Former librarian appeals judge's recommendation under Defamation Act
A former school librarian behind a defamatory letter claiming her former boss was a bully is appealing a judge's decision to make her apologise.
Rai Valley woman Faye Leov, and her husband Bernard Leov, has lodged an appeal of the judgment of the Blenheim High Court last month, which found them liable for statements in a letter sent by Dunedin writer Susan Dunn in September 2012.
Justice David Collins said in his decision the letter was defamatory, and "calculated to injure" former Rai Valley Area School principal Loretta "Muff" Newton's reputation by "exposing her to hatred, contempt or ridicule".
The Leovs were ordered to send a correction and apology to those who received the letter and publish the correction and apology in the Marlborough Express and Nelson Mail. If they refused, they would have to pay $100,000 in damages to Newton.
It was the first time a court in New Zealand had ordered a correction and apology under the Defamation Act.
Defence lawyer Christopher Griggs said the Leovs appealed the decision because they said there were "errors of fact and law in the High Court judgment".
"The letter at the centre of the defamation hearing was prepared and signed by Ms Dunn, not by Mr and Mrs Leov," Griggs said.
Dunn wrote the letter as part of her research for a book about a decade-long conflict within Marlborough's Rai Valley community, between Blenheim and Nelson.
Newton and Leov had clashed over the operation of the school library, which the Leovs helped build.
While Leov believed she had been bullied, Newton believed Leov was refusing to obey her lawful directions as principal.
Dunn was approached by the Leovs earlier that year and agreed to write the book about Leov's experiences at the school.
"Ms Dunn was an independent contractor, she was not the Leovs' employee," Griggs said.
"She sent the letter at a time when Mrs Leov had told her not to. Despite that, the High Court found that Ms Dunn was the Leovs' agent and held that they were liable as co-publishers of what she wrote.
"The Leovs say that was wrong in law and fact, which is the main reason they are appealing."