The Daily Telegraph is set to fork out a record $2.87 million in damages for defaming Geoffrey Rush after losing an appeal in the Federal Court last week — but the real price is likely to be much, much higher.
In total, the lawsuit could cost News more than $10 million, defamation experts tell Crikey.
Damages are only part of the bill. Lawyers estimate the company’s own legal costs for the entire trial will exceed $3 million, given it employed two barristers and had at least three or four lawyers present at any given time.
The company will also have to pay Rush’s legal costs, which are calculated on an indemnity basis, meaning fees, charges and expenses have to be paid in their entirety. For Rush, this could amount to between $2 and $3 million.
The pretrial and preparation were lengthy, with 14 days spent in front of Justice Michael Wigney in pretrial matters before the case had even started.
“Preparation would have probably been around $750,000,” Minter Ellison media lawyer Peter Bartlett told Crikey.
“Preparation was costly because there was a huge amount going on. The News lawyers were desperate to get someone to give evidence.”
There were 15 days of trial, three days spent in post-trial case management hearings, and two days of appeal.
“The Queen’s Counsel would have probably been around $10,000 to $12,000 a day on both sides,” Bartlett said.
Junior counsel cost about $7000 a day, while solicitors cost about $5000 a day.
The appeal, Bartlett estimated, would have probably cost between $100,000 and $150,000 in total.
But it’s not just legal fees that News Corp has sunk into the case. The media empire had staff, including journalists, working on the story in all parts of the world.
Travel costs may also be a factor. We know from the court documents that News’ Australian legal counsel Michael Cameron was approaching movie producers about the case while on holiday in California. And a story that appeared in The Australian just days before the appeal hearing last year apparently shows Washington reporter Cameron Stewart flew to Los Angeles to cover a charity event that Rush was involved in, in an attempt to show Rush was able to work after all.
Rush’s team also flew in two expert witnesses from the US — Rush’s Hollywood agent Fred Specktor and his Hollywood lawyer Richard Marks — which would have added around $50,000 each in flights and fees.
Actress Robyn Nevin was also flown in from her French chateau to give testimony on Rush’s reputation.
Then there’s the reputational cost (assuming the Telegraph has one to lose). “The damage to the masthead is significant — dollars are one thing, their reputation is another,” says Bartlett.