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The Swan Hill councillor, the candidate and the bizarre confrontation

John Katis

John Katis Photo: Erin Jonasson

A bizarre confrontation at a hairdressing salon led to a war of words between two political rivals that ended in a five-day Supreme Court defamation trial.

John Katis was the Swan Hill Rural City Council mayor when waste management businessman Timothy Williams decided to challenge him as a candidate for the council's Robinvale ward in the October 2012 municipal elections.

Justice Jack Forrest said the competition between the two men was fierce and, disappointingly, became bitter and personal resulting in Mr Williams suing Mr Katis for defamation.

During an interview with WIN TV, Mr Katis said: "This sort of thing only happens, you know, if you are running for President in the United States for god's sake, not in Robinvale".

The judge said Mr Williams had for some time been troubled by Mr Katis' use of council-produced business cards as an election tool. 

On October 12, 2012, Mr Williams went to the Robinvale hairdressing salon run by Mr Katis' then 19-year-old granddaughter, Maeghan Bussell, and took photographs with his mobile phone of the salon and the people inside.

Justice Forrest said Ms Bussell, who had been helping her grandfather in his election campaign, felt intimidated by Mr Williams' actions.

Mr Williams, however, claimed he was innocently attempting to take photographs of a collection of Mr Katis' business cards on the salon counter.

"A middle-aged man standing outside a ladies hair salon for a period of around five minutes, using a phone in an attempt to photograph the interior, would almost certainly cause concern to those inside," Justice Forrest said in a recent judgment rejecting Mr Williams' claim for damages after a five-day civil trial in Mildura.

Mr Katis subsequently reported Mr Williams' behaviour to the police and within three hours, Mr Williams confronted Mr Katis outside the Robinvale post office.

Mr Williams at the time was 46, 183cm tall and weighed 98kg. Mr Katis was aged in his late 60s and about 160cm tall.

During the confrontation, Mr Katis claimed: "I could feel the heat from his mouth and his spittle hitting me on my cheek thereā€¦he said to me, 'I'm going to put you down you little shit for dobbing me in to the cops".

Justice Forrest said the confrontation happened 'out of the blue' and he was satisfied Mr Katis had done nothing to provoke "the aggressive verbal attack" and was entitled to feel his personal safety was threatened.

When Mr Katis, who later took out an intervention order against Mr Williams, told the media about his political rival's threatening behaviour, Mr Williams sued him for defamation.

The judge said Mr Katis had defamed Mr Williams but accepted his defence that what he said was either true or an expression of his honest opinion.

Mr Katis was re-elected to the Robinvale ward in 2012 but was replaced as mayor.

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