Lisa Wilkinson’s lawyer tried to obtain Bruce Lehrmann’s phone records dating back to 2017 – but the request was refused
Lisa Wilkinson’s lawyer has been shut down in court as she sought to access 39,823 pages of Bruce Lehrmann’s phone records, dating back to 2017 – in the latest twist in the former political staffer’s defamation fight against Channel 10 and news.co.au.
Federal Court Justice Michael Lee slammed the request from the TV star’s team as ‘fishing expedition’ with ‘no apparent relevance’ when reading his reasons for rejecting the application at an interlocutory hearing in Mr Lehrmann’s lawsuit in the Federal Court on Thursday.
The phone records were obtained by Australian Federal Police during an investigation into Brittany Higgins’ allegations that he raped her in Parliament House in 2019. Mr Lehrmann has always denied the allegations.
The phone data not only include his messages, they included apps he opened and pages he visited, right down to website cookies stored on his phone.
‘This is not some sort of roving inquiry into everything Mr Lehrmann thought or said,’ Justice Lee said.
Justice Lee said some of Lehrmann’s phone records were relevant – but not six years’ worth. Above, Lehrmann at court last week
Ms Wilkinson’s lawyers tried to argue the records were relevant toward Mr Lehrmann’s ‘state of mind’ when he was accused of rape, and in the following months.
Justice Lee acknowledged some of the information was likely relevant, but not all six years’ worth.
Mr Lehrmann is suing Wilkinson, both news outlets, and journalist Samantha Maiden for defamation over a TV interview and online article, both published on February 15, 2021, where Ms Higgins alleged a ‘male colleague’ had raped her at Parliament House in 2019.
He was not named in Ms Higgins’ interview with Lisa Wilkinson on The Project or the website article, but claims his identity would have been known in political circles.
However, the interlocutory hearing on Thursday is not about whether he was defamed.
It is to try and determine whether Mr Lehrmann should be allowed to sue beyond the 12-month statutory timeframe of being allegedly defamed.
Applicants normally have a year from the date of publication to file a defamation case. Mr Lehrmann waited two years to file the defamation suit.
His lawyers argue it was unreasonable for him to sue within the first year.
Wilkinson, news.com.au and Channel Ten have opposed the extension.
Respected defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou is appearing in court for Lisa Wilkinson
They will argue it was reasonable for Mr Lehrmann to launch a defamation case within the first year of the allegations against him being aired.
Mr Lehrmann was represented in court by Matthew Richardson SC on Thursday, who told the court it was unreasonable for him to launch defamation lawsuits while facing a criminal case before a jury.
Mr Richardson referred to evidence given in last week’s interlocutory hearing where Mr Lehrmann said under cross-examination that he ‘made up’ information in texts to his ex-girlfriend Greta Sinclair while watching The Project in lawyer Warwick Korn’s office on February 15.
He told the court he lied to placate her because she was distraught.
On Thursday morning, Mr Richardson told the court ‘so what’ if he fabricated conversations to make his partner feel better.
In those texts, Mr Lehrmann told her he had two lawyers and that he could potentially make ‘millions’ in any future defamation case.
Mr Richardson told the court on Thursday: ‘My submission is, of course he was trying to say to his girlfriend and friends that it would be okay, that he wasn’t going to jail, that he wouldn’t be prosecuted. So what?’.
Mr Lehrmann was called to the witness box for the first time last week, during the first day of the hearing.
He described his ‘outrage’ as he watched The Project presenter Lisa Wilkinson’s interview for the first time in the chambers of his lawyer Warwick Korn on February 15, 2021.
The viewing took place after a six-hour meeting in Mr Korn’s office to address the article published in news.com.au earlier that day.
Ms Higgins (pictured) said the phone conversation she recorded with with then-employment minister Michaelia Cash was the ‘weirdest’ call she had ever had.
Last week, Ten’s lawyer Matthew Collins was trying to determine whether Mr Lehrmann relayed to Ms Sinclair exactly what Mr Korn said during their lengthy meeting: ‘What you were doing was faithfully sending contemporaneous messages to Ms Sinclair?’
Mr Lehrmann interjected: ‘They were not contemporaneous.’
Dr Collins said: ‘I have caught you out because you said (lawyer Warwick) Korn had reached out to you…’
Mr Lehrman again interjected: ‘It’s hard to recall exactly the nature of the conversation taking place – I was not telling her the exact advice Mr Korn was telling me for fear it was upsetting her.’
Dr Collins continued: ‘You were inventing lines from your lawyer.’
Mr Lehrmann agreed: ‘To placate her, yes.’
The court heard Mr Lehrmann was ‘quite intoxicated’ during a six-hour meeting with Mr Korn, during which time they watched The Project interview.
After his cross-examination, court documents were made public showing all the texts he sent and received on the day the news broke.
A message log showed a series of messages Mr Lehrmann sent and received later that evening following his meeting with the lawyer.
Mr Lehmann texted his friend four consecutive texts, which said ‘need bags’ and ‘let’s get it done’.
Further texts said ‘no one has work tomorrow’, another indicated someone was ‘paying’, and another message said ‘let’s get lit’.
He then texted another friend to say ‘get here, it’s good’, followed another which read: ‘How many bags?’
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