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Cambodian philanthropist wins first round of defamation case

Michael Inman

Published: July 23 2017 - 12:00AM

A Canberra law student has been ordered to pay the legal costs of a Cambodian philanthropist after her defamation defence was struck out in court.

Juanita Zankin must now rethink how she will fight allegations she defamed Geraldine Cox in a February Facebook post.

Ms Zankin is being sued by Ms Cox for a 27-word comment she made on the social media page of Canberra law firm, Ben Aulich and Associates.

Court papers,  filed in the ACT Magistrates Court, say the law firm posted an image of proprietor Ben Aulich and his business partner, Peter Woodhouse, with Ms Cox at a fundraiser, with the caption: "An excellent time raising funds for Sunrise Cambodia with Geraldine Cox".

In response, Ms Zankin commented on the post arguing the pair should not raise funds for Sunrise Cambodia - the charity Ms Cox founded in 1997.

Ms Cox alleges the critical post defamed her and hurt her charity as it damaged her reputation.

The former diplomat's lawsuit against Ms Zankin argues the intention of the post had been to cause harm to the operation of Cambodia Sunrise by causing Ms Cox to be despised, to prevent Australians from making donations, and inferring she conducted the charity shamefully.

She is seeking damages, aggravated damages, and costs.

In her defence, much of which has now been struck out, Ms Zankin admitted she had posted the comment, but said it had not been defamatory, and even if it was, the comments had been justified, were protected by qualified privilege, represented fair comment, represented an honest opinion, were in the public interest, and free speech.

She argued she had wanted donors to conduct their own research into allegations of degrading children in advertising and international opposition to orphanages.

Ms Zankin also alleged the law firm had invited comment and left it visible on the site for 38 minutes before removal.

Both sides attempted to hobble the others case in a hearing before ACT Magistrates Court deputy registrar Michael Edwards last month.

Ms Zankin attempted to have the lawsuit thrown out as vexatious, and demanded Ms Cox pay security for costs as she was based abroad.

Ms Cox, in return, applied to have the defence struck out.

Mr Edwards, in a decision handed down on Wednesday, dismissed Ms Zankin's application to have the matter stayed or thrown out.

The deputy registrar also struck out the majority of Ms Zankin's defence as defective and ordered she pay costs.

Ms Zankin has been ordered to file an amended defence by mid-August.

The court will hear a security of costs application next month.

Mr Edwards also scheduled a listing hearing for October.

This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/cambodian-philanthropist-wins-first-round-of-defamation-case-20170722-gxgk2c.html