“This is a petty neighbourhood squabble essentially caused by the arrogance and feeling of superiority of [Ms Hutley],” Justice Rothman said.
He said Ms Hutley had “displayed an abysmal arrogance and sense of privilege”.
“The once working-class suburb of Balmain has been wholly gentrified, to which this case testifies,” Justice Rothman said.
This had led to “the development of elite homes for those who, by any ordinary standards, would be regarded as ‘elite’.”
He said the conduct of both parties was “a salutary lesson in how not to conduct relations with neighbours”, “regardless of where it is the fault lies”.
The court heard Ms Hutley and her family had been locked in an acrimonious dispute with Mr Cosco since his family bought the house next door for $1.75 million in 2013 and made a series of changes, starting with a skirmish over a new fence.
The drawn-out dispute involved court cases and mutual applications for Apprehended Violence Orders. By the time of the ACA broadcast, which was initiated by Ms Hutley, Mr Cosco had pleaded guilty to malicious damage for spraying expanding foam into a vent on her property.
While Justice Rothman noted Mr Cosco had pleaded guilty to this offence, he found the chief antagonist in the neighbourhood dispute was not Mr Cosco but Ms Hutley.
He said he had “absolutely no doubt that [Mr Cosco] … did not bully the defendant”.
“Rather, it was [Ms Hutley] … and her family that bullied the plaintiff and the workers on site.”
The court heard that Ms Hutley said during one exchange, “we’re going to roast you, we’re lawyers”.
Builder’s labourer Maurice Cornielje, who worked for Ms Cosco, gave evidence Ms Hutley verbally abused him and other workers on the site from “day one”, including suggesting “that we don’t belong here, that we’re foreigners”.
“Maybe we’re all a bit tan, but I was born in Balmain, lived in Balmain my whole life. I went overseas once,” Mr Cornielje said.
Justice Rothman recounted an incident in which Mr Cornielje accused Ms Hutley of acting “like a bigot”, to which she replied “you can’t even spell the word”.
Justice Rothman said the demeanour of Ms Hutley during the ACA interview “gives a totally false impression of her innocence and the circumstances of the disputation between these neighbours”.
The court heard a labourer employed by Mr Cosco scrawled the word “moot” on the footpath and other objects allegedly visible to his neighbours, an insult Ms Hutley’s barrister said meant “old c–“.
But Justice Rothman said Mr Cosco was not personally responsible and there was no evidence he knew what the word meant.
He also rejected an argument that Mr Cosco endangered the life of Ms Hutley and her family by spraying foam in a kitchen vent, saying it was “not readily combustible”.
Justice Rothman said there was no reason not to accept Mr Cosco’s evidence that he had warned Ms Hutley he would block the vent if she did not move it.
He ordered Ms Hutley to pay Mr Cosco $300,000 plus interest in the order of $60,000, and costs.
Mr Cosco did not sue ACA.
In an earlier judgment in 2017, Justice Lucy McCallum said the case cried out “for resolution by mediation”.
“Each party, it would seem to me, has much to lose if the proceedings go beyond the stage that they are presently at.”
The Herald is owned by Nine Entertainment Co, which also produces A Current Affair.
Michaela Whitbourn is a legal affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.