A member of the Domainz board says the board this week ceased funding of former CEO Patrick O'Brien's defamation suit because O'Brien refused to honour a commitment that he would make "no personal gain" from the action.
Ironically, the Palmerston North District Court heard yesterday that part of the alleged defamation made by Alan Brown in a posting to the Internet Society of New Zealand members' mailing list was his claim that O'Brien had "proved time and time again that all he's interested in himself and not the welfare of the internet in New Zealand."
In a posting yesterday afternoon to the same list, Domainz director Roger De Salis said the board had withdrawn funding on Monday.
In blunt memo, a clearly frustrated De Salis said board members had spent the weekend going through minutes of board and Isocnz council meetings and other written material to confirm that O'Brien had pledged that he would make no personal gain from the action if the Isocnz council supported its funding by Domainz.
De Salis said his recollection was that the commitment was "a central plank of the reason that Isocnz councillors permitted the action to go forward."
He and several other members of the society had also attempted mediation through until this week.
"I am disgusted at the attempted negotiations with both parties," said De Salis, blaming "[Brown], for inability to say 'sorry'. [O'Brien] for every single step accompanied by demands for money and confidentiality … I am particularly disgusted at my own inability to negotiate an equitable settlement."
De Salis also set the scene for Isocnz and its registry business to move beyond an issue that has plagued them for 18 months.
"The directors of Domainz have already refused point blank any opportunity for funding appeals or further stupidity," he said.
"I look forward to contributing to an organisation that has the balls and common sense not to hide behind secrecy, confidentiality and the minutiae of proceedings, rather than the substantive issues of the day, namely broadband access for rural NZ, telecommunications regulation, changes to the Kiwi Share [and] on-line education."
But the board's patience may have run out too late for Brown. Having failed to agree on a settlement, he was defending himself in court yesterday, while O'Brien was represented by Peter McKnight of defamation specialists Izard Weston. Judge Gregory Ross reserved his decision after hearing the arguments yesterday. Brown faces a bill of nearly $150,000 if he loses.
The alleged defamation, which was widely circulated by other Isocnz members via the society's own mailing lists, finally got an airing in open court yesterday.
Brown's original message, referring to an earlier dispute where O'Brien had written a letter appearing to threaten legal action against Isocnz member David Zanetti and the Wellington City Council, began: "I wonder how long it will take Patrick to start wasting more Domainz and ISOCNZ money by again threatening baseless legal action in order to gag public criticism."
Brown's suggested that Mr O'Brien "look up the law books on the subject of 'barratry'," adding, "As far I'm aware it's still a criminal offence and your continued threats against people who criticise you publicly come under that definition."
Brown asked why Domainz continued to employ a "buffoon" such as O'Brien: "He's proved time and time again that all he's interested in himself and not the welfare of the Internet in New Zealand."
While some members may be relieved to see the word "buffoon" - which has since become a standard insult for O'Brien on the society's lists - finally brought out into the sunlight, others may feel Isocnz council chairman Peter Dengate Thrush acted inappropriately in appearing on 3 National News last night.
Under questioning from Brown, O'Brien said in court yesterday that it was Dengate Thrush who had initiated the legal action, and Dengate Thrush, as Isocnz chair, was prominent in defending the decision to sue when the claim was first brought. Yet he discussed the case on television last night identified only as an "Internet expert".