A school librarian that accused a principal of being a ‘monster’, ‘saboteur’ and a bully has been given an ultimatum by a New Zealand judge – apologise to the woman or pay her $100,000 for defaming her name.
The bitter dispute between librarian Faye Leov and principal Loretta Newton made local paper headlines for years, but culminated in a nine-day defamation case which ended on Tuesday.
The spat between the staff members at Rai Valley Area School – located between Nelson and Blenheim in the South Island – ‘had a profound effect on their lives and careers’ and ‘divided their community’, according to Justice David Collins.
Mrs Leov and Mrs Newton had known each other since they were children, and were working together at the school when their bitter differences developed.
The dispute between librarian Faye Leov (above) and principal Loretta Newton (right) made local paper headlines for years, but culminated in a defamation case which ended on Tuesday
Justice Collins said the two women became ‘tragic victims as they sank deeper into the quagmire of their dispute’.
‘Mrs Leov’s commitment to the library blinded her ability to properly understand her duties and responsibilities to Mrs Newton and the board,’ Justice Collins said.
‘Mrs Newton, on the other hand, was firm in her determination that school staff comply with her lawful instructions.’
Their ongoing battle even led to a public meeting in 2008.
The spat stretches back to 2006 and reached a crescendo when Leov and her husband Bernard were involved in letters being sent to residents, a local newspaper and others including the Bishop of Nelson seeking information on ‘a ruthless and unwell saboteur’ in September 2012.
Mrs Leov and Mrs Newton had known each other since they were children, and were working together at Rai Valley Area School (above) when their bitter differences developed
The letters were sent by Susan Dunn, a writer the Leov’s paid $27,000 to write a book about bullying based on Faye Leov’s alleged experience working with Mrs Newton.
The letters said Mrs Newton was ‘often disguised as someone doing good, [but] literally sacrificed the wellbeing of your children and numerous fine teachers to satisfy her own appetite for controlling, degrading and breaking human life’.
Mrs Newton sued the Leovs and Ms Dunn for defamation as a result.
Ms Dunn agreed to apologise for the letters, but the Leovs refused and fought the claim as they said they did not write the letters, that the facts were true and the letters contained honest opinion.
Teachers and members of the community gave evidence opposing Mrs Leov’s claims about Mrs Newton.
Justice Collins concluded found the truth defence had failed, and the letters did not contain honest opinion as they were based on unproven allegations.
He ordered the Leovs to write to all the recipients of the letters, to publish two public notices and apologise to Mrs Newton – with a penalty of $100,000 in damages to pay if they fail to do so.
The Leovs’ lawyer said they were still considering an appeal.