FORMER Albury mayor Amanda Duncan-Strelec says ongoing court action sparked from a failed business deal has come at “an enormous cost” to her health and her family.
The legal end to an almost decade-long saga came yesterday when Duncan-Strelec, 59, was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour order after being found guilty of contempt of court over publication of a defamatory website.
The ex-councillor created the site to target former friend and business partner, Gold Coast mayor and property developer Tom Tate.
NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin described the protagonists as “exquisitely experienced in the exercise of political power”.
The pair had struck a deal to develop land in Lavington but the relationship soured and Duncan-Strelec was bankrupt in 2013 from a failed lawsuit against Cr Tate — leading her to publish the website alleging numerous false claims about him.
Duncan-Strelec had told the court she believed she “needed to fight this” because she had “lost everything because of what happened” but now just wanted the matter to be “over”.
Speaking outside the court in Sydney after yesterday’s sentencing, Duncan-Strelec said she had “fought for justice”.
“It’s cost me very dearly ... we worked so hard for everything we had,” she said.
“It’s had an enormous cost on my health, on my family.”
Duncan-Strelec was found guilty in August last year of five out of seven contempt charges, following a four-day trial relating to the website she published in June 2013, alleging among other things that Cr Tate traded in “worthless forestry bonds”.
It got 30,000 hits in a fortnight.
In July 2013, Cr Tate’s lawyers asked that she remove the allegations and replace them with a retraction and apology.
She replied to the demand: “I stand by those statements” and: “Tell your client to suck it up and take it like a man. He has had this coming for a long time.”
The court had previously heard Duncan-Strelec and Cr Tate were good friends — she even assisted him in an early bid to become Gold Coast mayor in 2000 — until a joint land development project at Centaur Road, Lavington “went awry”.
In 2010, Duncan-Strelec represented her and her ex-husband’s company Dunlec to sue Cr Tate and his wife for breach of contract, and lost; they were ordered to pay costs more than $305,000 and Dunlec was wound up.
Justice Bergin yesterday said Duncan-Strelec’s actions arose from her “deep dissatisfaction” over the outcome of this court case.
“The complexity of their (Duncan-Strelec and Cr Tate’s) relationship, their friendship and ultimately the breakdown of that relationship had serious consequences for (her),” Justice Bergin said.
“However, when she found herself on the losing side ... she did not avail herself of the appropriate appellate processes.”
Justice Bergin noted Duncan-Strelec was disadvantaged by not having professional legal help to “guide her on the appropriate path”; any “so-called support” offered by her lawyer constituted “unsatisfactory conduct”, prompting the judge to refer him to the legal services commissioner.
“I think it probable that if she had received he guidance of a lawyer with integrity she may not have found herself in these difficult circumstances,” Justice Bergin said.
“I say may not because there are other aspects of her personality that may well have prevented her from being deflected from the course she decided to take.”
Duncan-Strelec’s previous good behaviour, years of public service to Albury and family commitment were all considered mitigating factors.