Domainz stuck with former CEO's lawsuit

Domainz' only role in the lawsuit being brought by its former CEO Patrick O'Brien is to write the cheques.

Domainz' only role in the lawsuit being brought by its former CEO Patrick O'Brien is to write the cheques.

Robert Gray, the chairman of the Domainz board, says Domainz has had "no contact at all" with O'Brien in recent times, nor with his lawyers Izard Weston, "other than a brief chat when we were told the hearing date. The instructing party is Patrick, not us."

O'Brien's claim that he was defamed by comments made in a post to the Internet Society (Isocnz) members' mailing in 1999 has been set for a hearing in the Palmerston North District Court on May 3.

While O'Brien, who last year ended his controversial tenure as CEO of Domainz and left to head Singapore's domain name registry, has effectively unlimited backing, Brown says he is no position to mount a defence.

O'Brien is also in a better position than former prime Minister David Lange, who allowed Izard Weston to pursue his doomed defamation action for five years, at a personal cost of $100,000.

Gray says he has no detailed knowledge of what has been spent so far, but says the suggestion of a $60,000 bill in an IDGNet story earlier this week was probably not inaccurate.

Gray joined the Domainz board after being elected to the council of Domainz' owner, Isocnz last year, as part of a group which stood in opposition to the previous regime, says the situation is "inevitable because of the fact that Patrick is doing the instructing. When the company undertook to fund Patrick's case that was really the end of the matter. When the previous board had made that commitment, that was pretty much it."

Gray says a post he made this week to the Isocnz members' list went about as far as he could go in laying out the background to the case.

In the post, Gray said that his understanding was that the then-board of Domainz "wished to bring a defamation action against [Alan Brown] for his comments. Legal advice obtained indicated that this was not a good option and for the case to have the best chance of success it should be brought personally by the one who was alleged to have been defamed.

"As a result the parties (ISOCNZ, Domainz and Patrick O'Brien) agreed that Domainz would fund the case and [O'Brien] would bring the action. In other words, the previous board gave clear undertakings that it would fund this action on behalf of the Society and itself," said Gray's post.

Although the society "subsequently gave its firm opinion of the wisdom of this approach" at the council AGM which saw existing councilors thrown out in favour of Gray's group, the board had decided that reneging on the commitments made would be inappropriate - and could offer O'Brien legal recourse against his former employer.

Gray says the affair can only be ended by some sort of resolution between parties - although the council's urging that both parties enter formal dispute resolution appears to have had little impact.

"I'm not aware of what resolution efforts have been made, but certainly if it could be resolved out of court that's in everyone's interests," says Gray.

"A commitment was made and you're stuck with it once you've reached that point. You can try and talk people out of things, but if they say no, that's the situation.

"From Patrick's point of view you can imagine the situation. You start on one of these things, how can you back away from it without appearing to acknowledge that there was some substance to the objections?"

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