Nine Entertainment has scored a minor victory in its attempts to recover legal fees from war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith’s lenders, after his failed defamation case.
Media mogul Kerry Stokes’ private company, Australian Capital Equity, and Seven Network are required to produce documents related to failed defamation lawsuit.
Roberts-Smith sued The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times over six articles alleging he was a murderer, war criminal, bully and domestic abuser. Judge Anthony Besanko found last month that all of those descriptions, with the exception of the domestic violence allegation, had proven true.
He has not been criminally charged.
The chairman of Seven Kerry Stokes funded Mr Roberts-Smith’s case, first through Seven West Media before shifting responsibility to his private company.
Last month, Mr. Roberts-Smith agreed to pay the costs of the case but is unlikely to be able to reach the estimated $30 million in combined attorney fees.
Newspapers are asking for costs by way of compensation, which cover a much higher percentage of a successful party’s costs in cases where, for example, the losing party has refused a reasonable offer to settle.
Seven Network said there was nothing surprising in the fact that it would want to cover the proceedings as it involved a senior executive of the company, and was a news organization reporting the proceedings.
In his judgment, Judge Besanko detailed the loan agreements between Seven, a publicly traded company, and Roberts-Smith, which were later replaced by a loan agreement with ACE.
The loan agreement with Seven stated that the company was “prepared to make financing of legal costs available” to Roberts-Smith, then general manager of the network’s Queensland operations.
“We recognize that part of you that is a target of our opposition (Nine/Fairfax) in the stories that are the subject of the actions, stems from your employment by Seven,” the loan agreement reads.
The libel trial also heard that Seven paid the attorney fees of several of Roberts-Smith’s witnesses in the libel case. The network claimed that this was not “correct” but later admitted that it was.
The deal with Seven was replaced by a loan from Stokes’ private company, ACE.
Roberts-Smith has not challenged Besanko’s sentence but has until July 12 to file an appeal in federal court.