A Supreme Court judge is expected to intervene in former Defense Minister Linda Reynolds’ defamation case against Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz before it turns into another costly and complicated legal battle.
Senator Reynolds is suing Ms Higgins and her fiancé, Mr Sharaz, for defamation in the Supreme Court of Western Australia over posts each made on social media which she says damaged her reputation.
Judge Marco Salomón – who previously warned the parties about the “human cost of this litigation” – is so concerned about the matter going to trial that he may participate in the mediation session scheduled to begin in Perth on Tuesday.
If Judge Solomon participates in court-ordered mediation and the parties cannot reach an agreement, he will not be able to preside over the six-week defamation trial in July.
Normally, mediation is carried out by a court clerk, but The Australian reports that Judge Solomon is likely to intervene personally.
Their concerns are justified: if the matter goes to trial, it will be another emotionally draining case for Ms. Higgins, who already gave evidence in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial last year – a matter that has not yet been decided – and, before of that, in Mr. Lehrmann’s criminal trial at the end of 2022.
A Supreme Court judge is expected to intervene in the defamation case that former Defense Minister Linda Reynolds brought against Brittany Higgins (left) and David Sharaz (right).
That criminal trial, launched after Higgins accused Lehrmann of raping her in Parliament in March 2019, was abandoned due to jury misconduct. Mr. Lehrmann has always strongly denied these accusations.
Ms Reynolds’ defamation case centers on tweets by Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz which she claims imply that she pressured Ms Higgins not to proceed with a police report about the alleged rape and that interfered with Mr. Lehrmann’s trial.
Speaking in the WA Supreme Court in late January, Justice Solomon urged the parties to resolve the matter at the next mediation hearing on March 5.
“I just wanted to take the opportunity to say, once again, how important it is that the parties invest everything they can to resolve this matter,” he told the court.
If this week’s two-day mediation is unsuccessful, a six-week defamation trial will take place within four months.
Should the trial go ahead, a list of subpoenas issued by Senator Reynolds’ lawyers includes several key players in Lehrmann’s defamation trial, which concluded in Federal Court in December but is still awaiting a decision.
They include Lisa Wilkinson, former presenter of The Project, who aired Ms Higgins’ rape allegations in 2021; Samantha Maiden, the News Corp journalist who first broke the story; and Channel Ten producer Angus Llewellyn.
Linda Reynolds (pictured) says social media posts damaged her reputation
He defamation matter involving Senator Reynolds and former political staffer Ms Higgins and his partner were last heard in court on January 30.
Lawyers for the parties appeared before the Washington Supreme Court to determine key dates in preparation for a trial should mediation scheduled for March 5 fail.
They also discussed whether Judge Solomon should oversee the mediation or the trial, which will tentatively last six weeks beginning July 24.
Legally he cannot do both and Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz want him to handle the mediation, which Senator Reynolds opposed.
Judge Solomon reiterated his previous concerns about the human cost of a trial and urged the parties to work together to resolve the matter before it goes to trial.
Higgins and Sharaz left Australia to start a new life in France in December, after she had completed her testimony in Lehrmann’s defamation trial.
However, they have returned to Australia for the civil matter with Senator Reynolds.
Reynolds had reportedly been seeking advice from French lawyers about his right to enforce an Australian judgment against assets the couple may have in France.
She is suing Sharaz for tweets he made and a comment on Facebook in 2022.
Among the defamatory allegations leveled against Sharaz’s tweets are that Senator Reynolds pressured Higgins not to make a genuine complaint to the police, “she is a hypocrite in her defense of women’s interests and empowerment”, interfered in Bruce Lehrmann’s trial and intimidated Higgins.
Senator Reynolds claims she was also defamed by Sharaz’s response to a comment on her Facebook page asking how she was still in politics after having “destroyed” Higgins.
The commenter added: “You are a monster who deserves to be in jail.”
Sharaz replied, “Thank you for reminding me.” I hope you hear this every day until he dies,’ the senator’s statement of claim reads.
Higgins is accused of posting defamatory material on two occasions on her Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Higgins alleged that she was raped in 2019 by Lehrmann inside Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office, where he also worked as an employee.
Lehrmann consistently denied the allegation and his trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by jury misconduct.
Prosecutors decided not to take further action, citing concerns about the impact it could have on Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Lehrmann has since been charged with raping a woman in Queensland and his lawyers have indicated he will plead not guilty.