Storm fan faces legal threat
January 20, 2011
THE Melbourne Storm fiasco has taken a new twist, with club chief executive Ron Gauci threatening to sue a tram driver for defamation over comments he posted on social networking websites during last year’s salary cap scandal.
Mr Gauci, appointed CEO of the National Rugby League club in July last year, has sought compensation and an apology from 28-year-old Melbourne Storm fan Jamie Koo, of Sunbury.
Mr Koo posted comments on websites describing Mr Gauci as ‘‘a News Ltd puppet’’ and ‘‘in the exact mould of John Hartigan himself’’.
Storm fan Jamie Koo faces the threat of legal action by club CEO Ron Gauci for writing that he was “in the exact mould” of his boss, John Hartigan.
Storm fan Jamie Koo faces the threat of legal action by club CEO Ron Gauci for writing that he was “in the exact mould” of his boss, John Hartigan. Photo: Penny Stephens
Mr Hartigan is the chief executive of News Ltd, which owns the Melbourne Storm.
According to a legal letter obtained by The Age, the comments have caused Mr Gauci ‘‘distress, embarrassment and humiliation’’.
The spat between the tram driver and the Storm boss dates back to Mr Koo’s eviction from a NRL match against Cronulla in August last year.
As reported in The Age at the time, Mr Koo was evicted for displaying anti-News Ltd banners at the match, including one that read: ‘‘We support our players and staff, not News Ltd.’’
Mr Gauci later told media that Mr Koo, who has been a member of the Storm since its admission to the NRL in 1998, was evicted from the match for abusive behaviour.
Mr Koo responded by uploading a video to the sports website madfan.com.au. In the video he said Mr Gauci’s allegation that he was evicted for being abusive was ‘‘totally and utterly false’’ and ‘‘rubbish’’.
According to Mr Gauci’s lawyers, Mr Koo defamed their client in the video by suggesting he is a liar.
In the video, Mr Koo also states: ‘‘I honestly don’t think he [Gauci] is the independent man that he claims. He is a very loyal man to his employer, who are News Ltd.’’
Mr Koo added: ‘‘I’m not going to be scared off by these bully boy tactics which are typical of News Ltd.’’
Many Melbourne Storm fans migrated to the madfan website last year amid claims that comments critical of News Ltd were not being allowed on forums on the club’s official website.
The fans claimed that News Ltd was denying their freedom of speech.
Between September 17 and October 19 last year Mr Koo also posted several comments on the ‘‘Storm Man’’ fan page on the Facebook website. Included in those comments was one that likened Mr Gauci to Mr Hartigan.
On Facebook, Mr Koo also wrote that Mr Gauci ‘‘is having his strings pulled by Mr Hartigan’’, ‘‘is a puppet’’ and is News Ltd’s ‘‘fresh-faced assassin’’.
In October last year Mr Koo received a letter from the firm Stephens Lawyers and Consultants, acting for Mr Gauci.
In the letter, lawyer Julian Stephens states that Mr Koo’s remarks are ‘‘seriously defamatory’’ and that Mr Koo’s remarks suggest Mr Gauci ‘‘is not acting in a professional manner, is not carrying out his duties as CEO, is a bully and is not fit for the office that he holds’’.
The letter demands that Mr Koo publish an apology on the websites, that he offers compensation to Mr Gauci for damages, and that Mr Koo gives a written undertaking not to publish any more material.
A mediation meeting between the parties was held at the office of Melbourne Storm on November 17 last year. It was attended by Mr Gauci and his legal team and by Mr Koo and his brother, Inspector Richard Koo of Victoria Police.
Inspector Koo is a former police prosecutor and a senior member of the legal and corporate policy unit of the Victoria Police.
Mr Gauci’s lawyers last week sent Mr Koo a deed of undertaking to sign. They want the tram driver to agree, in writing, not to publish or republish any more statements regarding their client.
In return, Mr Gauci says he will not begin legal proceedings against Mr Koo.
Mr Koo has been given until tomorrow to agree to the terms of that deed.
Mr Koo told The Age yesterday that he had not done anything wrong.
‘‘I cannot apologise for something I did not do,’’ Mr Koo said. ‘‘I will not be signing the deed.’’
Mr Gauci was not available for comment.