Lawyer: Media flogging made it impossible for Aivar Mäe to continue

Paul Keres.
Paul Keres. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Defense lawyer for outgoing National Opera Estonia head Aivar Mäe, sworn advocate Paul Keres, told ERR Friday that had Mäe decided to continue at the helm of the theater, he would not have been able to escape the effects of the Eesti Ekspress article and accusations of sexual harassment made therein.

You said a few months ago that what was going on was a public campaign to destroy Aivar Mäe. Has it ended now that Mäe said he will resign?

Yesterday's (Thursday – ed.) decision to write a resignation letter could not have been avoided as had Mäe continued at the head of the theater, the press would not have left Aivar Mäe or the national opera alone. A new season is about to begin and the situation was deemed unpracticable.

Did you advise him to compromise?

I advised nothing, while I told him about the consequences different actions would bring.

What is Aivar Mäe's mood like?

He is aggrieved over what has been done to him. He would have liked very much to run the theater until the end of his term. The national opera would also have preferred it, as he is a highly valued executive. But the media flogging made that impossible.

Did he tell you why he notified the supervisory board of his decision to resign even before its meeting?

He did, but that information is confidential.

Could the reason be National Opera Estonia's in-house report the contents of which the public is unaware of?

We were not shown the report. It was the unshakeable position of the supervisory board that the report was for their eyes only. It was not shared with me or Aivar Mäe. We only know that the allegations within cannot be compared to what Eesti Ekspress wrote in its article, which is to be understood as the report being a lot milder.

If it is milder, why not stand up for one's good name until the end?

The press' interest in the background of yesterday's decision, the ethical side of terminating Mäe's contract and the in-house audit is intense. Had Aivar Mäe decided to stay on, he could not have worked without being constantly asked about the Ekspress piece and the accusations therein. He would also have been asked about the report of which he knows nothing. Members of the supervisory board would also have been pestered over the report it has declared confidential. If you put all of that together, you realize it would be impossible to run the national opera in such a situation.

Could Aivar Mäe demand to see the report by turning to court?

I have not thought about it. It is hypothetically possible. But it would only be of significance if he wanted to be reinstated on the grounds of his contract having been terminated illegally. I believe no such dispute will arise because the contract was terminated following Mäe's initiative.

We do not know how this story will end, what the police will find and the court decide. How much will you be seeking in damages should the allegations turn out baseless?

No such figure can be expressed as a sane person cannot calculate the price of emotional damage. That is why the claim against Eesti Ekspress will ask the court to order fair compensation.

Why haven't you sent it in yet? Are you waiting for the investigation results?

It is not stuck behind the investigation, we simply do not have everything we need yet.

Has Jelena Skulskaja, after receiving a claim for damages from you, replied?

The court has not found the time to enter the claim into proceedings, meaning she has not replied.

How would you sum up this entire thing as a lawyer and as Mäe's defender?

It is a simple story really: Eesti Ekspress published an article that included several false claims. The publisher will have to overturn these claims which is what we're seeking in court. In addition, misdemeanor proceedings were launched regarding three episodes currently being investigated by the police. I hope the police will terminate these proceedings without ordering a penalty as I see no legal alternative as a lawyer. I hope this entire saga will culminate in the near or foreseeable future with an Ekspress article that lists the false claims the publication made.

Isn't it too little should the claims really turn out to have been false?

I also believe it is too little, but that is the scope of legal protection the law affords a person. Compensation for non-material damage is also on the agenda, but Estonian court practice puts these sums nowhere near what would hurt a major media house enough to cause it to avoid such ventures in the future. Sums ordered by courts in most cases constitute pocket change for Ekspress Meedia. We cannot send anyone behind bars either and just need to accept the situation.

What is stopping you from filing a €10 million lawsuit?

Professional character and ethics. I could only file a €10 million claim for Aivar Mäe knowing that over 99 percent of it would go unsatisfied that would also require Aivar Mäe to pay Ekspress Meedia's legal expenses. That would hardly be a fair outcome.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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