Lehrmann inquiry chair accused of concealing texts

Tess Ikonomou |

A court has been told of texts between Walter Sofronoff and a columnist covering a case he reviewed.
A court has been told of texts between Walter Sofronoff and a columnist covering a case he reviewed.

A former judge who reviewed Bruce Lehrmann’s rape trial has been accused of trying to conceal text exchanges with a columnist who covered the case.

Walter Sofronoff was tasked with examining the role of police and prosecutors in relation to the high profile trial.

He vindicated the actions of investigating officers but castigated Shane Drumgold, the prosecutor in charge.

Shane Drumgold.
Shane Drumgold took legal action to invalidate findings of malpractice and unethical conduct. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Drumgold has launched legal action to invalidate a report that found he engaged in malpractice and unethical conduct.

His lawyer, Dan O’Gorman SC, focused on communications between Mr Sofronoff and The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen.

One exchange related to Albrechtsen’s request for confidential information.

Mr Sofronoff asked Albrechtsen to use a specific email address to request copies of draft notices of adverse findings against individuals in the judicial probe.

He had previously responded “will do” via text to her request for the documents.

This was an attempt to hide the communication between the two, Mr O’Gorman told the court.

“There was an attempt to prevent disclosure of those earlier communications where a request had been made and was granted,” he said on Thursday.

“(It) gives the impression that it was the first time she had made such a request, when it wasn’t the case.”

It could be inferred Mr Sofronoff was trying to create the appearance of something “other than reality”, the barrister said.

Mr Sofronoff never initiated contact with other journalists reporting on the inquiry, the court was told.

Mr O’Gorman argued a text sent from Mr Sofronoff asking Albrechtsen “got a minute?” showed a familiarity between the two, and was hardly the language a commission chairman would use when communicating with journalists.

The pair communicated 269 times in 161 days between February and July 2023, a timeline that covered the judicial inquiry.

“What was so special about her? Again another example (of) Mr Sofronoff  treating Ms Albrechtsen very different from anyone else,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Walter Sofronoff.
Former judge Walter Sofronoff is accused of developing a bias against prosecutor Shane Drumgold. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

Throughout the three-day hearing, he has argued Mr Sofronoff’s frequent communication with Albrechtsen had “infected” him with bias against the former ACT director of public prosecutions.

These assertions were contested by lawyers for the ACT government and police involved in the trial.

Brendan Lim, acting for the board of inquiry, told the court Mr Sofronoff did not give preferential treatment to Albrechtsen and engaged with any journalist who approached him with legitimate requests for information.

ACT government lawyer Kate Eastman SC told the court several critical articles written by Albrechtsen about Mr Drumgold were fair reports on the views of others. 

Mr O’Gorman rejected this and argued Albrechtsen chose to include “anti-Drumgold” opinions in her articles.

Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann.
Lehrmann was accused of raping Brittany Higgins, a fellow political staffer, in Parliament House. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

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

He has always denied the allegation.

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

In his final report, Mr Sofronoff found while the decision to prosecute Lehrmann was sound, Mr Drumgold lost objectivity, lied to the court’s chief justice and wrongly tried to keep material from the defence.

The hearings have concluded and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye will give his decision at a later date.