CHRISTOPHER DORE: Lehrmann v 10 & Lisa v Higgins and Leon v Ms Chrysanthou v Mr Bean . . . and the verdict is?

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Christopher Dore
The Nightly
6 Min Read
Higgins, Lehrmann, Wilkinson, 10 . . . and the verdict is?
Higgins, Lehrmann, Wilkinson, 10 . . . and the verdict is? Credit: Supplied.

THE CANBERRA CURSE

Will there be yet another prominent victim of the Curse of Canberra?

The sorry saga that started half a decade ago with innocent enough work drinks at the Kingo for a bunch of upstart political apparatchiks is still threatening calamitous consequences, the hard-earned reputation and colourful careers, of so many political and legal figures to have stumbled, by accident or design, into the scandal.

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A prime minister, several of his ministers, senators, bureaucrats, advisers, a prosecutor, a former judge, an auto-cue reader.

Any day now, Michael Lee — the inscrutable YouTube sensation Judge Mikey (like and subscribe) — every thinking woman’s Federal Court crush, will hand down his verdict in the matter of Lehrmann v Ten and Lisa v Brittany and Leon v Ms Chrysanthou v Mr Bean v common sense.

Surely the most cretinous case to have ever darkened his chambers.

True to form in this tawdry tale, once Lee delivers his scathing review of the leading characters in this case, Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann, expect a few hangers on to cop a serve and suffer some side effects.

Lisa Wilkinson arrives at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, February 13, 2024. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING
Lisa Wilkinson arrives at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, February 13, 2024. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

ZIG ZAG ZWIER

But will legendary Melbourne lawyer, Mr Fix-It himself, Leon Zwier be among them?

Legal brains believe Zwier could be dragged before Lee to explain why he should not be held in contempt for applying improper pressure on a party — TV talking head Lisa Wilkinson — in this defamation trial by threatening to withhold the star witness, his charge Higgins, from appearing as a witness.

Zwier demanded Lisa dump her famed lawyer Sue Chrysanthou because she zigged when he zagged in another high profile defamation case in which she won, handsomely. In the multi-million dollar Geoffrey Rush debacle, Zwier was not directly involved but decided to again cocoon the star witness, actress EJ Norvill, who failed to convince another Federal Court judge of her claims against the onetime Hollywood star. In the Higgins case, was Zwier acting on his client’s instructions?

Some believe Zwier, whose expertise and well-earned reputation is in complex, boring but lucrative, commercial litigation, not as a celebrity minder, was already lucky to escape the clutches of an itchy Lee earlier in this case when he was caught on a secretly recorded tape.

Leon Zwier is a litigation and corporate recovery services lawyer. He has been a partner of Arnold Bloch Leibler since 1991 and is head of the firm?s dispute resolution & litigation and restructuring & insolvency practices.
Will legendary Melbourne lawyer, Mr Fix-It himself, Leon Zwier be among them? Credit: Unknown/abl

On the sensational recording, uncovered by Sky News star Sharri Markson, Zwier can be heard making all sorts of claims and observations to his client’s fiancé, David Sharaz, and pal Emma Webster in a hotel bar. At the time Higgins was under oath, and banned from talking to anyone, including her lawyer, about her sensitive evidence.

Zwier, who has never denied the reported remarks captured on the tape, could be heard telling a worried Sharaz how Higgins, hypothetically, apparently, could answer questions under oath in the box the next day. Just a team bonding session, according to Zwier when quizzed, and probably an illegal recording, an assertion with which Judge Lee did not seem to agree but never got the chance to test.

Of course what may have been said but not captured on tape was Zwier giving an explicit warning to Sharaz to not pass on any of his advice or insights to Brittany, who was waiting in her hotel room. He may well have told Sharaz, off tape, that “this is just us talking”.

“Do not repeat any of what I have said to you tonight to Britt as the judge has given explicit instructions that she must not talk to anyone about strategy and evidence while under oath. This is just between us David. Shhh.”

That could definitely have happened, out of earshot. That would be the appropriate thing for Zwier to have said, or words to that effect. But we will never know, because Lehrmann’s nervy suburban Canberra barrister Steve Whybrow and his hidden-from-view legal adviser Margaret Cunneen, didn’t accept Lee’s invitation to put the tape into evidence.

AND THE VERDICT IS

It’s very likely, however, that Lee, in his findings, will accept the extraordinary invitation from lawyers on both sides of this defamation case to make very unpleasant observations about the credibility of each of their star witnesses — Higgins and Lehrmann.

Incredibly, lawyers for the respondent in the defamation case, Ten, led by Blue Steel KC, Matt Collins, admitted their star pony, Ms Brittany Higgins, may not have been the most reliable witness. On minor stuff. But on the important bits she must be believed.

Likewise, Canberra criminal barrister Whybrow, for lawyer-in-training Lehrmann, doing his best impersonation of My Cousin Vinny, also acknowledged his man may not have exactly been telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But on the main stuff he was. And even if my guy wasn’t, your Honour, the other side were worse, hey?

How Lee can make sense of it is anyone’s guess.

But here’s one: Ten loses, it’s reasonable to conclude they did not act reasonably, and they did not convincingly prove a sexual assault. Neither party has told the truth on a whole range of topics, and Lee will find it impossible to decide who was less of a bullshit artist.

Wilkinson “wins”, mostly because she had no idea what was going on around her at Ten and well Chrysanthou, SC, is her barrister. That leaves Lehrmann the nominal “winner”. But on form, Lee, who suffers fools through gritted teeth and an admirably controlled temper, will find it challenging to award serious damages to anyone who has been less than 100 per cent truthful under oath.

OFF HIS LAROCCA, AND HAVING A SHOCKER

Ernst & Young’s local chief executive David Larocca has spent the better part of a year lashing the mugs over at PwC, fronting up gravely to the Senate’s committee examining the behaviour of consultants and telling anyone who will listen how deeply disturbing those cowboys are and why over here at EY “we are not PwC”.

Transparency and accountability is what we are about at ethically erudite EY. Larocca has recently proposed a government-run partnership disciplinary board so the misdeeds and misconduct of consultancy firms can be investigated and determined in public.

How noble.

So, why then is Look-Over-There Larocca, in a live legal stoush with a former partner, filing an application to not only suppress the firm’s partnership agreement but also to stay the proceedings so the dispute can be diverted to a secret commercial arbitration? How very transparent.

Lawyers acting for both sides in the dispute, Larocca’s mob and the partner’s, were coy about what’s going on but undoubtedly EY will do whatever it can to do exactly what it told the Senate, and its clients and its staff, and everyone else, it mostly certainly would not do — keep its dirty little secret far away from public view.

Business leader Andrew Forrest.
Andrew Forrest speaking at Press Club. Credit: AAP

HOT AIR AND GREEN ENVY

Andrew Forrest, the National Party’s favourite “snake oil salesman”, was at it again this week, making the rounds in Canberra, lobbying the government and any other poor bastard in a bid to kill off diesel fuel and divert subsidies that prop up farming and mining activities into other areas he reckons are better — like his own pockets.

Forrest often can’t see the wood from the trees but can certainly see a way of transferring billions in taxpayer dollars from government coffers into his own in the name of green energy.

The Human Drone is nothing if not persistent. He won’t stop on his mission to redirect the $7 billion the feds hand back to miners and farmers slugged by diesel fuel taxes designed to pay for stuff they don’t use — like paved public roads. No one with any sense in Parliament is buying what he’s selling (maybe not enough Chinese customers in Canberra). But it’s also too much for the tense execs over at Fortescue, those at least whose fridge is still fully stocked with Kool-Aid anyway.

Let’s face it, if Forrest really believed in himself, FMG could lead by example, start the $7bn phase out and hand back the $300m a year it gets from the rebate scheme. And let’s not forget, the Green Monster is a billionaire because he mines iron ore using diesel machinery, sends it to China on fossil fuel powered ships where his old China plates make steel, one of the most emissions intensive processes on earth.

If only the big fella with that big heart and big head could think of a way of turning hot air into green hydrogen.

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