Is a swing at solicitor-general Vince Siemer's last lost cause?
In one of the most bizarre cases to go before the New Zealand courts, maverick publisher Vince Siemer has accused Solicitor-General Mike Heron of setting the "heavies" on him.
The American businessman – no stranger to court jousting and knock-backs – is taking Mr Heron and Vector chairman and insolvency practitioner Michael Stiassny to court alleging assault and battery in an incident at Vector’s 2007 annual shareholders’ meeting.
The move is another twist in Mr Siemer's marathon court battle with Mr Stiassny – the receiver of one of his companies and of whom he has been an outspoken critic. Read more about how insolvency practitioner Mr Stiassny successfully sued Mr Siemer for record defamation damages of $920,000.
Mr Siemer’s statement of claim filed at the High Court reveals he is now seeking damages of $30,000 including $25,000 for loss to reputation and exemplary damages of $12,000 from Messrs Stiassny and Heron and the two security guards he alleges assaulted and battered him before removing him from the shareholders' meeting.
The alleged assault happened on October 18, 2007 at the Ellerslie Event Centre in Auckland.
Mr Siemer claims Mr Heron, then a partner at Russell McVeagh, blocked his entry into the Vector meeting by standing in front of the elevator in the lobby, informing him that Mr Stiassny had instructed him to stop him from attending.
Although Mr Siemer was a shareholder and was carrying his personalised admission card to attend the meeting, Mr Heron told him he was acting on orders of the board of directors to prevent his entry.
Mr Siemer claims Mr Heron could not provide evidence of those orders upon request.
Instead, Mr Siemer claims Mr Heron ordered two Force 1 Security guards, Sione Tanaki and Pio Sami, to remove him.
He was grabbed by the upper left arm by one, and around the torso by the other, and when he tried to pull his arm from their grasp and see who was grabbing him from behind, one of the guards put a choke hold on him, Mr Siemer claims.
The guards refused to put him down and carried him outside the events centre and across the driveway before setting him down on a curbed median.
Their actions were extremely humiliating in that the assault and battery occurred in full view of fellow shareholders and Mr Siemer was not given adequate opportunity to leave the convention centre of his own accord, he says.
The “outrageous” assault constituted a “highhanded and oppressive abuse of power”, as well as personal contempt for his legal rights.
Mr Siemer claims that as a Vector shareholder, he had a legal right, under section 125 of the Companies Act, to attend and vote on any resolution tabled at the annual meeting.
And Mr Heron, while acting on the instructions of Mr Stiassny, had deliberately and intentionally breached the duty to comply with the Act by preventing Mr Siemer from attending and exercising his vote as a shareholder.
Mr Siemer reported the alleged assault to the police.
Statements of defence are due to be filed at the court by Christmas.
Mr Siemer’s campaign against Mr Stiassny involved creation of a website which contained a number of defamatory allegations about him, including references to Mr Stiassny’s Jewish heritage.
Mr Stiassny successfully sued for defamation and Mr Siemer was sued for contempt of court for not removing defamatory comments from his website and, subsequently, launched a campaign against the attorney-general and others, proclaiming his innocence.
There have been more than 50 court decisions involving Mr Siemer in the long-running battle, during which he was sentenced to six weeks in jail for publishing allegations against Mr Stiassny, in breach of a court order.
In 2008 he was ordered to pay what are record defamation damages in this country of $920,000 for defaming Stiassny and his company KordaMentha (formerly Ferrier Hodgson).
Mr Stiassny has not seen a cent of the defamation award and told NBR at the time it would not be appropriate to comment on the financial affairs of Mr Siemer, who is said to have untouchable overseas assets.
He told NBR that he was frustrated by the ongoing saga.
“It has to be concerning that a bankrupt can continue this litany [of court action] without any recourse and just get away with it all the time. It makes a bit of a mockery of the court system.”
The latest development in the Siemer-Stiassny defamation saga this year saw Mr Siemer knocked back by the Supreme Court on an application to appeal an injunction made against him more than six years ago.
Siemer’s next challenge: Judge’s suppression rights in criminal cases
In one of Mr Siemer’s more recent – and rarely successful – judicial tilts, the Supreme Court has allowed Mr Siemer to challenge what has been a judge’s inherent right to supress judgments in criminal cases.
Mr Siemer, a self-described legal rights and freedom of expression advocate, was sentenced to six week’s imprisonment in May for publishing a suppressed judgment which revealed those charged as a result of the 2007 Urewera raids were to be tried by a judge alone and not a jury.
Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann made a number of suppression orders in relation to the terrorism raid trials, most of which were eventually lifted.
While Supreme Court judges (Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, and Justices Andrew Tipping and Robert Chambers) dismissed three of Mr Siemer's grounds of appeal in July, they left open for argument whether judges have inherent power or jurisdiction to suppress judgments in criminal cases.
It is not yet known when the appeal will be heard, but it will be watched with interest as the court will decide whether Justice Winklemann had power to suppress the terror raid judgment in the first place.
The power to suppress entire judgments in criminal cases does not come by statute, but the High Court has ruled judges have an "inherent power" to do so.
Mr Siemer faces a tough battle convincing the Supreme Court to remove an inherent power judges have believed for centuries is theirs and theirs alone.
It is not yet known when the appeal will be heard.