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Judge ices cake decorators’ defamation case

Posted by on 29/06/2018

Spatulas at the readyIt was a recipe for disaster: a bitter defamation battle between some of the state’s top cake decorators that has fallen flat in court.

The District Court this week threw out the long-simmering stoush between Kay Freeburn, Newcastle branch president of the Cake Decorators’ Guild of Australia, and another cake-decorating association that she claimed defamed her in its newsletter Pipeline.

The Cake Decorators Association of NSW had published a motion from president Eileen Manning calling for Ms Freeburn to be expelled from the association for life in early 2013.

Ms Freeburn claimed that the motion – alleging she had been “bombarding” members “with letters for her personal agenda” – conveyed a range of cutting meanings, including that she was a “nuisance and a troublemaker”.

Judge Judith Gibson said the seriousness of the meanings were “at the bottom of the range”, only slightly higher than claims of “disdaining vegetarianism” that a UK court ruled in 2009 were not defamatory.

Any damages awarded would likely be “not merely nominal but derisory” for a number of reasons, including that the association had already agreed to publish an apology.

Indeed, Ms Freeburn was “satisfied with receipt of an apology as opposed to seeking damages” but the sticking point was the wording and whether it should be sent to former members as well.

Judge Gibson ordered the parties to attend mediation earlier this year, but they failed to reach a compromise.

The association asked Judge Gibson to dismiss the case this week, arguing it was an abuse of process because the legal costs and court resources required were out of proportion to the interests at stake.

Defamation law expert David Rolph, an associate professor at the University of Sydney Law School, said the principle of proportionality “provides some protection against low-level or trivial claims”.

Judge Gibson said the principle was “sometimes alternatively stated as being whether ‘the game is worth the candle’, a sixteenth-century gamesters’ saying (based on the expense of candles, then something of a luxury, for late-night card games)”.

She concluded the claim was “not worth the court time and effort”. The association was required by its constitution to publish all motions and the case against it was “close to hopeless”.

Ms Freeburn had also sued two members of the association, including Ms Manning. The case against them was thrown out on other grounds.

The dispute demonstrated a “vendetta rather than a vindication of reputation”, Judge Gibson said. Even if Ms Freeburn successfully sued Ms Manning the damages were “uncertain”.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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