Se­cret bill for Port le­gal case

The Advertiser - - NEWS - CALEB BOND

THE le­gal costs of a defama­tion case against for­mer Port Ade­laide En­field Mayor Gary Jo­han­son were kept se­cret by the coun­cil for nearly four years.

A con­fi­den­tial re­port from Jan­uary 2015, which coun­cil­lors voted to sup­press, con­tained de­tails of le­gal costs as­so­ci­ated with a case brought against Mr Jo­han­son by res­i­dent Gra­ham Howard.

The doc­u­ment was re­leased late last year due to a change of mayor. The coun­cil spent $42,768.25 to de­fend Mr Jo­han­son against a claim he had suggested Mr Howard was a man of “ques­tion­able re­pute” dur­ing a coun­cil meet­ing in De­cem­ber 2012.

The case took a year to get to the Port Ade­laide Mag­is­trates Court, where Mr Howard sought $25,000 in dam­ages.

The court rec­om­mended the two men un­dergo me- di­a­tion and Mr Howard dropped the case in late 2014.

Un­der the terms of the con­fi­den­tial­ity or­der cre­ated by the coun­cil, the le­gal costs and any other de­tails re­lat­ing to the case had to be kept se­cret un­til Mr Jo­han­son left of­fice.

Mr Jo­han­son said he would have pre­ferred the costs to be “out in the open” but he was ad­vised by the coun­cil that it “should be kept con­fi­den­tial”.

“I’ve told the me­dia time and again when we’ve stuffed up as a coun­cil,” he said. “I be­lieve that it keeps you in touch with your com­mu­nity more.”

He said it was “cer­tainly not” fair ratepay­ers had to stump up the le­gal bill but the only way to have avoided it would have been to “ad­mit some­thing we didn’t do”.

A coun­cil spokes­woman said it was kept con­fi­den­tial be­cause it con­tained le­gal ad­vice and ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to the “per­sonal af­fairs” of Mr Jo­han­son. Mr Howard could not be con­tacted.

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