Auckland Council has racked up more than $100,000 on lawyers in an ongoing battle with activist Penny Bright over $33,372 in unpaid rates and penalties.

The council has hired Simpson Grierson senior litigation partner William Akel to fight a defamation claim by Ms Bright against council chief executive Stephen Town.

Ms Bright has filed a claim for damages of $350,000 against Mr Town for comments he made in a media release last year about taking court action to recover unpaid rates on her house in School Rd, Kingsland.

The release said Ms Bright had made "wild and inaccurate accusations" about the council and its probity as the basis for not paying her fair share for the running of the city.


Figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show the council has incurred legal costs of $6416 and "significant" in-house costs to ratepayers for trying to recover Ms Bright's unpaid rates, which are now owing since 2007.

Since the battle widened to the defamation action, brought last year, the council has spent a further $104,349 on external lawyers, including Mr Akel.

Yesterday, Ms Bright said it was outrageous for the council to spend $104,349 on lawyers when she had offered to settle the matter if she received a retraction, apology and damages of $10,000.

In a letter to Mr Town on October 16 last year, she said: "My reputation ... is everything to me."

In a response at the time, Mr Town said he firmly believed his views were fair and genuine and saw "no reason to retract or publicly apologise or pay $10,000 as demanded by you".

Ms Bright has refused to pay her rates until she knows where the council spends its money - particularly on private contractors - and acts in a democratic manner.

"No-one else is holding them accountable and I'm not backing down," she said yesterday.

Her case for unpaid rates is due back in the Auckland District Court on October 7.

Mr Town chose not to comment on the defamation action and cost to ratepayers.

In a statement last night, a council spokeswoman said defamation was a specialist area of the law which was why Simpson Grierson, of which Mr Akel is a partner, was instructed.

She said the $104,000 figure was the costs to date and council did not have an estimate of the final cost.

Ms Bright, a former boilermaker turned "anti-corruption whistle blower", is unschooled in the intricacies of law, but won 21 of the 22 trespass cases brought against her by the former Auckland City Council.

Last month, Charlotte Hareta Marsh lost her Manurewa home in a court-ordered sale after failing to pay rates since August 2006. She has refused to recognise the authority of Auckland Council and claims to have paid her rates instead to the "rightful land owner", Arikinui o Tuhoe.

It is the first forced sale Auckland Council has taken under the Local Government (Ratings) Act, though it has five other properties in its sights with significant rates arrears.

Last night Ms Marsh said the settlement date for the new owner to take possession had come and gone, but she was refusing to budge.

"I'm not going anywhere."

In a media statement issued today, the council said it has applied to have Penny Bright's defamation proceedings struck out, with the matter to be heard by the High Court at a hearing on 5 November.

The statement said that Ms Bright has refused repeated offers from council to resolve the outstanding rates, in a manner which would avoid her incurring financial hardship or the sale of her house.

Finance general manager Kevin Ramsay said: "Auckland Council did not initiate these defamation proceedings but clearly we need to respond to the claims Ms Bright has made. As we have said previously, we believe the views expressed about Ms Bright were fair and accurate, and we completely reject the accusations she has made."

"We have given Ms Bright every opportunity to resolve her outstanding rates bill in a way that would avoid financial hardship, including the option of deferment. That option remains open to her."

"Ms Bright's offer to settle the defamation case with an apology and a payment to her of $10,000 was unacceptable from our perspective. It is open to Ms Bright to stop the court action at any time without further unnecessary costs to ratepayers."

The statement said the courts have discretion, but routinely award costs to successful parties. "Costs will be sought if the application succeeds."

Auckland Council v Penny Bright


Bright refuses to pay rates until she knows where her money is going.

October 2014: Council issues media release about court action to recover unpaid rates on Bright's Kingsland home.

Late 2014: Bright begins defamation action against Town over comments in media release. Offers to settle case if she receives an apology, retraction and $10,000 in damages.

November 2014: Town says his comments were genuine and declines settlement offer.

September 2015: Council reveals spending of $104,349 on lawyers in the defamation case and $6416 on costs related to unpaid rates.