Lawyers

NSW lawyer who misplaced neighbour case appeals

news, national

A “petty neighbourhood squabble” fit for A Current Affair before ending in a defamation lawsuit and $300,000 in damages is back in court. Lawyer Vanessa Hutley was ordered to pay damages to her neighbour Anthony Cosco after accusing him on Nine’s television program in 2016 of bullying herself and her family, and directly endangering their lives. The bitter dispute began when Mr Cosco carried out constructions on the neighbouring house purchased in the suburb of Balmain in Sydney’s inner west in 2013. Justice Stephen Rothman made his ruling in July 2020 and said the “petty neighbourhood squabble” was “essentially caused by the arrogance and feeling of superiority of the defendant”. Ms Hutley filed an appeal stating the NSW Supreme Court judge awarded “manifestly excessive” damages, and made several errors including finding some matters were not of substantial truth, and not upholding the defence of justification. Justice Rothman accepted swathes of evidence because of the “overly favourable view he took of the plaintiff,” her barrister Bruce McClintock SC said on Tuesday. Mr Cosco’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC told Justice John Basten, Justice Robert Macfarlan and Justice Richard White they would have to find the earlier decision “demonstrably wrong” in order to interfere. Ms Hutley presented herself “to one million viewers” as the victim of an unprovoked and ongoing campaign of shocking and appalling bullying by Mr Cosco, causing her children to fear walking down their street, the Court of Appeal judges were told. But this is “far from the truth of the matter”, with reference to one conversation where Ms Hutley and her partner threaten to “roast you, we’re lawyers”, Ms Chrysanthou said. “Does this sound like people who are feeling intimidated or bullied?” In another incident the couple pushed down a safety barrier between the two properties three times, before reporting Mr Cosco for an unfair work site. Labourer Maurice Cornielje testified during the trial that Ms Hutley and sometimes her son would hurl abuse at him and his coworkers almost every morning, calling them dumb and saying how “s***” they were as humans. One of Ms Hutley’s most serious claims was that Mr Cosco potentially caused an explosion in her home and directly endangered her family when he sealed an air vent leading to her kitchen with expanding foam. But Ms Chrysanthou said Ms Hutley knew of the incident before she herself used the kitchen, the expanding foam was less combustible than timber, and the idea that Mr Cosco knew the foam could cause an explosion was false. During their feud an anonymous letter was circulated to Balmain businesses smearing Mr Cosco, who then enacted a bit of “vigilante justice” by hiring a private investigator to find out who the culprit was, the court was told. It was not improper or an act of bullying to hire help in finding out who was defaming him among his local community and passing on the details to police officers, Ms Chrysanthou argued. The appeal hearing continues. Australian Associated Press

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