Bruce Lerman has tried to stop the rape trial, months before it is due to start, by claiming that Scott Morrison’s “outrageous” speech painted him as the culprit.
The ACT Supreme Court dismissed the application in April, but the chief justice’s reasons cannot be released until now. Chief Justice Lucy McCallum today lifted a non-publication order for her decision and the court confirmed the reasons could be published.
Mr Lehrmann is accused of raping former colleague Brittany Higgins in Minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House after a night out drinking with work colleagues in March 2019.
He pleaded not guilty to having sex without her consent and being reckless with her consent.
In April, Mr. Lerman’s lawyers asked for a permanent stay on his charges, and if that fails, a temporary stay.
Mr. Lerman’s lawyers argued that the court would not be able to find 12 impartial jurors because of the publicity surrounding the case.
In their statement, they claimed it was an “accuser versus the accused” case in which Ms Higgins (as the accuser) was going to discuss the allegations “with the support and assistance of the media and with the support of prominent people”, including the then Prime Minister .
At the time of his application, Mr Morrison had months earlier made a historic apology to victims of sexual harassment and violence in parliamentary workplaces.
Mr Morrison apologized directly to Ms Higgins – who was in the public gallery – for the “horrible things” that had happened in Parliament.
At the time, Mr. Lerman was represented by prominent attorney John Korn.
He argued that Mr Morrison’s apology was “particularly egregious as it imputed culpability to the accused”.
“Or at least impliedly believed (Ms. Higgins) was truthful,” the ruling, released Wednesday afternoon, said.
The defense argued the effect elevated Ms Higgins to “a status she should not have for the trial of the accused”.
“He stated that the case is unique because the applicant ‘enters the court with an aura about herself’ and that the problem this creates is incurable.”
Presiding judge Lucy McCallum said the case against Mr Lerman was “unique or at least unusual” because of its high profile nature.
But, as reported then, she rejected all the arguments of the defendants.
“The mere fact that a panel member is aware of a pre-trial announcement is not in itself problematic,” Ms McCallum said.
The presiding judge said she was “not satisfied” with Mr Lerman’s arguments for a permanent stay.
“I am not persuaded that this matter is unsalvageable, and certainly not to the extent required to obtain a stay.”
In the April filing, Mr. Korn also applied for an order to suppress media outlets that covered the case.
The defense also wanted to prohibit the media from publishing any material about the accused complainant.
In her opinion, Ms. McCallum rejected the argument that the court was “indulging the ‘free-for-all’ media if they disagree.”
“Trying to regulate discussion of criminal trials in the media through the vague tool of suppression and non-publication orders is a good hope, especially with the advent of the Internet and social media,” she said.
The jury of eight women and four men has been closed for deliberations since last Wednesday.
In her opening instructions to potential jurors, Ms McCallum said the trial was something of a “celebrity” because of its high-profile nature.
“I ask you to reflect on your own disposition (with) the issues that will arise in this case and honestly consider whether you can be impartial and reach a true verdict according to the evidence.”