Media Release from Environmental Defender’s Office: Defending a Defamation Case against Ross Leighton

A client of the Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO) has had a recent court win in respect of aspects of a defamation case brought against her. Prior resident of Wattle Grove, Ms Jane Genovese, is defending defamation allegations brought against her and two others by a developer, Mr Ross Leighton.

Mr Leighton alleges in the Supreme Court case that the defendants defamed him in relation to a proposed rezoning of rural land in Wattle Grove to allow for an old aged care development at Lot Part 707, Gavour Road, Wattle Grove. In his pleadings Mr Leighton alleged that the defendants, including Ms Genovese, had published articles in the local newspaper and on an internet site (Wattle Grove Vision) containing imputations that Mr Leighton, in his capacity as a developer, was a liar.

The EDO as solicitors for Ms Genovese has engaged a barrister of the independent Bar, Dr J T Schoombee, to act for her in the case.

The alleged defamatory allegations arose in the context of a long, heated debate within Wattle Grove and the Kalamunda Shire regarding the proposed rezoning of Mr Leighton’s land. Nonsupporters of the rezoning and aged care facility development have expressed opinions that the rezoning of the land from ‘Rural’ to ‘Special Use’ is inappropriate and at odds with the rural use and low density character of the existing suburb. They have also expressed beliefs that more suitable locations for aged care facilities are available and fear the rezoning could result in other high density or ‘Special Use’ re-zonings in the surrounding area.

On 2 August 2012, Ms Genovese and the other defendants brought a strike out application against aspects of Mr Leighton’s pleadings in the Supreme Court. One of the issues raised was that the publications relied upon by Mr Leighton could not support an imputation that Mr Leighton was made out to be a liar in his capacity as developer of the relevant site.

The defendant argued further that as a matter of pleading, this allegation was also too imprecise and ambiguous. On 4 September 2012, Justice Le Miere of the Supreme Court ruled that the defendants were right in their second objection in respect of all of the four relevent publications and correct in respect of their first objection in respect of two of the publications.

Hence Mr Leighton’s pleading that he was defamed by saying he was a liar in his capacity as developer of the development, was struck out.

The plaintiff (Mr Leighton) has the leave of the Court to re-plead his case. The next directions hearing is on 25 September 2012, at which time Justice Le Miere will decide how the remainder of the defamation trial will proceed.

For media enquiries please contact Annaleen Harris (Outreach Solicitor at the Environmental Defender’s Office, WA):