people."
He described Little's comments questioning whether there was a link between the donation and hotel contract as "cavalier" and the language carried inferences of corruption and bribery.
Tizard also urged the jury to be reasonable in setting damages if they did decide Little had defamed the Hagamans, reminding them Little had said he would prefer to cover it personally rather than use public funds.
The Hagamans have claimed a total of $1.15 million in damages each and Tizard said any damages for Mrs Hagaman should be substantially less than Mr Hagaman because Little had not referred to her in the comments they claimed were defamatory.
Tizard said Little was not motivated by ill-will toward the Hagamans - his main target was the Government and Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
However, Fowler described Little's conduct as "unfair, cruel and cynical" - saying he had gone onto the attack with "negligible research" and used inflammatory language.
Fowler also disputed Tizard's claim Little had no ill-will toward the Hagamans.
He said Little had described Mr Hagaman as holding "right wing views" and he was a National Party donor.
"There is more than a whiff in the evidence of Mr Little going about what he was doing on the basis he didn't particularly care because, of course, the person at the other end of this corruption continuum, if you like, was in fact a National Party donor, not a Labour Party donor or Green Party donor," Fowler said.
He said it was not about humiliating Mr Little, but "vindicating the Hagamans."
The trial will continue tomorrow when the judge will sum up the case for the jury before it deliberates.