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NSW ex-mayor's $100,000 defamation damages

AAP logoAAP 15/10/2018 Margaret Scheikowski

The latest round of corporate cuts would see the rate cut from 30 to 25 percent for companies with a turnover of more than $50 million by 2026. © AAP Image The latest round of corporate cuts would see the rate cut from 30 to 25 percent for companies with a turnover of more than $50 million by 2026. A former NSW mayor who was repeatedly defamed on a Facebook page, including by unjustifiably being compared with disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, has been awarded more than $100,000 in damages.

Ex-mayor of the Narrabri Shire Council Conrad Bolton sued ratepayer activist and former town clerk Stephen Stoltenberg, who operated the public page known as Narri Leaks.

Mr Bolton contended he was portrayed as corrupt, dishonest and intimidatory in posts published in 2015, while a 2016 post published after he began his lawsuit made him out to be a bully and sleaze.

In the NSW Supreme Court on Monday, Justice Anthony Payne ordered Mr Stoltenberg to pay the ex-mayor $100,000 in damages as well as interest and legal costs, while he ordered current Narrabri councillor Ann Loder - who was associated with the page - to pay him $10,000 damages.

"Mr Bolton has had a long and distinguished history of service in the Narrabri Shire," the judge said in finding the "impressive witness" had been defamed and suffered hurt to feelings and damage to reputation.

He referred to Mr Stoltenberg's "hectoring approach" and the tone of the Facebook page as "bullying and high-handed".

Mr Stoltenberg had abandoned the defences of truth, honest opinion and fair report, but argued the meanings which Mr Bolton said were conveyed by the publications were "pitched too high".

After the defamation action began, Mr Stoltenberg published posts referring to the lawsuit and compared Mr Bolton and his behaviour to "that alleged by various other media outlets against Mr Don Burke, Mr Craig McLachlan and Mr Harvey Weinstein", the judge said.

"These posts were improper and unjustifiable," he said, in including $20,000 aggravated damages in the total award.

"They were part of a campaign against Mr Bolton, properly described as bullying or hectoring Mr Bolton by comparing him to public figures who had been accused of serious sexual misconduct and taunting him that such allegations would be aired by Mr Stoltenberg in this case."

The judge noted that before 2013, Mr Bolton and Mr Stoltenberg had a professional relationship but they fell out over the appointment of a woman to the role of council general manager.

Mr Stoltenberg had emailed Mr Bolton saying: "you have made a grave mistake"; "you have been around too many strong chemicals in the spraying game" and even if she was reasonable "only a truly experienced BLOKE" could fix the "s***fight" left by the previous manager.

The judge has permanently restrained Mr Stoltenberg from publishing any of a string of defamatory allegations made against Mr Bolton.

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