Principal Tracey Brose leaves the District Court at Southport with her husband during the trial late last year. (ABC Gold Coast: Gemma Sapwell)
A school principal from a small town on the Gold Coast has won her defamation case against two parents who made derogatory comments about her on social media.
Judge Catherine Muir ordered Donna and Miguel Baluskas to pay Mount Tambourine State High School principal Tracey Brose $3,000 each in damages over their posts to Facebook and change.org in 2016.
The case against another two parents were dismissed.
Another three settled the case out of court prior to the lengthy and taxing trial, with Ms Brose receiving a total amount of $182,500 from them.
The longstanding principal of the school, which is the only high school in the mountain community of 7,000, was suspended from her role in 2016 for alleged inappropriate conduct.
The school and the broader community were told that the plaintiff was “on leave” but news of the suspension filtered out almost immediately, the judgement read.
Three of the defendants, Laura Lawson, Donna Baluskas, Miguel Baluskas, leave the courthouse. (ABC Gold Coast: Gemma Sapwell)
Judge Muir said speculation over the reasons for Ms Brose’s absence led to rumour and innuendo within the community.
President of the schools Parents and Citizens association, David Hows, set up a Change.org discussion website to reinstate Ms Brose, and also set up a private Facebook page to support her.
Over the next few days, around 600 people signed the petition.
While most comments were complimentary, some were highly critical.
Ms Brose was reinstated to principal a few months later and commenced legal proceedings against eight of the 34 individuals, the judgment said.
She originally claimed $150,000 in damages from each of the defendants as well as an injunction restraining them from making further defamatory statements.
However, Judge Muir today awarded Ms Brose $6,000, following the four-week trial in the Southport District Court.
“The damages I have awarded are modest and well below what the plaintiff has sought,” Judge Muir wrote.
“But I consider them sufficient to vindicate the plaintiff in light of the unique contextual features of social media forums.
“I am satisfied that there is a real risk of further publication of the defamatory comments made by the first and second defendants [Donna and Miguel Baluskas], so I have ordered that they be permanently restrained from making them again.
“The fiscal and emotional toll on all those involved has been high.
“It has involved many hours, many witnesses and caused much antagonism and distress for all parties.”