The never-ending lawsuits of AHEPA in NSW

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On October 21, 2023, Justice Black in the Supreme Court of NSW delivered two separate judgments in the latest of a long line of cases involving warring factions within the Australian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) in New South Wales.

The Greek Herald has previously reported on the extensive and costly litigation that has occurred since 2016. To recap, these are the reported cases in the Supreme Court of NSW, the Court of Appeal and one (unsuccessful) special leave application to the High Court:

NSW SUPREME COURT 

Gouros & Ors v Order of AHEPA NSW Incorporated [2023] NSWSC 1281 (31 October 2023)

Diakovasili & Anor v Order of AHEPA NSW Incorporated [2023] NSWSC 1282 (31 October 2023)

Order of AHEPA NSW Incorporated [2021] NSWSC 1181 (15 September 2021)

In the matter of Order of AHEPA NSW Incorporated [2020] NSWSC 1626 (30 October 2020)

In the matter of AHEPA NSW Incorporated [2020] NSWSC 138 (24 February 2020)

In the matter of Order of AHEPA NSW Inc. [2019] NSWSC 1329 (3 October 2019)

In the matter of Order of AHEPA NSW Incorporated [2018] NSWSC 458 (13 April 2018)

COURT OF APPEAL

Lianos v Order of AHEPA NSW Inc (No 5) [2021] NSWCA 317 (15 December 2021)

Lianos v Order of AHEPA NSW Inc (No 4) [2021] NSWCA 159 (6 August 2021)

Lianos v Order of AHEPA NSW Inc (No 3) [2020] NSWCA 340 (17 December 2020)

Lianos v Order of AHEPA NSW Inc (No 2) [2020] NSWCA 304 (26 November 2020)

Lianos v Order of AHEPA NSW Inc [2020] NSWCA 193 (26 August 2020)

Lianos v Order of AHEPA NSW Inc [2020] NSWCA 193 (26 August 2020)

HIGH COURT

ORDER OF AHEPA NSW INC v Lianos & Ors  [2021] HCASL 113 (17 June 2021)

The latest front opened up in this seemingly never-ending lawsuit involved claims by a group of dissident members which were the subject of the two latest decisions following separate hearings held in September and October 2023 before Justice Black.

In the first case, the faction led by Con Gouros and Jim Antonakos initially applied to the court for orders against the Order of AHEPA NSW Incorporated and related AHEPA Chapters regarding a proposed long-term lease of the Bexley Bowling Club premises but that action was rendered otiose after Bayside Council terminated the agreement.  

Bexley Bowling Club.
Bexley Bowling Club.

The Gouros faction then sought to re-agitate (as the Court described it) arguments about who was eligible for membership in AHEPA (in all its manifestations) and relied on a number of affidavits by dissident members that, according to the defendants’ lawyers, simply went over old ground which had been the subject of earlier proceedings in cases such as Lianos 2019, Lianos CA 1 and Lianos CA4.

In the end, Justice Black rejected the application on the basis that it constituted an abuse of process and ordered that, given the multiplicity of litigation between the parties, the fact that several of the plaintiffs belonging to the Gouros faction have been involved in previous and substantially overlapping claims against AHEPA NSW, they cannot commence or continue any proceedings in any Court or Tribunal against any of the Defendants (other than by a claim in the nature of a defence, cross-claim or cross-summons or an appeal from this judgment, which arise from the same or similar facts as these proceedings without the leave of the Supreme Court).

In the second case, Justice Black considered an application brought by Litsa Diakovasili and Jim Antonakos (also part of the Gouros faction) asking the court to allow them to commence derivative legal proceedings in the name of the Order of AHEPA NSW in respect of a variety of claims stemming from the alleged undervalue disposal of the AHEPA premises in Rockdale, including allegations of fraudulent conduct on the part of those in effective control of AHEPA NSW, investigation of the circumstances of the appointment of a Voluntary Administrator, alleged breaches of fiduciary duties, question marks over AHEPA NSW’s solvency and its ability to pay substantial legal costs, as well as the validity of competing special general meetings convened by the warring factions.

To succeed, the Gouros faction needed to satisfy the court that they had seriously arguable cases to prosecute any or all of these claims.

Early in his judgment, Justice Black ominously recalled what he wrote in his 2020 judgment that “despite its laudable aims, the Association has been occupied in the recent past in internal disputes, which have generated other litigation in this Court.”  That legal juggernaut has not stalled.

After considering the volumes of evidence, the judge rejected the application and declared:

“It seems to me there would be a real detriment to AHEPA NSW and the community generally in permitting the Plaintiffs to advance claims that are not seriously arguable against the Defendants. First, that would perpetuate the cycle of repeated litigation that has consumed AHEPA NSW over several years; second, it would continue to distract AHEPA NSW and its members from undertaking any of the objectives for which it was created; and, third, it would deter members of the Greek community from joining AHEPA NSW or serving on its management committee, by identifying the risk that they too could be targeted as individuals in litigation brought by the other faction, justified by no more than the proposition that that has no “downside” to AHEPA NSW.”

Given the sad history of this litigation it seems almost pre-ordained that the losing side will appeal.  And so AHEPA’s ongoing internecine civil war will still be waged and legal costs – which conservatively must now run into the many millions of dollars – will continue to spiral out of control as AHEPA descends into its own modern-day version of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.   

For the sake of AHEPA’s founding philosophy and elan d’spirit, the sooner wiser heads prevail the better for all concerned.

*In a statement issued by AHEPA NSW following the court case, the Association welcomed the judgement and said it hopes it “will signal the end of any past disputes and mark the beginning of a new era worthy of the history of this great organisation.”

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