Principal slaps students’ parents with defamation suit
A GROUP of parents fear losing their homes in an extraordinary legal stoush launched by a school principal in the wake of critical remarks they posted on Facebook.
Tamborine Mountain State High School principal Tracey Brose is suing the parents for more than $1 million - $220,000 from each of five parents - for damaging her personal and professional reputation, and leaving her "shunned" by the community.
In the bitter two-and-a-half-year legal battle, one parent claims to have been driven to voluntary bankruptcy to pay for her legal fees and another has had an order placed on them suspending the sale of their home.
Documents filed with the court detail a number of defamatory allegations made by the parents on Facebook against the principal including a claim she expelled poorer-performing students to stop them sitting exams in a bid to pump up the school's scores, and of being a bully and "destroying young children's souls".
Mrs Brose argues the online comments, viewed by 8200 people on a change.org petition and on the Tamborine Mountain Facebook page in March 2016, attacked her "integrity, honesty, fairness, and judgment, all matters critical to a teacher and especially a school principal".
The petition was aimed at collecting signatures to encourage then-education minister Kate Jones to reinstate Mrs Brose to her job as principal after she was temporarily suspended on full pay in February 2016. Mrs Brose was subsequently fully cleared and reappointed.
The bitter unresolved legal dispute has torn apart the tight-knit and leafy hinterland community, forced locals to take sides and several to leave the mountain.
Court records show Mrs Brose has taken out enforcement warrants registered on the title deeds of four their homes.
Three have now been lifted. One parent, aged care nurse Charmaine Proudlock, yesterday still had a writ against the title of her Mt Tamborine home to the benefit of Mrs Brose. Some still have costs orders debts hanging over their heads, with one currently in debt for $31,000 to Mrs Brose.
The debts arose after the parents lost pre-trial legal scuffles related to their defence pleadings.
One parent of two ex-students - school crossing guard Trudie Arnold - tipped herself into voluntary bankruptcy on the same day she was ordered by the court to pay Mrs Brose's $39,234 in legal costs. Others fear their homes will be lost to pay ballooning legal bills and, if they lose the case, the $220,000 each Mrs Brose is seeking from them.
Mrs Brose initially sued eight parents for $1.76 million, but since she confidentially settled her claim against three defendants, the suit is now worth $1.1 million.
The parents argue in their filings the massive damages claimed are unrealistic and out of proportion to the harm allegedly suffered, as Mrs Brose has her job back.
The ordeal for Mrs Brose and her family has spilled beyond the courtroom. According to an affidavit filed by her lawyer, one of the defendants in the defamation matter, Miguel Baluskas, attempted a home invasion at the Brose family house in May 2018. Mr Baluskas is facing separate police charges over the matter.
Mrs Brose argues the false Facebook comments were made to a broad audience and to people likely to know her in a professional capacity, and submits the suit is aimed at vindicating her reputation. She argues Mr Baluskas and his wife, Donna, are "unrepentant" and "intent on painting themselves as victims"
But parent and nurse Mrs Baluskas argues her offers of a formal written apology and her attendance at mediation with Mrs Brose to make amends have come to naught and Mrs Brose won't drop the suit.
"We can't afford a lawyer or get any free legal help," Mrs Baluskas told the court in her affidavit.
"We have nothing financial for them to gain by taking us to trial. The only satisfaction they will get out of this is to make a low income, hardworking struggling family go bankrupt and what sort of justice is that? We are merely relying on telling the truth and a good judge who will see this case for what it really is. No-win, no-fee lawyers don't take on defamation cases, neither do Legal Aid or community legal services," Mrs Baluskas told the court.
Mrs Brose's case will come before a jury in a three-week hearing in October in District Court in Southport. Ms Arnold, of Canungra, who went voluntarily bankrupt in October last year, told The Sunday Mail the legal process had "been soul crushing".
In May last year Mrs Brose got an enforcement warrant for the "seizure and sale of goods" against the title of Ms Arnold's home.
According to court documents, Ms Arnold posted on Facebook on March 12, 2016 that Mrs Brose was "a lying, manipulative bully, who gets off by belitting as many people as she can. She is responsible for every failure, she is pathetic, NOT an educator".
Mrs Brose asserts the comments are both false and defamatory.
Grocery merchandiser and mother-of-three Laura Lawson, 49, of Coomera, is defending the claims.
"The impact (this case) has had on my life has been gut-wrenching" Mrs Lawson told The Sunday Mail. "If I lose, I may have to declare bankruptcy as well."
According to court documents Ms Lawson posted on Facebook on March 13, 2016 saying Mrs Brose made her sons' "lives a nightmare" at the school. Mrs Brose's lawyer told The Sunday Mail "it would be wholly inappropriate" to comment on the case before trial.