National

Liberal party member wins defamation case

By AAP Newswire

A Sydney councillor has been ordered to pay a fellow Liberal Party member $11,213 for defaming him at a rowdy political meeting by accusing him of beating his wife.

Lawyer Robert Balzola sued party members Julie Passas and Anthony Raciti, claiming he was defamed at the AGM of the Summer Hill State Electoral Conference held in Mr Raciti's Dolcissimo restaurant in March 2016.

In the NSW Supreme Court on Friday, Justice Stephen Campbell found Ms Passas made a statement to the effect that Mr Balzola had assaulted his wife and had been subject to an AVO.

He found Mr Raciti said: "You're (a) criminal ... who has had charges and had an AVO against you".

But the judge upheld Mr Raciti's defence that he was responding to an attack by Mr Balzola, who accused him of being "part of the mafia" and spending Liberal Party funds on the restaurant.

He found Ms Passas had defamed Mr Balzola and ordered her to pay $10,000 in damages plus $1,213 interest, finding the harm suffered had been modest.

"The reality is that Ms Passas' statement was made in the heat of a rowdy acrimonious political meeting attended by a limited number of individuals, in which milieu the trading of insults is often likely to pass as no more than an exaggeration of the cut and thrust of political exchange," he said.

"It seems that in this circle Mrs Passas was a well-known 'stirrer', or perhaps worse, which probably diluted the credence afforded charges emanating from her.

"Of course, in such an environment many individuals are happy to give personal offence as a form of political discourse, even if they are not so keen to receive it."

The trial was told Mr Balzola had twice been charged with assaulting his ex-wife.

But the 2008 matter was dismissed under the Mental Health Act and an AVO taken out against him revoked, while the 2010 matter was dismissed by a magistrate.

"I am not satisfied that (Ms Passas) was motivated by any particular malice, other than the desire to discredit a political opponent who was enjoying success to her disadvantage," the judge said.

He accepted it was a serious matter to defame a person by saying they are the perpetrator of domestic violence, conduct which was regarded as despicable by ordinary reasonable people.

But the claim was made to a small number of about 30 people only, with many failing to hear it because of the meeting's rowdiness.

"Although there is some ongoing personal hurt felt by Mr Balzola, any injury to his reputation, on my assessment, was very short-lived," the judge said.