Kapiti Mayor Faces Court Case

Guru being sued for defamation over Waikanae hedge row

By the Editor, Alan Tristram

The Mayor of Kapiti, K Gurunathan is facing a major trial over remarks he made allegedly defaming a well-known Waikanae couple, Vince and Raechel Osborne, over their macrocarpa hedge.

The hedge in Te Moana Road, Waikanae before trimming

 

 

KIN understands he is being sued for more than $50,000, and costs — as well as a full apology — for allegations he made in print and on the radio.

It’s the first time in living memory that a Kapiti Mayor has faced  Court action over such a community dispute.

The case has arisen over a long-standing dispute related to an historic hedge on the Osborne’s property, fronting onto Te Moana Road in Waikanae.

Some residents in the neighborhood claimed the hedge was overgrown and presented safety issues.

The Osborne’s argued that their hedge was a family treasure, and they wanted to retain it; but they also carried out trimming work to lessen the alleged safety problems along the road (which does not have a footpath at this point). Later, the Kapiti Coast District Council conducted its own trimming operations.

Opportunity to publicly apologise

View of the controversial hedge before trimming work.

KiIN understands that the Mayor was given an opportunity to issue a detailed written public apology by the Osborne’s lawyer, but declined.

Again, we understand that Mr Gurunathan’s lawyer came up with a form of apology to try to settle the issue, but this was obviously not satisfactory to the other side.

Allegations in variety of media

The first comments about the Osbornes or their supporters were first made in the Kapiti News in March last year.

The second occasion was a publication in Fairfax’s electronic media site Stuff on June 3.

The third occasion was in an interview with Mayor Gurunathan on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint on June 13, 2017.

Steven Price at graduation ceremony

Top defamation lawyer takes case for the Osbornes

The Osbornes, who are both well-known and respected members of the community, have retained a leading defamation expert, barrister Steven Price, to handle their case.

One source KIN spoke to said few or no Wellington lawyers were keen to front up to him in Court.

And, in  fact, Mr Gurunathan is reportedly being represented by an Auckland firm.

The Kapiti Independent approached the Mayor for comment. He replied by email: “.. am in New Delhi at Govt. of India conference. Back Friday. Meanwhile have asked staff to look into your questions given the legal issues.”

The case continues…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be sending an OIA to ask council to report how much they have spent on the salary of their in-house lawyer (a CEO appointment to group manager level staffing – never needed in last fifty years) How much was paid to Simpson grierson. How much was paid for any legal disbursements and any other legal costs that have been hidden from the public

To be absolutely clear, can KCDC advise whether the insurance protection they carry covers councillors and staff against defamation claims made against them, regardless of whether they are made by councillors or staff in their private capacities?

One may recall the debacle over Councillor Elliott’s alleged (mis) conduct, instigated by ex-Councillor Murray Bell. I recall at the time asking Bell whether KCDC were providing him with legal advice to which he declined to comment.

So my challenge to the Mayor, in light of his professed ‘Open and Transparent’ election promises, tell us whether you are funding your own defence, or whether the Council’s insurance is paying and so indirectly the ratepayer, or directly in staff time responding.

I live in the faint forlorn hope the Mayor will apologise to the Osbournes. It’s really not that difficult to say sorry for any offense caused. It would certainly put a stop to any long drawn out and costly process for all. It might also add to the Mayor’s mana to do so.

On frequent passing of ‘THE HEDGE’ I fail to understand what the cutting back achieved; certainly not a footpath. It confirms my view of the way KCDC operates: Compliance by Complaint.

“Mr Gurunathan is reportedly being represented by an Auckland firm.” Is that Simspon Grierson to whom a very considerable amount of Kapiti ratepayers money was paid during the Dougherty years?
I echo John Le Harivel’s comment completely.

Can we be reassured ratepayers are not paying for the Mayor’s defense costs and that KCDC staff time and resources are not involved in any way?