United National Congress (UNC) party activist Brian Stone has been ordered to pay over $400,000 in compensation to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for defamation.
Although Rowley obtained a default judgment against Stone over comments he posted on his (Stone) Facebook page in 2017, well over a year ago, High Court Master Martha Alexander only decide on the compensation owed to Rowley in a written decision delivered electronically, yesterday.
Stone, who previously served as Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) chairman, accused Rowley of receiving bribes from a certain segment of society and of engaging in corruption in relation to the construction of a building in west Trinidad.
Stone gave a public apology and retraction a little over a month before Rowley filed the lawsuit.
High Court Judge David Harris granted Rowley’s lawyers an order allowing them to serve the lawsuit in a series of newspaper advertisements over a two-week period after they unsuccessfully attempted to physically serve it on him.
Rowley’s lawyers Michael Quamina and Clay Hackett obtained the default judgment on his behalf after he (Stone) failed to submit a defence to the claim as required under the Civil Proceedings Rules.
In her decision, Alexander noted that while testifying before her, Rowley was especially aggrieved by Stone’s allegations as he claimed to have been an anti-corruption advocate throughout his political career, which has spanned more than 30 years.
“The defamatory statements that formed the bedrock of this matter, therefore, proved to be a source of disquiet and shock, more particularly as they were baseless and injurious,” Alexander said.
In her assessment, Alexander had to consider whether the apology issued to Rowley helped to mitigate the damage to his reputation.
“In the present case, the court finds the apology was prompt and gave full coverage and retraction to all defamatory statements made,” she said.
She noted that Rowley was unable to prove that the apology was insincere.
“The claimant did not bring any evidence to show a continuation of the defamatory statements by the defendant after the apology and the court was unwilling to make unfounded assumptions of which it had no proof,” she said.
While Alexander said that the apology helped to ameliorate or soft the impact of the compensation, she still ordered to Stone to pay $300,000 in general damages.
She also stated that Rowley was entitled to $50,000 in aggravated damages for the diminution of his self-esteem and self-respect.
“There was a poignancy and clarity to his evidence of wounded pride and public humiliation, which the court accepted as genuine,” she said.
Alexander did refuse to grant Rowley exemplary damages, which she noted were awarded in defamation cases where a defendant’s conduct is calculated to make a profit.
“Whilst it was reckless, there was no evidence seized upon as a revenue-earning opportunity at the claimant’s expense,” Alexander said.
As part of her decision, Alexander ordered that Stone pay two and a half percent interest on the damages between February 2018 and yesterday as well as the $35,078.01 in legal costs Rowley incurred in the lawsuit.
Stone was represented by Robin Montano.