‘Poisoned’ review into Bruce Lehrmann’s rape trial

Tess Ikonomou |

An ex-judge examined the conduct of police and prosecutors in the trial of Bruce Lehrmann (left).
An ex-judge examined the conduct of police and prosecutors in the trial of Bruce Lehrmann (left).

A former judge who reviewed the rape trial of Bruce Lehrmann “poisoned his mind” against the prosecutor in charge, a court has heard.

Former ACT chief prosecutor Shane Drumgold has launched legal action against the inquiry, challenging its findings he engaged in malpractice and unethical conduct.

Allegations were aired in the Supreme Court on Tuesday that Walter Sofronoff, who led the review, was influenced by frequent communication with a columnist who covered the case.

Walter Sofronoff (file image)
Walter Sofronoff frequently communicated with a newspaper columnist, the court was told. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Sofronoff was tasked by the ACT government with examining the conduct of police and prosecutors in the Lehrmann trial.

Lehrmann was accused of raping Brittany Higgins, a fellow political staffer, inside Parliament House.

He denied the allegation.

His trial was abandoned due to jury misconduct and a retrial called off over concerns about Ms Higgins’ health.

The subsequent Sofronoff inquiry received wide media coverage including from Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist at The Australian.

Mr Drumgold’s lawyers said Albrechtsen’s coverage favoured Lehrmann and she wrote a series of negative stories about the prosecutor’s conduct.

Albrechtsen “infected” Mr Sofronoff with this bias through frequent communication between the pair, the court heard.

Shane Drumgold (file image)
Shane Drumgold is challenging findings he engaged in malpractice and unethical conduct. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Drumgold was represented in court by Queensland silk Dan O’Gorman.

He outlined informal contact between Mr Sofronoff and Albrechtsen in the lead-up to and throughout the inquiry.

There were regular calls and text messages, with Mr Sofronoff using four different emails to communicate with the columnist.

Albrechtsen also provided Mr Sofronoff with Lehrmann’s contact details, the court heard.

Days before the inquiry started, Mr Sofronoff made negative comments about Mr Drumgold’s conduct in a text message to Albrechtsen.

Mr O’Gorman described this exchange as “particularly concerning” as it amounted to Mr Sofronoff expressing negative opinions about the top prosecutor before he could defend himself.

Daniel O'Gorman SC (right, file image)
Daniel O’Gorman (right) described Mr Sofronoff’s text about Mr Drumgold as particularly concerning. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

The Sofronoff inquiry took place in 2023.

Between February and August of that year, Mr Sofronoff made 91 phone calls to journalists including 51 to Albrechtsen.

Mr O’Gorman said no other reporter had been afforded the same time or attention.

A number of her articles from the inquiry were “nasty” and indicated an “anti-Drumgold” bias, the court heard.

Mr Sofronoff gave Albrechtsen a draft of his final report, in addition to documents containing his notes.

Mr Sofronoff found that while the decision to prosecute Lehrmann was sound, Mr Drumgold lost objectivity and lied to the court’s chief justice.

Mr Drumgold resigned as director of public prosecutions after the report was released.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.