Lisa’s $1.8m legal bill revealed

Lisa Wilkinson, left, returned to court following Bruce Lehrmann’s, right, failed defamation case.
Lisa Wilkinson, left, returned to court following Bruce Lehrmann’s, right, failed defamation case.

High-profile television personality Lisa Wilkinson is seeking $1.8 million from employer Network 10 for legal costs incurred during Bruce Lehrmann’s failed defamation lawsuit, a court has heard.

Justice Michael Lee earlier this year dismissed Lehrmann’s high-profile lawsuit against Ms Wilkinson and Network 10 over Brittany Higgins’ comments that she was raped in Parliament House.

In his judgment, Justice Lee found that – on the balance of probabilities – Lehrmann had raped Ms Higgins inside Senator Linda Reynolds’ office, and dismissed Lehrmann’s defamation claim.

Ms Wilkinson has since returned to court amid the multimillion-dollar fallout from the lengthy legal battle after she hired outside legal help to represent her separately from the network, in the form of top defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC.

Returning before the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday, Justice Lee said Ms Wilkinson was seeking an indemnity of a whopping $1,815,000 inclusive of GST “give or take some cents”.

Lisa Wilkinson is seeking indemnity of $1.8 million in court. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

Justice Lee established four main areas for Monday’s case management hearing, including now-resolved issues about timing as well as the remit of an appointed referee to judge the costs issue.

“What I had envisioned in relation to the inquiry is that there would be an element of Ms Wilkinson's costs, which would essentially be undisputed and I could direct the referee’s attention to specific items, which are the subject of dispute and formulate questions accordingly,” Justice Lee told the court.

He added: “What I had hoped is that Network 10 would have come to you (Ms Wilkinson’s lawyers) and effectively say ‘out of the $1.8 million, we are prepared to say these are undisputed costs – whatever portion of that – and these are the costs identified by reference to the billing records we say are disputed”.

Had that happened, Justice Lee said he could have issued a partial recovery order for Mr Wilkinson so she “could get some money”, and that they refer the rest of the claim to the referee.

Michael Elliott, SC, acting for Ms Wilkinson, told the court a “sensible amount of money” could have been recognised as being payable, and that with Network 10 “there’s just an ongoing reluctance to pay us anything”.

Following a brief adjournment, Mr Elliott said a hand-written agreement had been produced on which costs are and are not agreed to between Network 10 and the TV host’s lawyers.

Justice Lee foreshadowed a similar process in respect to Lehrmann’s costs but warned “without engaging in undue speculation … I’ve been told there appears thus far limited prospects of recovery”.

He advised lawyers for Ms Wilkinson and Network 10 to file any submissions next month about a possible order for a lump sum payment, so long as it “under the amount usually sought”.

Justice Lee found Mr Lehrmann had on the balance of probability raped Ms Higgins. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short

The matter had been briefly adjourned for Network Ten’s lawyers to receive instructions in respect to the total amount sought in costs to be paid by Lehrmann; but this number was not shared in court.

The court was previously told legal retainer agreements provided on behalf of Ms Wilkinson had not been signed, with Justice Lee focusing on what questions would be issued to the referee.

In its earlier written submissions, Network 10 said it did not have to pick up the bill for Ms Wilkinson’s legal costs which were “unnecessarily duplicative or wasteful”, and called for a referee.

The referee is tasked with combing through the legal bills incurred by the TV host to decide whether the costs were reasonable, with the court told Mr Wilkinson had provided all her invoices.