It was written in capital letters 2m tall on the eggshell-blue walls of courtroom 14 at the High Court of Auckland on Monday. It was everywhere you looked. It was spread along the smooth length of the press bench. It was outside the window, fluttering like the autumn leaves on Parliament Street. It was in the eyes of Justice Kit Toogood. It burned in his eyes like jets of flame. It read: WTF.
The long version read: WTF just happened? Even in a trial as strange and unlikely as the Colin Craig vs Cameron Slater defamation trial, which has dragged its sorry carcass around courtroom 14 this past fortnight, the events on Monday morning were dumbfounding. They were novel. They were crazy AF.
The name Madeleine Flanagan occupied much legal argument on Friday. Craig wanted to call her as his witness; Brian Henry, Slater's lawyer, opposed it. Justice Toogood heard the arguments and ruled in Craig's favour. And so it was that she took the stand on Monday, and told a tale that may just be examined and dissected in law schools for many years to come.
She told the court that she was engaged in 2014 as the family lawyer for Craig and his wife Helen. They were looking to adopt a child. Things became complicated when Craig's former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, accused him of sexual harassment. Worse, rumours started surfacing that Slater had possession of a dossier which contained even more damaging information about Craig.
And this is where it gets curious, most strange, etc.
She told her clients that she just happened to be a friend of Slater. Good old Cam! Known him forever. Eleven years, to be precise.
As she blithely said to the court: "I considered I knew Cameron well enough to call him."
She phoned - an approach endorsed by Craig - and asked for the contents of the dossier on behalf of a client. And this is where it gets . . . more curious. "He assumed my client was another victim of sexual harassment. I tried to dissuade him from that idea. I had to pitch my words quite carefully."
The words she pitched collapsed like a tent in a gale. Slater, she said, told her that he had "reasonable grounds" to believe she was, in fact, acting for "another victim".
Flanagan described how her call had quickly led to an ethical minefield. The last thing she intended was to deceive a friend. She said, "I felt quite torn." She began to weep. The registrar fetched a box of tissues. She pulled herself together, repeated that at no point did she tell Slater that she was acting for "another victim", and then she said: "I was telling Cameron the truth." Was that a laugh in the public gallery?
But a serious point was being raised: the possibility that Slater's published references to Craig's "other victims" stemmed from this crazy misunderstanding. In other words, that his accusation was garbage. That there wasn't anything in it. That he had gone off half-cocked.
Slater was called back to the stand to discuss Flanagan's evidence. Craig, in cross-examination, was patient and effective, but not as brilliant as Justice Toogood, who kept Slater on the stand for an hour. It was a dazzling display of a first-rate legal mind.
The trial continued rather self-consciously after Flanagan's bizarre revelations. Rachel MacGregor appeared on the stand to begin her evidence, and was asked to please be seated. But there was no seat. The court had reasonable grounds to assume it had disappeared.
"I can stand," she said.
"No, no," said the registrar, and sprang to his feet, in search of a chair.
"It's important that you be comfortable," said Toogood.
The dignity of the court had to be maintained. Normal service absolutely had to be resumed.