Little will be a happy man having evaded damages in Hagaman trial

NZN VIDEO

Lani Hagaman speaking outside Wellington High Court after Labour leader Andrew Little was partly cleared of defamation.

OPINION: Labour leader Andrew Little will heave a sigh of relief after an inconclusive defamation trial wound up on Monday.

He is not completely out of the woods yet, because another trial could yet be held.

But for now, Little's political capital is intact and his personal wealth is not facing a potentially wallet-emptying damages order against him.

Labour leader Andrew Little takes the stand at the High Court in his defamation trial.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Labour leader Andrew Little takes the stand at the High Court in his defamation trial.

READ MORE: Jury retires in Andrew Little defamation trial

A jury on Monday was unable to reach a decision on most of the defamation claims lodged against Little by hotelier Earl Hagaman, and did not reach a decision on damages for any of them although another trial is possible. The jury threw out claims of defamation against Little by Hagaman's wife Lani.

There is no doubt that if there had been a major settlement against him it would have been a major political as well as financial liability for Little.

Having offered $100,000 to settle the case before it came to trial - and faced with a claim  for $2.3 million - Little will still have a large lawyer's bill. But he had said he would pay any damages personally, and would have needed a mortgage over his Island Bay house to cover even the $100,000.

An award of $2.3m would cripple most people, and Little is not a wealthy man - though it is possible donors would have come forward to help if he had faced a huge bill. He on Monday confirmed he did not have that much cash, or access to it, and would have been "busking on Lambton Quay" by now if damages that large had been granted against him.

But the jury did not get to the point of deciding on damages even where they found one of his comments was defamatory. That decision was effectively stalemated because they could not decide whether he had over-stepped the mark or was covered by the "qualified privilege" of an opposition leader's right to speaking out.in the public interest.

It did decide that Lani Hagaman was not defamed by Little's comments wrongly linking a contract to manage a Niue hotel with Earl Hagaman's $101,000 donation to the National Party.

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In itself that has already sliced the original amount sought by the Hagamans - $2.3m - in half.

Issues around a possible retrial were being discussed with the judge in chambers and that remains a possibility .

But for now Little can get back to the business of campaigning and building up his political capital the September election.

 

 

 - Stuff

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