‘Wasteful’: Ten’s fresh dig at Lisa’s legal bill

Network 10 is arguing it should not have to cover unreasonable costs incurred by Lisa Wilkinson. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

Network 10 has argued it should not have to pick up the tab for “unnecessarily duplicative or wasteful” costs incurred by veteran journalist Lisa Wilkinson during their defamation battle with Bruce Lehrmann.

In a landmark judgment in the Federal Court last week, Justice Michael Lee found Mr Lehrmann had, on the balance of probabilities, raped Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in March 2019.

The judge subsequently dismissed Mr Lehrmann’s claim he had been defamed by Ms Wilkinson’s 2021 interview with Ms Higgins on The Project.

The highly-publicised fight will return to court next week for a hearing to determine whether Lehrmann will pay the legal costs incurred by Network 10 and its former star presenter, which are estimated to exceed $8m.

Justice Lee found Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins, on the balance of probabilities. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift
Justice Lee found Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins, on the balance of probabilities. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

However if Lehrmann is unable to pay the multimillion-dollar tab, Network 10 has argued it should not have to “pick up the bill” for any unreasonable costs Ms Wilkinson may have amassed.

It is asking the court to appoint a referee to comb through the legal bills acquired by the former host of The Project to decide whether the specified costs were reasonable.

In submissions tendered to the court, Network 10’s lawyer Matt Collins KC wrote it was not required to reimburse Ms Wilkinson for costs incurred “in an unnecessarily duplicative or wasteful manner”.

“Ms Wilkinson was not entitled to incur costs … as she pleased on the assumption that Network 10 would ultimately pick up the bill,” he wrote.

“She was required to incur costs in a responsible manner, having regard to how those costs might be minimised given the separate but related work being undertaken by Network 10.”

The broadcaster acknowledged it was liable for the costs Ms Wilkinson amassed while fighting Lehrmann’s claim for damages over her infamous Logies speech and running the defence of qualified privilege.

Ms Wilkinson’s costs are estimated to exceed $1 million. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Simon Bullard.

Yet Dr Collins asserted “different considerations” should apply to the journalist’s accumulation of costs in defence of common issues, such as the use of the truth defence.

He maintained the interests of the company and its former star employee were “wholly aligned” in mounting the defence, which he said had been “prepared and run by Network 10”.

In her own submissions, Ms Wilkinson’s lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC responded that the principles related to indemnity costs were “well established” and such an order would require “some special or unusual feature”.

The tussle comes after Network 10 and Ms Wilkinson went head to head earlier this year in a heated cross-claim over whether it was reasonable for the journalist to obtain her own legal representation.

In an affidavit tendered to the court, Ms Wilkinson said she was “gutted” by her employer’s “cruel” and “disingenuous” decision not to cover her legal expenses.

She explained she had engaged her own lawyers to defend her in the defamation suit after she lost faith in the legal team employed by Network 10, who she felt had “abandoned” her.

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Ms Wilkinson’s decision to hire Sue Chrysanthou SC (left) was reasonable, a court heard. Picture: Don Arnold/Getty Images

After a fiery two-day hearing, Network 10 relented and agreed her decision had been reasonable.

The dramatic backflip was blasted by Ms Wilkinson’s lawyer, Michael Elliot SC, as an “embarrassment” and a “vindication of our position”.

Justice Lee ordered the network to pay the legal fees of its former presenter after agreeing she had “not acted unthinkingly” in retaining her own legal counsel.

Whether Ms Wilkinson’s entire bill will be footed by her former employer will be ventilated when the matter returns to the Federal Court next week.