Bruce Lehrmann could be faced with $5 million in legal costs

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Bruce Lehrmann could be declared bankrupt if Channel Ten and Lisa Wilkinson pursue him for legal costs and he can’t pay up.

A fresh round of legal action could also unearth if any secret backers have ever paid his legal bills.

Legal sources have told that the combined costs of Lisa Wilkinson and her employer Channel 10 are likely to amount to between $5 million and $6 million.

Mr Lehrmann is an unemployed law student who has not worked full-time since late 2021. During that period he also had his rent paid for by Channel 7 over the last year along with dinners and drinks at expensive restaurants.

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But what isn’t clear is how he’s been paying his legal bills.

He was privately represented in the criminal trial by Steve Whybrow SC who has previously said he worked pro bono. He was also represented by Kamy Saeedi Law that prepared hundreds of subpoenas and documents for the case.

It’s yet to be determined how much of Ten’s costs Mr Lehrmann is liable to pay. The $5-6 million estimate of the respondents legal costs do not include his own legal costs for barristers Matthew Richardson SC, Steve Whybrow SC and his solicitors Mark O’Brien Legal.

However, Mark O’Brien Legal is believed to have worked on a no win, no fee basis.

Channel Ten are also considering applications to uncover third party backers including who might have been paying for his extraordinary legal bills over the last three years.

If those costs were billed they would likely range from somewhere between $500,000- $1 million. Then there’s his costs for the defamation case which are expected to be over $1 million on top of that.

Mr Lehrmann also has legal bills in Queensland where he is charged with rape in Toowoomba. He is privately represented there too and faces a committal hearing to determine whether the matter will go to trial in June.

He previously told the Spotlight program that he might never work again after the Project aired the allegations and has no done so in several years.

If Channel Ten can establish that a third party was funding some of those costs it might be able to seek to recoup some of the money.

For example, Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes agreed to pay the multimillion-dollar costs of the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation litigation, after it emerged he had backed him the case.

There’s no suggestion that Mr Stokes has been bankrolling this matter.

Kerry Stokes said his private company agreed in the Ben Roberts-Smith case to pay The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald’s legal costs – estimated at more than $16 million – on an indemnity basis, which covers a higher proportion of a costs bill than the standard order.

Network Ten’s legal team have described the Lehrmann result “vindication” for the company and its belief and support for Ms Higgins during Lehrmann’s long-running defamation case.

“It’s an unmitigated disaster for Bruce Lehrmann,” Ten’s lawyer Justin Quill said.

Mr Quill said the result was a warning for other prospective plaintiffs looking to “make a quick buck”.

“You can come up with a con that might get you through a TV interview, or an interview with your bosses, or down at the pub with your mates,” he said.

“But when you come to the court, and you are cross-examined, and forensically examined, you can’t get away with it.”

According to Mr Quill, Mr Lehrmann’s legal team did not expect Ms Higgins to appear as a witness in the defamation case and give evidence about the alleged assault.

“Channel Ten couldn’t have defended this case without Brittany,” he said.

Justice Lee determined in his judgement that “Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins.”

“He was a 23-year-old male cheating on his girlfriend, having just ‘hooked up’ with a woman he found sexually attractive,” Justice Lee said.

“Human experience suggests what he then wanted to happen is not exactly shrouded in mystery.”


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