Questions linger over Lisa Wilkinson’s infamous Logies speech after judge’s scathing verdict

Justice Michael Lee delivered a scathing verdict regarding the conduct of Channel 10 over the decision to green-light Lisa Wilkinson’s infamous Logies speech on the eve of Bruce Lehrmann’s criminal trial.

It was “grossly improper and unjustifiable” he found, because it implied Brittany Higgins’ allegations were true in proximity to the jury hearing evidence.

The speech then led to Chief Justice Lucy McCallum delaying Mr Lehrmann’s criminal trial by three months.

“It was conduct apt to cause disruption to the criminal justice system and, without the Chief Justice making the orders she did, could have imperilled Mr Lehrmann’s right to a fair trial,’’ Justice Lee said in his judgment.

Outside the court, it wasn’t an assessment that was shared by lawyer Justin Quill, whose firm Thomson Geer acted for Channel Ten.

Speaking in the wake of the judgment that Mr Lehrmann had raped Ms Higgins on the balance of probabilities, he had this to say to 2GB radio.

“Look, on the Logies speech, I just disagree with his honour,’’ Mr Quill said.

“He’s a very good judge, but I disagree on this point. It just shows an absolute lack of faith in our juries.

“As if a jury properly instructed swearing an oath, seeing evidence in front of them week after week in a criminal case, would think about the implication from a Logies speech a couple of months earlier and suddenly think ‘I am going to find this guy guilty’.”

It’s now emerged that Justice Lee has asked for a transcript of those statements and others by Mr Quill, a sign some believe that Justice Lee may have more to say on the issue of the Logies speech and contempt when the parties return to make submissions on the issue of legal costs on Wednesday, May 1.

Similar issues have arisen in defamation proceedings before. Two years ago, Federal Court Justice Steven Rares said he was “completely dumbfounded” that Google had allowed videos to be uploaded to YouTube which attacked the lawyers of former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and accused them of misconduct, and was considering referring the matter for prosecution for contempt.

Mr Barilaro had sued Google and political commentator Jordan Shanks over two videos published on the Friendlyjordies channel.

“They know about the law of contempt or they should,’’ Justice Rares said.

The question that now arises is whether or not Justice Lee proposes to refer the matter for further action.

What we do know is that he did not regard Lisa Wilkinson as culpable as Channel Ten.

“Although I regard Ms Wilkinson’s conduct in giving the speech to be improper and unjustifiable, she has less culpability than those encouraging her to make the speech,’’ Justice Lee said.

“Ms Wilkinson at least had the insight to seek advice and might not be expected to have the objectivity of others within Network Ten given the fact that she had, as (Channel Ten lawyer Tasha) Smithies noted, become part of the story.”

Instead, he turned his attention squarely to Channel Ten’s head of litigation Tasha Smithies.

“I cannot responsibly leave this topic without remarking that the most disturbing aspect of this part of the case is the insouciance of Ms Smithies as to the real criticisms made by the Chief Justice and the repeated fastening upon Mr Drumgold’s separate failure as some form of excuse,’’ he said.

“There has been ample time for mature reflection and yet there is no recognition, even now, that the speech could have undermined the administration of justice and caused it to be disrupted. It is one thing to make a mistake, even a serious mistake – after all, to err is to be human.

“But I regret to say that the continuing lack of insight by Ms Smithies as to the inappropriateness of her conduct related to the speech reflects, in my view, a lack of proper appreciation of her professional obligations as a solicitor and her paramount duty to the Court and the administration of justice: see r 3.1, Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 (NSW).”

It has previously emerged in evidence that Wilkinson’s husband Peter FitzSimons praised Network Ten’s legal team for getting his wife through a “shower of s**t” after Ten’s lawyer assured her the Logies speech was “all good”.

The Ten lawyer who Wilkinson says told her this has confirmed to the Federal Court that she did advise Wilkinson the speech was “okay”.

Ms Smithies told the Federal Court however that she did not accept that advice had exposed Wilkinson to public criticism.

She has denied trying to protect her own reputation by not revealing the circumstances publicly previously, despite Wilkinson’s claims she was “begging” Ten to reveal the legal advice.

During a tense cross examination, Wilkinson’s barrister Michael Elliott SC grilled Ms Smithies over her conduct in a hearing into the television presenter’s decision to hire her own legal team.

The network’s barrister, Robert Dick, SC, told Justice Lee Ten did not accept the legal advice it gave Wilkinson was “completely inappropriate”.

Justice Lee asked: “Does Channel Ten say… the advice that was given was anything other than completely inappropriate?”

Mr Dick replied: “No we don’t accept that it was completely inappropriate.”

Mr Dick said Ten accepted that ultimately it “gave rise to a real risk of contempt, and it was unfortunate”.

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