Bruce Lehrmann’s attorney was “p*ssed off” and “angry” when a prosecutor leading the rape trial accused Linda Reynolds of sending her husband to court to disrupt the hearing, an investigation has heard.
The Commission of Inquiry, led by former Queensland Solicitor General Walter Sofronoff, is looking into the actions of Shane Drumgold, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions and Police during the investigation and trial of Mr Lehrmann last October.
Mr. Lehrmann was charged with raping Brittany Higgins in Senator Reynolds’ former parliamentary office in 2019 and was tried by the ACT Supreme Court. The case was derailed by jury misconduct. He has always maintained his innocence.
Steven Whybrow, Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, was called on Monday to testify at the inquest.
He pointed to a point during the criminal trial when Mr Drumgold dramatically accused Senator Reynolds, who was a witness for the prosecution, of ‘coaching’ Mr Whybrow by texting him while cross-examining Ms Higgins.
Steven Whybrow (pictured right), Bruce Lehrmann’s lawyer, was called to testify before the commission of inquiry
The inquiry examines the actions of Shane Drumgold, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions and Police during the investigation into the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins and subsequent trial (pictured above) last October
Mr Drumgold also accused the senator of planting her boyfriend in the back of court before she was called to testify so he could tell her what was going on.
Senator Reynolds categorically rejected those claims in court.
On Monday, Mr Whybrow told the inquiry he was angry because he felt Mr Drumgold had no basis for making those claims.
‘[Mr Drumgold] presented these positives to Linda Reynolds, right down to her trying to tell me how to do my job, giving me tips for cross-examination,” Mr Whybrow said.
“I was angry and pissed off. I wrote him this email I was considering [this] was inappropriate behaviour. I am very concerned that you state it as a positive statement.
“He didn’t say ‘tipped you for cross-examination’. He said, “you tipped…” and there’s a significant difference.’
Mr Whybrow pointed out that Ms Higgins had a number of people in court who listened to the trial before giving her testimony.
He also said the prosecution did not “own” Senator Reynolds as a witness and that she had the right to speak with prosecutors and defense.
Mr Whybrow said it was “unfair of Mr Drumgold to suggest he was being coached”, and said it played on the prosecution’s earlier view that there was a conspiracy to get the assault charges against Mr Lehrmann Pull.
“They were unfair and untrue, and from the perspective of the defense playing on this so-called conspiracy deception that Brittany couldn’t complain about, he put all these positives to Ms Reynolds,” said Mr Whybrow.
“I was bullied and I was angry.”
Senator Linda Reynolds defended Mr Whybrow’s texting at trial
Mr Whybrow said it was unfair of Mr Drumgold to suggest he was being coached: ‘I was angry and angry.’
Ms Reynolds – who had recently returned from a trip to Rwanda – was called as a witness for the prosecution, but she admitted texting the defense lawyer during Ms Higgins’ cross-examination in October.
When Mr Drumgold asked why she thought it was appropriate to text the defence, Ms Reynolds said she was ‘curious to know what had been said’ but noted that her lawyer then advised her that it was ‘not appropriate’.
The former defense minister also told the court she thought a message exchange between Ms Higgins and a previous witness Nicole Hamar “might shed some light” on the allegations.
Mr Drumgold then charged her with ‘attempting to supervise the cross-examination’ and asked what her motive was.
Mrs. Reynolds replied, “That’s not what I was trying to do.”
The prosecution told her, “You warn the defense attorney two hours before the cross-examination. You inject yourself by trying to assist in a cross-examination.”
The former defense minister said: “I have not seen his trial before.
“While going through this mentally, I have done nothing for the last 18 months but go through all of this… It seemed appropriate.
Mr Drumgold said: ‘You’re in Rwanda, you’re at a conference and you’re texting the defense lawyer, giving him ideas on what he could cross-examine. Don’t you have anything better to do in Rwanda?’
Mrs. Reynolds replied, “Well, as a witness in this case … I was definitely interested in the case.”
When asked if her partner had sat in the back of the courtroom during Mrs. Higgins’ testimony, Mrs. Reynolds agreed.
Mr Drumgold (above) dramatically accused Senator Reynolds, who was a witness for the prosecution, of ‘coaching’ Mr Whybrow
However, she told the court that he had not reported her.
“My lawyer was very clear with him not to talk to me about it,” she said.
Mr Whybrow also told the inquiry on Monday that he was concerned about Mr Drumgold’s media announcement on December 2 when he dropped charges against Mr Lehrmann over concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health.
During his speech, which the prosecutor said last week the investigation was “engraved on his memory”, he made subjective comments about Ms Higgins’s situation – saying she had handled the situation with “mercy” and asking the media to leave her alone.
However, Mr Whybrow told the inquiry to Mr Drumgold that he had not given the same consideration to Mr Lehrmann.
“He is supposed to be an objective justice minister and he could probably have said ‘this has undoubtedly had a significant impact on Mr Lehrmann whose life has been turned upside down’.”
Furthermore, on December 1, the day before the media announcement, the decision was made not to proceed with a second trial.
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum placed an embargo on that information to ensure Ms. Higgins’ was properly supported at the time of announcement.
The same consideration did not apply to Mr. Lehrmann and his legal team was unsure if they were allowed to tell him prior to the announcement.
Mr Whybrow also pointed out that Ms Higgins was assisted in court every day by Heidi Yates, the Victims of Crime Commissioner.
He said that was not a problem in itself, but complainants in sexual assault cases are normally anonymous in the ACT.
Ms Higgins chose to be identified, which meant she was constantly linked to Ms Yates – who supports alleged victims of crime.
“I have no problem with that kind of support, but in this case it only served to make it a very difficult situation already when he was already publicly convicted, with the Logies, in court every day with someone who victims assists,” he told the inquiry.
“In this case, it elevated her status to someone who is actually a victim of a crime and we’re going through the process.”
The investigation continues.