Despite engaging in misleading and unlawful conduct, TV funnyman Julian Morrow has been awarded $35k in damages after his former business partner sent defamatory emails about him to the ABC following a bitter dispute over a cancelled comedy show.
Mr Morrow, of The Chaser fame, sued veteran producer Nick Murray, accusing him of sending defamatory emails after the ABC axed The Checkout.
Between 2013 and 2018, The Checkout was produced as a venture jointly owned by Mr Morrow’s business, Giant Dwarf, and Mr Murray’s company, Cordell Jigsaw.
The ABC put the show on hiatus in 2018 because of funding problems and a devastated Mr Morrow launched a campaign criticising the decision and putting pressure on executives at the national broadcaster to reconsider the decision.
In March 2019, the court heard Mr Morrow asked the ABC to consider funding Are You Being Served? – another consumer affairs show.
During the previous month, Mr Morrow was negotiating the possible sale of Cordell Jigsaw’s stake in the joint venture company, Jigsaw Dwarf, with Mr Murray.
In April 2019, a share sale agreement was executed and Mr Morrow purchased Mr Murray’s stake in the joint venture for $50, with the pair agreeing to abide by a series of terms and conditions.
Delivering his findings in the case on Wednesday, NSW Supreme Court Justice James Stevenson said Mr Morrow acted unlawfully and “engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct”.
“During those negotiations, Mr Morrow did not mention to Mr Murray that he was, at the same time, in effect negotiating with the ABC to re-badge his proposed Are You Being Served program as the seventh series of The Checkout, subject only to a successful culmination of his negotiations with Mr Murray concerning Cordell Jigsaw’s shares in the joint venture company,” Justice Stevenson said.
“Mr Murray had no knowledge of Mr Morrow’s communications with the ABC, nor the advanced state of his negotiations with them. Mr Morrow, in effect, instructed the ABC not to inform Mr Murray of those matters.”
Justice Stevenson said immediately after the share sales agreement was executed, Mr Morrow told the ABC and said “we should now proceed” to produce a seventh season of The Checkout.
The behaviour was a “breach of the implied term” of an agreement Mr Morrow made to disclose opportunities to Mr Murray, the court heard.
The court ruling now means the share sale agreement can be rescinded and while Justice Stevenson found Mr Morrow acted in breach of his duties as a director of the joint venture company, Mr Murray has been ordered to pay $35k in damages because of how he responded to being misled.
Justice Stevenson found Mr Murray made false representations to ABC executives, which suggested Mr Morrow had engaged in fraud and never paid to buy Cordell Jigsaw’s stake in the joint venture.
The court was told representation made by Mr Murray that suggested it was Mr Morrow’s conduct which caused The Checkout to end – rather than be put on hiatus – was true.
“In substance, I have found Mr Morrow’s conduct did cause this to happen,” Justice Stevenson told the court.
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