Principal’s 11th-hour change to defamation case
A SCHOOL principal who has sued five parents for more than $1m alleging they defamed her on Facebook wants to ditch two key planks of her case against one parent at the eleventh hour, a court has heard.
Barrister Holly Blattman, counsel for Tamborine Mountain State High School (TMSHS) Principal Tracey Brose today told Southport District Court that she wished to ditch two allegedly defamatory imputations she claims arise from what parent Miguel Baluskas posted on Facebook in March 2016.
Just five weeks before the trial is set to begin, Ms Blattman told trial judge Catherine Muir that she wished to drop claims that his comments implied that Ms Brose"has had numerous complaints made about her by parents" and that "parents of children at the school have confronted her on the way she would handle situations regarding their child."
If Ms Brose is successful in changing her claim for damages against Mr Baluskas, he will apply to change his defence, the court heard.
The couple still owe Ms Brose $32,968 in court costs, ordered to be paid by Judge David Kent on July 19 after lost pre-trial legal scuffles related to their defence pleadings.
During a hearing today to finalise plans for the three week judge-only hearing, set to start on October 8, solicitor Barrie Goldsmith for Mr Baluskas and his wife Donna said his clients planned to call 19 witnesses in their defence.
Barrister Alexander Nelson, for parent and aged-care nurse Charmaine Proudlock, said he plans to call 21 witnesses in her defence.
Two other parents, grocery merchandiser and mother-of-three Laura Lawson, 49, from Coomera, and school lollipop lady Trudie Arnold, from Canungra, attended today's hearing by phone and are not legally represented.
Ms Arnold told the court she is bankrupt, and had previously offered Ms Brose $20,000 in damages.
Mr and Mrs Baluskas were sued over comments they made on Facebook and a Change.org petition in March 2016, two years after their son Harrison, then aged 12, was expelled by Mrs Brose from TMSHS.
Mrs Baluskas is alleged to have called falsely Mrs Brose an "evil, nasty, horrible women (SIC)" on Facebook.
Mrs Brose alleges that claims by the five parents posted on Facebook and the online petition on Change.org attacked her "integrity, honesty, fairness, and judgment, all matters critical to a teacher and especially a school principal".
Mrs Brose argues the false Facebook comments were made to a broad audience and to people likely to know her in a professional capacity, and submits the suit is aimed at vindicating her reputation.
Mrs Brose is alleged to have told Donna Baluskas that Harrison was "a sexual predator" and that she and her husband "had blinkers on" and were "in denial" after he said "show me your dick" to another student on the school bus in February 2014.
Mrs Lawson has pleaded the defence of justification to imputations that her Facebook posts implied Mrs brose "is petty, small minded and spiteful in her enforcement of school rules".
Mrs Brose suspended Mrs Lawson's middle son was suspended from TMSHS because another student wrote an "unsavoury phrase" on his fibreglass arm cast, and her eldest son was sent home because he had an eyebrow piercing, court documents state, court documents state.
Mrs Proudlock was sued over comments she posted on Facebook in March 2016 after daughter Jordyn was expelled in 2014.
Mrs Brose alleges Mrs Proudlock's comments implied Mrs Brose "had a horrendous attitude to those she felt were beneath her" and was "a bad Principal" and "tried to destroy" Jordyn's future.
Mrs Proudlock has admitted the defamatory imputations and relies on the defence of justification and triviality.
All parents have pleaded that the scope of publication of their Facebook comments was "limited" but Mrs Brose argues the comments were likely published to a "many more people".
Facebook has been given until September 5 to reveal the number of people who viewed the allegedly defamatory posts, the number of "likes" and comments.
The petition website Change.org must also reveal to Mrs Brose's lawyers the number of people who commented on a petition about Tracey Brose on its website.
The petition was aimed at collecting signatures to encourage then-education minister Kate Jones to reinstate Mrs Brose to her job as principal after she was temporarily suspended on full pay in February 2016.
Mrs Brose was subsequently fully cleared and reappointed.
The case returns to court on September 23 before Judge Muir.