Whale Oil embroiled in Jeanne Denham's campaign against Kristin School principal

  • 09/08/2017
Jeanne Denham
Jeanne Denham breached professional standards and "tarnished the reputation of the profession" through an abuse of court process, the Tribunal found. Photo credit: LinkedIn

A lawyer who embarked on a vindictive campaign to destroy her former husband's career and win a property dispute could be found guilty of misconduct and lose her license.

Cameron Slater's blog Whale Oil was embroiled in Jeanne Denham's campaign, which involved her working with public relations consultant Carrick Graham to provide press releases for publication on the blog.

A lengthy decision from the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has disclosed details of the campaign Ms Denham enacted to bring down her then-spouse, former Kristin School Principal Peter Clague.

Ms Denham breached professional standards and "tarnished the reputation of the profession" through an abuse of court process, the Tribunal found.

The judgment described the case as a "troubling and somewhat unusual case involving a practitioner who only held a practicing certificate for nine months".

Ms Denham is appealing the decision, with her lawyer Warren Pyke stating that the events were highly personal and emotional.

The decision disclosed that Ms Denham and Mr Clague, who married in July 2012, had been involved in a "brief physical altercation" in September 2010.

Peter Clague
Ms Denham enacted a wage to bring down her then-spouse, former Kristin School Principal Peter Clague. Photo credit: LinkedIn

The estranged couple were initially cooperative in resolving payment to Ms Denham, but negotiations broke down in May 2012 at which point Mr Clague suggested they dispute the matter through lawyers.

In response to his suggestion, Ms Denham sent a series of texts where she expressed Mr Clague would "regret" his actions.

"I think you really haven't thought through what you are doing and what the costs and consequences will be", she wrote.

Ms Denham took a private prosecution against Mr Clague after police declined to lay charges over the alleged assault.

She had attempted multiple times to get police to review their decision not to prosecute, in part appealing to politicians, and in seeking review of the decision by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

But the court case was thrown out when a judge found it to be an abuse of process intended to damage Mr Clauge and Kristin School, and to be used as leverage for Ms Denham to win a property dispute between the pair.

She was ordered to pay nearly $146,000 in costs, which remains outstanding after she declared herself bankrupt.

Ms Denham was subsequently referred to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal on a charge of misconduct. 

The tribunal's decision revealed details of emails and texts exchanged between Ms Denham and PR agent Mr Graham, where the pair orchestrated a take-down of Mr Clague, including paying for damaging posts about Mr Clague and Kristin on Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog.

In an email exchange from November 2012, Mr Graham wrote that the campaign had generated media coverage, and had forced the school board to issue letters to parents about the issue.

"It would be safe to say that Clague has had the blow-torch applied to him in terms of a much wider audience being aware of his actions. In terms of reputational hits he is damaged goods."

In an exchange after a Whale Oil post alleged Kristin board members had known about the allegations and done nothing, Ms Denham wrote that "Cameron's blog is starting to generate interest in the Kristin community. It'll spread like wildfire now!"

Ms Denham also revealed Mr Clague's salary details to Mr Graham, aware these would be published on the blog.

The tribunal ruled that Denham deliberately undermined her former husband's chance to seek name suppression by leaking details about her legal action to media.

In an email to her legal counsel in November 2012, Ms Denham said going to the media was risky but necessary to "counter the character assassination".

"I did not make the complaint to coerce him into settling; I made it so that he could face justice."

The tribunal ruled that Denham had used legal processes for "improper purposes".

The decision said she lacked credibility in the witness box, and that she was "at times evasive ... particularly when faced with very plain emails and text messages which had been written by her".

She had fallen well short of industry standards, it said, and her behaviour over the three years "cannot be categorised as a 'brief rush of blood to the head'."

Mr Pyke said his client, who is not currently practising, had appealed the decision to the High Court.