Network 10 told star Lisa Wilkinson that it was “unnecessary” and “not in her best interests” to hire her own lawyers in the upcoming Bruce Lehrmann defamation case, court documents have revealed.
Ms Wilkinson has launched Supreme Court court proceedings against her employers in a fight over her legal bills related to her defence of the lawsuit, in which both she and the broadcaster are named as respondents.
The two sides are in disagreement over whether the $700,000 bill should be settled immediately or at the end of the defamation proceedings.
Mr Lehrmann is suing Ms Wilkinson and Network 10 in the Federal Court over her 2021 interview with Brittany Higgins, which aired on The Project, with the blockbuster trial due to begin in the Federal Court on Wednesday.
Separately, Ms Wilkinson is also locked in a legal battle with Network 10 in the NSW Supreme Court after she elected to hire her own legal representation.
Ms Wilkinson hired high-profile barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC and Gillis Delaney Lawyers partner Anthony Jefferies earlier this year instead of opting to use Network 10’s retained law firm.
According to documents filed in the NSW Supreme Court, she claims the broadcaster is refusing to pay two invoices worth $353,538 and $370,017.
Barrister Zoe Graus, representing Network 10, last week told the Federal Court that it was “not reasonable” for Ms Wilkinson to hire separate legal counsel for the upcoming trial.
In a commercial list response filed with the Supreme Court, Network 10 said: “Since at least 15 February 2023, the defendant has held the view, and communicated that view to the plaintiff on a number of occasions, that separate legal representation of the plaintiff in the proceeding was unnecessary, and not in her best interests.”
Ten said in the documents that while Ms Wilkinson was entitled to hire her own lawyers, it was not liable to pay costs that are “unreasonably incurred”.
“The defendant has requested, without success, that the plaintiff inform the defendant in advance of the steps and work proposed to be taken in the (defamation) proceeding, including providing costs estimates in relation to the work,” Ten said in the court documents.
Ten said that in March this year it agreed to indemnify Ms Wilkinson should any damages or costs be awarded in Mr Lehrmann’s favour at the end of the defamation trial.
It also said it made clear that it agreed to reimburse Ms Wilkinson for her legal costs that were “properly incurred”.
The network also claimed “the appropriate time for reimbursement of those costs would be at the conclusion of the proceeding.”
It said at no point had Ms Wilkinson asserted that she had paid any of her legal bills.
It said it was likely to ask the court to decide the extent to which it was required to indemnify Ms Wilkinson and which costs it was required to pay.
Ten said it was obligated to pay her legal costs only at the conclusion of the proceedings and after any costs orders were made.
Alternatively, it said it should also only be required to reimburse Ms Wilkinson “at a time when it is possible for (Network Ten) to assess the reasonableness of costs incurred by (Ms Wilkinson)”.
Network Ten said in the documents that should it be required to pay Ms Wilkinson’s bill before the end of the proceedings, she would be required to repay any excess amounts.
Meanwhile, Ten is also attempting to shift its Supreme Court case with Ms Wilkinson to the Federal Court.
The court was told last week that Justice Michael Bell would hear a cross-vesting application – to transfer the matter to the Federal Court.
The matter will return to court next Friday.
Mr Lehrmann has also launched defamation proceedings against the ABC over the live broadcast of a National Press Club address by Ms Higgins.
While he was not named in the report or Ms Higgins’ speech, Mr Lehrmann claims he was still identified by the media companies and has alleged there were four defamatory meanings in their publication implying he raped her at Parliament House in March 2019.
He has strongly denied all allegations and no findings have been made against him.
Mr Lehrmann’s Supreme Court trial in the ACT last year was aborted due to juror misconduct.
He had pleaded not guilty to a single charge of sexual assault.
The charges were subsequently dropped by the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, who declined to pursue a retrial over concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health.