Shane Drumgold’s reasons for not warning Lisa Wilkinson about her Logies speech were “ridiculous,” an investigation has found.
That was just one of the findings of Walter Sofronoff’s 839-page report, which was delivered by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr on Monday afternoon, following an explosive month-long Board of Inquiry in May.
The public inquiry was carried out to examine the conduct of police and prosecutors in the rape trial of Bruce Lehrmann, held at the ACT High Court in October last year.
Brittany Higgins alleged that he raped her in Parliament when they were colleagues in 2019, which he strongly denies.
The first case was thrown out due to a rogue jury, before the charge was dropped entirely due to Ms. Higgins’ mental health.
In his report, Mr Sofronoff also said that Mr Drumgold, the ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions, was “chosen” over whom he advised because, on three occasions, he assisted Brittany Higgins with matters that could affect the trial . But he refused to do the same for Wilkinson.
However, the president also said Wilkinson’s “45 years of experience” in journalism should have equipped her enough to know what could jeopardize a jury trial, adding that she was clearly not short of legal advice.
Lisa Wilkinson is pictured during her Logies speech in June last year. She won for her interview with Brittany Higgins.
Shane Drumgold was heavily criticized in Walter Sofronoff’s report, delivered Monday
Sofronoff referred to times when Drumgold analyzed some of Higgins’ speeches and checked them for words that could jeopardize the trial, including one he was going to deliver when he was presented with an award in public.
“This was exactly what Ms. Wilkinson wanted Mr. Drumgold to do,” said Mr. Sofronoff.
“Despite this, to explain his failure, he later characterized Ms Wilkinson’s request as a request for legal advice.”
The President noted that Mr Drumgold was ‘no more counsel to Mrs Higgins than Mrs Wilkinson’, because both were witnesses at the trial at that stage.
Sofronoff’s comments arose because of evidence presented in the inquiry into a heated phone call between Drumgold and Channel 10 lawyer Marlia Saunders four months after Wilkinson’s speech.
Marlia Saunders, the network’s lawyer, had been urging him to publicly correct the widely held belief that Wilkinson told her not to speak about the Brittany Higgins allegations during televised TV awards, but did so anyway.
Lehrmann’s defense attorneys sought a permanent stay, meaning they wanted the case thrown out entirely, on the grounds that Wilkinson’s televised speech could prejudice a jury against Lehrmann.
However, the stay request was unsuccessful and a temporary stay was granted, meaning the trial was moved from June to October 2022.
During the phone call with Ms Saunders, four months after Wilkinson’s speech, Mr Drumgold referred to the rejected application for permanent stay when he said: “I am well aware there is a trial.”
‘I cannot use my authority to close a loophole that the trial cannot close.’
Wilkinson was heavily criticized for her Logies acceptance speech in June 2022, during which she appeared to side with Ms Higgins (pictured together)
Bruce Lehrmann is pictured, left, outside the ACT Supreme Court with his defense attorney Steven Whybrow, right
In his findings, Sofronoff said it was “ludicrous” for Drumgold to make such comments.
He said the failure of Lehrmann’s lawyers to get the case dismissed did not bear on his “duty to avoid a trial-threatening act”; the threat, in this case, is Wilkinson’s speech.
However, the president also discovered that Wilkinson is an experienced journalist who should have thought better of making a speech like that in the first place.
‘It may be thought that Mrs Wilkinson should have appreciated the likely effect of her intended words. She was a very experienced broadcaster,” she said in the report.
“Furthermore, she attended the meeting together with a lawyer whose services were paid for by Ms. Wilkinson’s own employer, so she did not lack access to legal advice.”
“You would think that, before giving a speech like Ms Wilkinson’s, it would first be considered by many minds within Channel 10, including legal minds.”
He suggested that Mr. Drumgold, upon hearing the content of Wilkinson’s speech, should have told him “strongly” to rewrite it, and if he had not done so, he should have told the Chief Justice and sought a court order to stop her.
Sofronoff discovered that he did none of those things and “there he left a threat to the trial alive.”
The findings ultimately resulted in Drumgold’s resignation.
He’s been on paid vacation since May.
The ACT chief minister criticized retired judge Walter Sofronoff (pictured) for “violating his good faith with me” by publishing his Board of Inquiry report.
ACT Chief Minister criticizes Walter Sofronoff
The report was delivered to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr on 31 July, but he had planned not to publish it for weeks; however, the content of the report was published on Wednesday.
That forced Barr to release the report Monday, which he did, moments before holding a news conference during which he criticized Sofronoff for “violating his good faith with me.”
Barr told reporters that he was “very clear” with Sofronoff that his report would not be redacted or suppressed in any way.
“He violated his good faith with me by publishing that report before giving it to whomever it was intended for under the law,” she said.
Asked if he would like to see Mr. Sofronoff charged, Mr. Barr said: “We are considering our options, as I have outlined.”
Barr said he had not received an apology from the retired judge.
“He has tried to give an explanation,” he added.
THE DISASTER OF LISA’S LOGIES SPEECH
About two days before the TV Logie Awards, and just days after the original start date of Bruce Lehrmann’s trial, Neville Drumgold had a Microsoft Teams meeting with Lisa Wilkinson and Channel 10 lawyer Marlia Saunders.
At the end of the meeting, Wilkinson said that she had been nominated for a Logie Award for her interview with Ms Higgins.
Wilkinson told Drumgold that she didn’t think he would win, but had prepared a speech just in case, and began to read it to him, before he stopped her and said ‘we’re not speech writers’.
Wilkinson, her lawyer, and Drumgold’s junior lawyer, Skye Jerome, recalled that she read a large part of the speech. The prosecutor only remembered her reading a few lines.
Wilkinson won the award and delivered his speech, which was later criticized as potentially derogatory and biasing the jury against Lehrmann. Lehrmann’s team filed a request for a stay, to have the trial moved, fearing the speech would bias the jury against him.
At the time, the Chief Justice said that Wilkinson’s speech amounted to her saying that she “believed” Ms Higgins’ allegations.
Drumgold later told the Supreme Court that a file note he wrote detailing conversations with Wilkinson and his attorney was contemporaneous, meaning he made it immediately after the meeting.
However, during cross-examination, Drumgold admitted that the note was not contemporaneous.
During the investigation, it was discovered that the note was written five days after the meeting and three hours before a hearing with all the legal teams involved in the rape trial.
It was turned over to the Chief Justice, who then criticized Wilkinson for his Logies speech and adjourned the trial from June to October.
During cross-examination during the investigation, Drumgold finally admitted that he should have corrected the Chief Justice.
Sofronoff found that Drumgold “knowingly lied to the Chief Justice.”
Drumgold said he would clear up the error, possibly in the form of a public announcement, but never did.
He did not respond to emails and calls from Ms. Saunders, who was desperate to clear Wilkinson’s name, until they had a heated phone call on October 24, 2022, during which Drumgold told her that he could not provide legal advice. .