The fallout from the country’s first online defamation case is getting thicker, with the chair of the Internet Society saying he not only didn’t call the meeting at which the decision was made to fund the legal proceedings, he also wasn't chair of the society at the time.
ISOCNZ had no chairperson for a period, says Peter Dengate Thrush, the current chair, who was named in court as having set the suit in motion. “There was no chair until council had an election.”
Patrick O’Brien, the former chief executive of ISOCNZ-owned Domainz, sued ISOCNZ member Alan Brown for alleged defamation in a society mailing list. The verdict in the case, which was heard in the Palmerston North district court on May 3, has been reserved.
O’Brien told the court the idea for the suit was initiated by the chair of ISOCNZ, whom he named as Dengate Thrush.
Dengate Thrush says he does not want to comment on who initiated the proceedings until the judge has returned his verdict and the appeal period is over.
“I’ve got quite a lot of things I’d like to say and I think a number of councillors feel the same way.” Dengate Thrush says he’s not sure “how newsworthy ... or productive” the question of who initiated the case is. He says he looks forward to members’ questions being “fully answered”.
The previous ISOCNZ chair, Jim Higgins, had signalled at the annual general meeting held on December 10, 1999 that he would not seek re-election to the post. The new council, which was elected at the AGM, took over immediately, although its first meeting was not held until the new year. A chair was chosen in an electronic ballot of councillors in January.
“They did an online election which resulted in my being elected quite early in the new year,” says Dengate Thrush.
Timing of the changeover is key to O’Brien’s court claim, which was in response to a question by defendant Alan Brown.
“I haven’t got the transcript from the court yet, but I asked him directly who called the meeting and he said the chair of ISOCNZ. I then asked him to name the chair at the time and he said, without hesitation, Peter Dengate Thrush,” says Brown.
O’Brien’s suit followed a series of postings to the ISOCNZ mailing list questioning O’Brien’s capabilities as chief executive. Domainz, the country’s internet domain name registry, was funding O’Brien’s case although it ceased to do so just before the hearing.
Higgins, who was also once chair of Domainz, says he doesn’t want to comment on the case until the judge makes his ruling. “Individuals don’t do stuff like that. They were [Domainz] board decisions.”