Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Standing together

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    The response was a heavy letter from Mai Chen on the trust board's behalf declaring that the claims were "false and defamatory" and demanding that the site remove the statement immediately.

    Of course it's legal bullying, Russell. It's also really fucking rich coming from the same people who complain Native Affairs committing investigative journalism isn't "how Maori resolve things". Well, darlings, in my book when you hire a high profile lawyer (who just happens to have her name over the door of a firm that has a lot of public sector clients AND a lobbying side line) you've lost that card.

    ETA: And what's the going rate to hire Mai Chen to try and intimidate your critics? Not at all cheap I suspect...

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    The response was a heavy letter from Mai Chen on the trust board’s behalf declaring that the claims were “false and defamatory” and demanding that the site remove the statement immediately.

    It is hard to reconcile the Mai Chen fighting for the beleaguered underdog Phillipstown School and the Mai Chen writing to shut down a dissenting voice on behalf of a more powerful client....

    I guess 'Justice' is just another commodity and can be cut from any cloth...

    ...the fact that they (TKRNT trust board) protest so much, without clarifying anything, speaks volumes to me.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7896 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    We journalists can be annoying buggers.

    It's what the news-consuming public want, if said public bother to think about it. Compliant, complicit, sycophantic "journalists" do your profession a disservice and also do a disservice to a society that requires the media to act as a check on those who stroll the corridors of power.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Geddis, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    It is hard to reconcile the Mai Chen fighting for the beleaguered underdog Phillipstown School and the Mai Chen writing to shut down a dissenting voice on behalf of a more powerful client....

    No. It's not.

    The law is a tool box, and a lawyer uses the tool that is needed to get the relevant job done. He or she doesn't ask "is this a good job" - they just do what is asked of them (within the confines of legality and professional ethics, of course).

    So if you though Mai Chen (or, rather, her firm) was a saint for getting a win for Philipstown, then you're as much a fool as if you damn her (or, rather, her firm) for writing the letter. It's a question of professional competence, not ethical choice.

    (I do stand to be corrected on one point, but. If it turns out Chen & Palmer waived (or discounted) their fees for Philipstown, then that would be a noble act worthy of praise. Otherwise, it's just a job.)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2007 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    The law is a tool box, and a lawyer uses the tool that is needed to get the relevant job done.

    I do understand your point, but it does sound a lot like saying "guns don't kill people, people kill people".

    A parallel argument could be made in my profession that scientists should be allowed to research anything without regard to society or safety. I don't think such an argument is reasonable for scientists and I'm not certain it should stand for lawyers either.

    Sorry way off-topic.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Robin, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    It is hard to reconcile the Mai Chen fighting for the beleaguered underdog Phillipstown School and the Mai Chen writing to shut down a dissenting voice on behalf of a more powerful client....

    I think this comment is drawing attention to how the legal tool box is being used.

    Could Mai Chen decline a distasteful job?

    Auckland • Since Jun 2012 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    The law is a tool box, and a lawyer uses the tool that is needed to get the relevant job done.

    Well, that's true as far as it goes. Can I just note the irony at Mai Chen being quite a high profile media commentator on legal and constitutional issues, while with the other she's happily using her tool box (and let's not be naive here) to try and beat down uppity journalists from asking inconvenient questions of her clients.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    Punned it...

    The law is a tool box

    Point taken, it's just at times it seems more of a toy box
    (I see one of my local legal clients has just been struck off for creative interpretations of process...)
    ...my mistake for confusing and conflating the concepts
    of Jurisprudence and Justice...

    ...and Jesters for all

    ... then you’re as much a fool...

    Oh well, I always liked colourful clothes with bells on...

    ;- )

    PS: I am always available for casual proofreading services...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7896 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Curtis,

    There seems to be some confusion about Mai Chen the person and Chen Palmer the law firm.
    A quick look at their web site ( the Law firm) shows a number of partners and principals, which could indicate that different people were handling the Phillipstown school and the Te Kohunga Trust, if not as they are unrelated entities there is no problem.
    Any way, why does a stern letter have to be seen as bullying ?. Would it not be a lapse to NOT point out the full implications of a transgression. And it seems that the changes made to the web site have resolved the matter, that would appear all that was really required.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Geddis,

    A parallel argument could be made in my profession that scientists should be allowed to research anything without regard to society or safety.

    No it couldn't. I didn't say "lawyers can do anything to advance the interests of anyone". I said that lawyers will use the tools that the law gives, within the bounds of legality and professional ethics, to advance the interests of their clients. Just as scientists will use the tools of their trade, within the bounds of legality and subject to the dictates of whatever ethical permission their institution requires of them, to research stuff.

    Could Mai Chen decline a distasteful job?

    Her firm could refuse to represent someone, yes. But why would she refuse to represent the Trust Board? And why would she refuse to send a letter to someone whom the Trust Board thinks has falsely accused it of something? She is, after all, running a business! And like I said - that business will sometimes mean you work for the "good" guys, and sometimes for the "bad" ones.

    Can I just note the irony at Mai Chen being quite a high profile media commentator on legal and constitutional issues, she's happily using her tool box (and let's not be naive here) to try and beat down uppity journalists from asking inconvenient questions of her clients.

    Not sure there is an "irony" here at all. In one role, she's a commentator. In the other, she's plying a trade. Those are quite different things (although I do suspect that she trades off the former when drumming up business to be the latter). And how do we know she was "happy" about sending the letter? For all we know, she agrees that NZ's defamation laws are overly strict and ought to be reformed … but in the meantime, the law isn't what she thinks it ought to be!

    Finally, not quite sure why it's the law firm that's getting blasted here for doing something that its client asked it to. Do we want to live in a world in which your legal rights are determined by the personal moral scruples of whomsoever happens to be your lawyer at that time?

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2007 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    Do we want to live in a world in which your legal rights are determined by the personal moral scruples of whomsoever happens to be your lawyer at that time?

    As you've phrased the question, not so much. Ideally lawyers would decline to represent truly awful clients, yes. But that would require a legal system that is dramatically better at delivering justice than what we have now.

    Given the legal system we have, lawyers who will do their utmost to represent their clients regardless of their personal feelings is not just a good idea, it's a requirement for the system to work at all.

    For that matter, why should lawyers have a requirement imposed that does not apply to anyone else in the legal system? You don't see the police saying "we don't like you do we're not going to help you"... oh, wait.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1201 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Steve Curtis,

    Any way, why does a stern letter have to be seen as bullying ?. Would it not be a lapse to NOT point out the full implications of a transgression. And it seems that the changes made to the web site have resolved the matter, that would appear all that was really required.

    Yes. Chen Palmer are representing a client. They are doing their job. I'd be pissed if my lawyer didn't act in my best interest at $450 an hour so don't really see the issue here.
    Off track a bit. Deborah Manning who said Cunliffe was inhumane when representing Ahmed Zaoui is now his deputy chief of staff. I can see that could be construed as odd but I see it as the Lawyer's got skills. Obviously ones that got noticed.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    And compare all this to the inflated airtime of the 'twilight golf', 'Maori sing-along' and 'hip-hop tour' courses.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5426 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Gibbs,

    Mai Chen isn't the cheapest lawyer in town and not for those counting their pennies.

    By appearances it seems that the trust, who exist to serve their community, are in fact ready to spend big on behalf of the board and their mates.

    Appearances matter and this trust is starting to look like a slush fund.

    Auck • Since Apr 2014 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    Do we want to live in a world in which your legal rights are determined by the personal moral scruples of whomsoever happens to be your lawyer at that time?

    Not particularly. But I'd sure like to see libel law less easily used as a bludgeon to (and again, let's not be naive here) intimidate and harass journalists. And, yes, I make precisely no apologies for feeling ever so slightly contemptuous towards lawyers (and firms like London libel mill Carter Ruck) who profit off it. But you do have a point -- as long as the law allows that kind of bullying it's not entirely fair to blame the monkey for the organ grinder's tune.

    Any way, why does a stern letter have to be seen as bullying ?. Would it not be a lapse to NOT point out the full implications of a transgression.

    With all due respect, Steve, I don't think the dozens of libel actions Robert Maxwell had in train when he died against journalists investigating the state of the Mirror Group's pension fund were begun as a favour to anyone but himself. I'd also hope Mai Chen knows the diffference between alleging a statement is defamatory is a very long way from proving it in a court of law.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Steve Curtis,

    Any way, why does a stern letter have to be seen as bullying ?. Would it not be a lapse to NOT point out the full implications of a transgression. And it seems that the changes made to the web site have resolved the matter, that would appear all that was really required.

    No, it’s bullying. Alleging defamation in a bid to have criticism suppressed is bullying. The actual content of the statements hasn’t been changed and TKRNT hasn’t (so far as I know) attempted to sue the kohanga collective. The factual claims seem accurate – you can see TPO’s related-party loan balances on the Charities Commission website.

    And again, when Native Affairs tried to report the story, rather than responding to the concerns, the trust got an injunction to stop them going to air. (This actually backfired hugely, because people associated with the trust had to swear revealing affidavits that the judge ruled could be used by Native Affairs in its reports.)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    It is an indictment on the Trust to not be grown up enough to invite dialogue with the Native Affairs team.

    In the herald today "It is the view of the Kohanga Reo movement that the intrusion by the Crown is unwelcome." – really.

    The trust gets paid just over $2.5m to administer $80m in funding and it can’t front up to a media team that just wants to find out what is going on.

    The EY report was a whitewash as it missed the point of the investigation. It’s not like the private subsidiary has other sources of funding…

    Clearly the funding is from the government and the governance structure needs to be squeaky clean. It is not and there is a sense of entitlement and misplaced bravado coming from the Trust.

    If it has any insight ( at all) it needs to include Native Affairs and any other media inside the loop and clean its house – if that is needed.

    In legal terms it is almost like the Trust has declared Native Affairs as a "hostile witness" and that is a pointless strategy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 366 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    [delete that, I see you said what I said, really]

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    I have to agree that the ins and outs of which lawyer and/or firm drafted the letter is a distraction from the issue.

    It's the trust boards and their principals who are acting at best defensively and at worst quite aggressively against individuals and journalists asking hard but fair questions.

    Let's point the finger there, please. And if I were a member of a community whose funds were being used and their blood, sweat and tears, I'd want some answers myself.

    Because there appear to be some feather beds being well-lined by some elites in those groups. I often think the "if you have nothing to hide" argument is tosh, but for publicly-accountable trusts, being open is a good thing.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    There are some interesting cultural tensions involved about governance styles, kaitiakitanga, and iwi vs urban Maori leadership. I'd welcome someone with better understanding of that to chip in.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to TracyMac,

    I have to agree that the ins and outs of which lawyer and/or firm drafted the letter is a distraction from the issue.

    It is, except to the extent that getting a nastygram from Chen Palmer is more alarming than getting one from some local solicitor. It speaks of money.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Ewan Morris,

    The question I'd like someone in the media to ask is why the Kohanga Reo National Trust even has a commercial subsidiary company. (Incidentally, it's called Te Pataka Ohanga - not Patanga.)

    Since Nov 2006 • 46 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Ewan Morris,

    Te Pataka Ohanga -

    Southern, then?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Connelly, in reply to Andrew Geddis,

    Maybe its time for Lawyers to develop a moral/ethical framework then - otherwise they are just 'guns for hire', which is not what we should expect of professionals whose training has cost the public purse a lot of money

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2012 • 28 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Ewan Morris,

    The question I’d like someone in the media to ask is why the Kohanga Reo National Trust even has a commercial subsidiary company.

    It's not entirely unusual to have a wholly-owned delivery arm. But if you were a government agency it would be considered a controlled entity and be subject to much greater accountability. The other question is why TPO has charitable status if it's a commercial provider.

    (Incidentally, it’s called Te Pataka Ohanga – not Patanga.)

    Bugger, and right you are. I should have known that as I've written it previously, but a Radio NZ story and a TV3 story both had “Patanga”.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

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