So Lachlan Murdoch can remember James
Packer crying but can’t remember much of the detail about the many
meetings and discussions he had about One.Tel back in
2000 and early 2001 when the telco was staggering towards failure.
the former News Ltd chief executive and continuing News Corp director
told the NSW Supreme Court yesterday that his recollection of many of
these events was “hazy.” But not so hazy that
he could fail to forget James Packer tearing up.
a strange message to send the Packers by embarrassing his “buddy” publicly
in evidence, but it’s an interesting courtroom tactic because if you
can’t recollect events, then you
can’t be challenged or questioned about meetings or other details that
could cause embarrassment.
Yesterday was day one of an expected
four day appearance by Murdoch as an ASIC witness in its civil case
seeking $92 million in compensation from Jodee Rich and Mark Silberman,
formerly executives at One.Tel. It collapsed in late May 2001 at a cost
of around a billion dollars, with some $800 million or so lost by News
Ltd and PBL. Lachie and James Packer were directors of the company.
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had a lot of trouble remembering detail of those meetings in 2000 and
2001, even though News Corp had invested “just shy of $600 million” in
One.Tel. Variations on “I can’t recall, sorry”, “I don’t remember”, “If
you say so, sure” peppered many of his answers to questions from David
Williams SC, counsel for Rich and Silberman.
And when they broke
for lunch and for the day, he travelled in a pack, with Greg Baxter, News Ltd’s head flack and a former chief spinner at James
Hardie keeping close, along with News Ltd’s reporters covering
yesterday’s hearing and a legal adviser or two.
But life in court 12A in the NSW Supreme Court is very different to that in 21A in the Federal Court in the same building.
12A, Justice Bob Austin, a former University Professor and expert in
corporate law is presiding in a gown and wig. Before him are a couple
of bewigged barristers for ASIC, matched by the same number of wigs for
Rich and Silberman. There’s a smattering of support staff in solicitors
and clerks to help with documents and evidence boxes. The court is
electronic with real time transcripts for the bench and both sides.
the media outnumbered the legal beagles and other in the compact
courtroom, where more than 30 media, solicitors and handlers for Lachie
were listening at the back.
Up in Federal Court 21A, where News
is also fighting, the combined legal teams of the 22 respondents
dominate the room (the AFL, possibly Ten and the ARL will soon drop off
the list if talks and mediation work). Justice Ron Sackville sits at a
large, spacious bench. He’s gowned but not bewigged. The courtroom is
much bigger, three times the size of 12A in the Supreme Court. It has
to be given the number of parties involved.
Have the most
powerful media people in this country ever had so much exposure in a
courthouse at the same time? I don’t recollect.