Lisa Wilkinson chases $1.8 million from Ten as true extent of Bruce Lehrmann’s legal bill revealed

Remy Varga, Sarah Blake
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Broadcaster Lisa Wilkinson is seeking $1.8m in legal costs over rapist Bruce Lehrmann’s failed defamation suit against her and her employer Channel 10.
Broadcaster Lisa Wilkinson is seeking $1.8m in legal costs over rapist Bruce Lehrmann’s failed defamation suit against her and her employer Channel 10. Credit: Supplied

High-profile journalist Lisa Wilkinson is seeking $1.8 million in legal costs from her employer Network 10 in rapist Bruce Lehrmann’s failed defamation action against her and the media company.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee on Monday raised concerns that the retainer agreement given to the court by Wilkinson hadn’t been signed, which he said was “pretty foundational” in making a claim for nearly $2 million in costs.

Wilkinson’s barrister Michael Elliott SC said he would make inquiries as to whether there was a signed agreement and said Network 10 had exhibited an “ongoing reluctance to pay us anything”.

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Ten’s barrister Zoe Graus told the court that some of Wilkinson’s costs were not in dispute but said they had flagged concerns that there were two cost agreements with “markedly different rates” issued on the same day.

Mr Lee said an account ledger tendered to the court was “fairly spartan” but said the bills tendered by Wilkinson were relatively detailed and he believed the parties could come to an agreement together.

“I really think if two sensible solicitors got into a room together you should be able to go through it with yellow and blue highlighters,” he said.

Wilkinson has claimed she was forced to hire her own lawyers, including high-profile defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC, as she feared Network 10 would fail to represent her interests in the legal battle.

The failed defamation action brought by Mr Lehrmann is one of several ongoing legal battles triggered after former Coalition staffer Brittany Higgins alleged he raped her inside the office of their then-boss Senator Linda Reynolds after a night out drinking with colleagues in 2019.

Ms Higgins’ bombshell account of rape in a cabinet minister’s office was first made to Wilkinson in an interview aired on The Project and published on news.com.au on February 14 in 2021.

Lisa Wilkinson (centre) speaks to the media
Lisa Wilkinson is chasing $1.8 million in legal costs following Bruce Lehrmann’s costly failed defamation battle. Credit: AAP

Mr Lehrmann claimed in the defamation action that he was identifiable despite not being named in The Project episode but ultimately lost the bid to clear his name after Judge Lee found that, on the balance of probabilities, the former Coalition staffer was a rapist.

Mr Lehrmann, who is unemployed and studying law, is now liable to pay Network 10’s legal costs and is facing potential bankruptcy.

On Monday Judge Lee said he would rather make a costs order for a lump sump instead of sourcing a referrer to assess Network 10’s legal bill given the “limited prospects” of the media company recovering costs from Mr Lehrmann.

“I don’t want people throwing good money after bad and having referees going down the path of preparing detailed reports when it is a completely futile exercise,” he said.

“It may be it may not be I have an open mind in relation to that. “

Judge Lee said having a settlement figure would help both Network 10 and Mr Lehrmann “get on with the rest of their lives”.

It has been reported costs could have exceeded $10 million for the roll call of senior silks, which included some of Australia’s biggest legal names, in the fallout from the failed defamation bid.

Judge Lee ordered that Wilkinson serve additional material in her indemnity claim, including a signed version of a cost agreement, by June 21.

Network 10 will have the same date to file the amount they are seeking from Mr Lehrmann.

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