‘Deal of the century’: Lehrmann hit with $2m legal bill

Miklos Bolza |

Network Ten agreed to discount the funds it was seeking from Bruce Lehrmann.
Network Ten agreed to discount the funds it was seeking from Bruce Lehrmann.

Bruce Lehrmann is a step closer to bankruptcy having been ordered to pay $2 million to Ten in what his lawyer says might be the “deal of the century” after a spectacular defamation loss.

The 29-year-old is unlikely to ever hand over the sum after a judge noted he was “a man of modest means” with little ability to pay.

Justice Michael Lee in April found a Network Ten report on The Project in February 2021 did not defame Lehrmann when it effectively outed him as an alleged rapist.

Lisa Wilkinson and lawyers (file image)
Ten may pay $558,000 of the $1.8 million legal costs Lisa Wilkinson sought, the court has been told. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

The Federal Court judge found, on the balance of probabilities, that the 29-year-old sexually assaulted Brittany Higgins in the Parliament House office of their then-boss Senator Linda Reynolds in March 2019.

On Thursday, Justice Lee finalised Ten’s bill against Lehrmann after the network agreed to discount the funds it was seeking and quickly resolve the dispute.

Ten said it had spent almost $3.7 million defending the case.

But after Justice Lee found the network had failed in one of its key defences and the firm also lost a number of preliminary legal bids, the amount payable by Lehrmann was reduced to about $3.1 million.

Ten agreed to bill Lehrmann for a flat rate of $2 million after a hefty discount was applied, the network’s barrister Zoe Graus said on Thursday.

Lehrmann, who is living in Tasmania, did not consent to or oppose the order and his lawyer Paul Svilans told the court he did not know enough about how Ten’s counsel had been paid to know whether the discounted amount was realistic.

“It might be the deal of the century, the $2 million, for all I know,” he said.

Justice Lee approved the sum, finding it was well within the amount that would have been recoverable given the complexity and length of the lawsuit.

Dr Matthew Collins KC (file image)
Ten’s barrister Matt Collins KC charged $11,000 a day during the trial. (Steven Saphore/AAP PHOTOS)

It has previously been revealed that the 29-year-old had no financial backers in the defamation case.

He will not have to pay for his own lawyers, who were representing him on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Ten was willing to pay around $558,000 to journalist Lisa Wilkinson for her legal costs after she was also sued in the lawsuit, Ms Graus said.

The court previously heard Wilkinson would be seeking $1.8 million in costs, but uncertainty about her agreement with law firm Gillis Delaney meant her legal bill would be assessed by a referee to work out how much Ten should cover and what should be passed on to Lehrmann.

Wilkinson’s top defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC charged $8000 for each day at trial while Ten’s barrister Matt Collins KC charged $11,000.

Dr Collins’ total bill for the case came to $768,750.

In April, Justice Lee found Ten and Wilkinson’s conduct in preparing for the Project interview was unreasonable because they did not take adequate steps to investigate claims made by Ms Higgins.

Bruce Lehrmann (file image)
The court hearing coincided with a tribunal hearing over Bruce Lehrmann’s rental property dispute. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

In particular, they failed to examine baseless allegations that members of the Liberal party had attempted to cover up the rape allegations before a federal election.

Lehrmann has denied that any sexual activity occurred between himself and Ms Higgins, and has appealed Justice Lee’s findings against him.

Ten and Wilkinson have also lodged challenges to parts of the judge’s findings.

Lehrmann is not facing criminal charges over the incident after his trial was aborted due to juror misconduct and prosecutors declined to push forward with a retrial.

The Federal Court hearing took place on the same day Lehrmann faced a conciliation hearing in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal over a luxury Sydney property he rented as part of an exclusive TV interview deal.

His former landlord Gaenor Meakes is seeking nearly $20,000 for damage to the property and unpaid rent in a case that was transferred to the local court on Thursday because of jurisdictional issues.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

AAP