Noseweek magazine loses defamation case, editor must pay R330 000 in damages
Cape Town - A judge in the Western Cape High Court has ordered Chaucer Publications, which publishes Noseweek magazine, and editor Martin Welz to pay damages of R330 000 to an attorney who won a long-running defamation case against them.
Acting Judge Ncumisa Mayosi awarded the damages to attorney Leonard Katz, who is a director of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, also known as ENS Africa.
Katz had brought the defamation case over the publication in the July 2014 edition of Noseweek of a digital image of him on the front cover with the caption “The man who stole justice”.
The digital image, as well as the accompanying caption, were published once again in the August 2014 edition of Noseweek.
As well as the cover, there was an editorial article titled “Lennie the Liquidator makes mockery of the law”, and another article headlined “And then there’s Brakspear”, both written by Welz.
According to the court papers, the offending editorial read: “While several ENS directors have actively helped design the fraudulent schemes, and all ENS directors and senior partners have knowingly and happily shared in the spoils and must therefore share responsibility, one director stands out above the rest in his aggressive fee-charging and disregard for his victims and the law.
“He is Leonard Katz, director and specialist in charge of the insolvency and liquidation department of ENS, and better known in the trade as Lennie the Liquidator.”
In his suit, Katz said that, as a result of the defamation, he had been “greatly injured in his fair name, fame and reputation, and in his avocation as an attorney, and has suffered damages in the amount of R1 million”.
Katz said the editorial painted him as a dishonest person generally who has been guilty of unprofessional conduct, is unfit to practise as an attorney, and is prepared to act unlawfully and/or unprofessionally on behalf of his clients, in return for the payment of money.
In her ruling, Judge Mayosi said: “The conduct of Mr Welz since the first publication of the defamatory statements in July 2014 is, in my view, an aggravating factor in the question of what can be appropriate damages to award in this matter.
“The truth of the matter is, in the present proceedings neither Mr Welz nor Chaucer Publications have unpacked any evidence, let alone evidence that is damning, establishing the substantial truth of the statements written and published by them concerning Mr Katz.
"Accordingly, they have failed to uphold their defences to Mr Katz’s summons.”
Judge Mayosi ruled that Welz and Chaucer publications had failed to prove the truth of their defamatory statements, or that they had been published in the public interest and constituted fair comment.
Responding to the outcome of the case in a Tweet, Welz said: “First case Noseweek has lost in 27 years. Anyone got R2m to spare? No joke.”