Former Clayton Utz partner’s defamation application to be moved from WA to VIC
A defamation claim brought by the former president of the Melbourne Football Club, who is a former partner at BigLaw firm Clayton Utz, is to be moved to Victoria from Western Australia as “the subject matter of the proceedings relates have on events that took place in Victoria”.
In defamation proceedings brought in the WA Supreme Court, former Clayton Utz partner and former Melbourne Football Club (MFC) president Glen Bartlett alleges that the current president of the MFC and a number of board members published or made defamatory comments after he resigned from his position as president amid allegations of bullying and off-field drama.
However, Justice Marcus Solomon recently found that those connected to the defamation “overwhelmingly remain resident in Melbourne” and transferred the proceedings to the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Mr Bartlett was the managing partner of Clayton Utz’s Melbourne office from 2010 to 2013, is currently the managing director of law firm Bartlett Workplace and served as president of the MFC from 2013 until Kate Roffey was appointed in April 2021.
The defamation action is against the current president, Ms. Roffey, club vice-president Steve Morris, plus MFC board members David Robb and David Rennick brought in for allegedly defamatory comments about him, which were published in a number of media outlets, as well as in an official statement released by the club after his resignation from the board.
However, the MFC councilors argued that many of these alleged cases took place in Victoria and applied to have the proceedings moved from the WA Supreme Court.
Mr Bartlett first launched defamation proceedings in June 2022, and in a statement at the time, Mr Bartlett said his role as president of the Melbourne Football Club had brought considerable drama off the pitch, as reported by The Age.
“I have done everything possible to have a club that is free from bullying, gambling, harassment and illegal drugs. The decision to resign when I did was mine. I did this to ensure minimal distraction, after a very promising and indeed historic start to the season.
“As president, a workplace/OHS lawyer and a parent, I have been unwilling to compromise on fundamental values, the law and expected standards of behaviour,” Mr Bartlett said in his statement.
“I believe that my approach and the raising of these issues led to a campaign against me from various quarters which was contrary to proper administrative management and which took important but delicate and sensitive matters seriously. It also, in my opinion, showed a disregard for the health and well-being of both myself and my partner and our professional and business interests.”
Mr Barlett also claimed he and his partner had received threats and had been bullied before he left the board in 2021.
Following his resignation from the MFC board, Mr Bartlett and his partner moved back to Western Australia, after which he claimed defamatory comments were made about him by current MFC board members and presidents in three publications.
According to the ruling, Ms Roffey allegedly made defamatory comments in Perth in September 2021 about post-match comments Mr Bartlett made following a 2020 loss.
These comments were eventually published in the Herald Sun, a Melbourne-based publication.
While these comments were allegedly made in Perth, Justice Solomon found that the cases “related to conduct that occurred when the plaintiff lived in Victoria, occurred primarily in Victoria, involved people who were Victorian and were recorded in documents based by people or entities in Victoria.”
The action also relates to an alleged comment that Ms. Roffey made to Melbourne radio station 3AW in June 2022, in which she is accused of secretly recording a conversation involving senior AFL figures “in relation to sensitive issues relating to the MFC” and coach Simon Goodwin .
Furthermore, the third claim in the suit refers to an official statement made by Mr. Morris, Mr. Robb and Mr. Rennick was published on the MFC website in June 2022, which Mr. Bartlett filed “defamation of him in relation to his conduct as president of the MFC” as well as contradicting a statement he made about his resignation.
Despite the statement of claim being lodged in the WA Supreme Court, Justice Solomon granted the application to move the proceedings to the Victorian Supreme Court as “the matters complained of have been overwhelmingly published in Victoria”, “most of the parties reside in Victoria.” and “the applicable substantive law is the defamation law of Victoria, which differs materially from the defamation law of Western Australia”.
Mr Bartlett emphasized, Justice Solomon noted, his background, connection and reputation in Western Australia as “establishing the most natural connection” of the proceedings with Western Australia.
“While an important element of the plaintiff’s reputation is undoubtedly enjoyed in Western Australia, I do not consider that in these circumstances that aspect of his reputation prevails over the otherwise natural Melbourne focus and flavor of the subject matter of the proceedings,” established his Honour.