The lawyer for the fiance of former political staffer Brittany Higgins has told the WA Supreme Court a defamation case against his client will “end in tears financially,” with legal costs potentially reaching millions of dollars.
Linda Reynolds is suing David Sharaz for defamation over five social media posts which allegedly defame the WA Liberal Senator.
The matter is set to go to trial in May, with lawyers for both Senator Reynolds and Mr Sharaz meeting before Supreme Court Justice Marcus Solomon on Thursday to discuss a security for costs application.
This means Senator Reynolds would need to put up hundreds of thousands of dollars to be held by the court, or mortgage her home, in order to prove she can cover any legal costs incurred by Mr Sharaz, should she fail to prove her case to the court.
In a hearing lasting nearly three hours, Mr Sharaz’s lawyer Jason MacLaurin argued the matter would “end in tears financially” for both parties, no matter the outcome, with legal bills amassing to “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars,” which would leave the parties “financially uncomfortable.”
Senator Reynolds’ lawyer Martin Bennett retorted such matters usually end in tears one way or the other.
Ultimately, Justice Solomon decided to adjourn the matter, and will deliver a decision on the security for costs application during another hearing on Friday afternoon.
Neither Senator Reynolds nor Mr Sharaz were present in the courtroom.
Other matters surrounding the high-profile case were discussed, including the possibility of mediation hearings in October or November, which, if successful, would negate the need for a trial.
Outside court, Mr Bennett said that’s often successful when the defendant says “I apologise.”
“Apologies are one of the things that best vindicate a reputation,” Mr Bennett said.
“Award of damages is the best a court can do because it can't order a defamer who’s lost their defamation case to apologise.”
Mr MacLaurin also tried to keep the option of transferring the matter to the ACT Supreme Court open, arguing Senator Reynolds was suing a private citizen in the WA Supreme Court when the matter has nothing to do with the state.
Mr Bennett, however, argues his client is a senator representing the state of Western Australia.
“She lives here, her family is here, her friends are here, her parliamentary colleagues and those within the Liberal Party are here, and her connection is with Western Australia, not Canberra,” Mr Bennett said, also slamming Mr MacLaurin’s argument as “irrelevant.”
Mr MacLaurin also questioned whether the Senator would be in a position to pay his client’s costs, should he be successful, given Senator Reynolds has also launched similar legal action against his client’s partner, Brittany Higgins.
The defence lawyer also noted statement concerns notices had been issued by the plaintiff against Federal Minister Tanya Plibersek, asking if the Minister would also be the target of a defamation case.
The matter of a potential legal threat issued to controversial blogger Shane Dowling was also aired, amid revelations on Thursday morning that Senator Reynolds was considering defamation action against him.
Mr Bennett said Mr Dowling had published an article about Senator Reynolds on his website, Kangaroo Court of Australia, before contacting Mr Bennett earlier this week with a series of questions for the Senator.
“I wrote back to him and said, effectively, your article’s defamatory, you know it’s defamatory, if you’re going to publish your article, you do so at your own peril,” Mr Bennett said.
But he also indicated nothing would come of the threat.
“I can’t speak for Senator Reynolds,” he said, “but you can’t sue every fringe commentator,” noting Mr Dowling is in a “unique position” over his apparent willingness to go to jail.
Mr Dowling has been imprisoned a number of times for contempt of court, and was once described by NSW Supreme Court Justice Helen Wilson as a “zealot, and one who is legally uninformed and factually deluded.”
Justice Solomon will hand down his decision on Friday afternoon.