Lisa Wilkinson is pictured giving her Logies speech last year
Controversial comments by a top prosecutor after Bruce Lehrmann’s rape trial have been compared to Lisa Wilkinsons’ disastrous Logies speech that delayed the case and caused the “utter destruction” of her career.
The comparison was made on Monday by former Judge Walter Sofronoff, who heads a commission of inquiry into the conduct of police and ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold SC, during the October jury trial.
Mr Lehrmann was accused of raping Brittany Higgins in Parliament House when they were colleagues in 2019. He has always maintained his innocence.
The first trial was discontinued due to misconduct by a juror. On December 2 last year, Mr Drumgold made a public comment saying he was dropping the case entirely over concerns about Brittany Higgins’ mental health.
During that speech, Mr. Drumgold said: “Before it was decided during the investigation and trial that Ms. Higgins, as a prosecutor of sexual assault, faced a level of personal attack that I have not seen in the more than 20 years I have been doing this work. ‘
“She did so with courage, grace and dignity, and I hope this will stop now and Mrs. Higgins will be able to heal.”
During the inquiry on Monday, Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steven Whybrow, said he was concerned about the prosecution’s comments as it implied that Ms Higgins was a victim rather than an alleged victim.
Mr. Sofronoff said, “I just noticed it as I sat staring at paragraph fifteen [of Mr Drumgold’s speech]that the last sentence is very similar to what Mrs. Wilkinson said.’
Pictured: Shane Drumgold told media on December 2 that the case against Mr Lehrmann had been dropped
‘Yes,’ said Mr Whybrow.
During her Logies acceptance speech last June, Wilkinson said, “Not only do I believe her, but she is courageous and extraordinary and she is the most important thing that has ever happened to me and I am proud to advance her claim.”
She was widely criticized for her comments, which eventually led to the trial being moved from June to October for fear it would favor a jury against Mr. Lehrmann.
The TV presenter claimed she had not been warned enough not to mention Ms Higgins in the speech – she remembered reading the first part of her prepared speech, but Mr Drumgold interrupted and said: ‘I’m not a speech writer’ .
Last week, Mr. Drumgold was questioned by Wilkinson’s lawyer Sue Chrysanthou about a meeting he had with the TV presenter and a Channel 10 lawyer on June 15 – four days prior to the Logie awards.
There was a post-Logies hearing in the ACT Supreme Court to address the speech, in which Mr Drumgold presented a file note to Chief Justice Lucy McCallum regarding the meeting with Wilkinson and her lawyer.
According to the file note, Wilkinson barely read him any part of her speech during the meeting, but he felt she had been warned enough not to mention Mrs. Higgins in her speech.
Mr Drumgold filed the file note with the court as contemporaneous, meaning he made it immediately after the meeting.
Brittany Higgins (pictured left outside court) claimed Mr Lehrmann raped her. He denies the allegations
During cross-examination last week, Mr. However, Drumgold admits that the note was not contemporaneous but made days after the meeting and that his memory of the events may have been biased.
Mr Drumgold told the inquiry that he believed Wilkinson understood his warning because Wilkinson and her lawyer had put their Microsoft Teams meeting on silent and were having a private conversation.
Mrs. Chrysanthou asked, “Have you read their lips?”
Mr Drumgold: ‘No’.
Mrs. Chrysanthou: “How could you draw that conclusion?”
Mr Drumgold: ‘Because an experienced journalist alongside a lawyer would have come to that conclusion.’
Mrs. Chrysanthou finally said, “The answer you just gave is illogical and irrational and contrary to human experience.”
In a series of emails released by the inquiry, Mr Drumgold was asked to clear Wilkinson’s name and make a public statement to say that she was not in contempt of court and that she had tried to seek his advice on her speech.
Ms Chrysanthou further argued that Mr Drumgold caused Wilkinson’s ‘destruction’ by submitting the file note which he said was contemporaneous but was not.
Mr Drumgold eventually admitted that he should have made a statement to clear her name. But he never did.
On Monday, Mr Whybrow told the inquiry that he disagreed with Mr Drumgold’s comments about Ms Higgins’ ‘courage’ because, in his view, Mr Drumgold did not allow the same considerations to Mr Lehrmann.
“He is supposed to be an objective justice minister and he could probably have said ‘no doubt this has had a significant impact on Mr Lehrmann whose life has been turned upside down’,” Mr Whybrow said.
Bruce Lehrmann (left) is pictured outside court with his lawyer, Steven Whybrow
At the inquiry last week, Mr Drumgold said those comments at the end of his speech were ‘burned into my memory’
Erin Longbottom, the counsel who assisted the investigation, said, “Have you considered the impact that statement might have on Mr. Lehrmann, who was entitled to the presumption of innocence?”
‘Maybe not as much as I should have,’ Mr Drumgold replied.
Later on Monday, Mr Whybrow was questioned by Mr Drumgold’s lawyer, Mark Tedeschi, about his comments to police officer Emma Frizzell who conducted initial police interviews with Ms Higgins.
After watching Mrs. Higgins’ second police questioning, Mr. Whybrow said to Mrs. Frizzell, “You did a better job on that second cross-examination interview of Mrs. Higgins than I ever could.”
He then told the inquiry that it was inappropriate for a police officer to cross-examine an accuser.
“You complimented Mrs. Frizzell on her second interview by questioning her in a better way than you could—do you mean what you said?” asked Mr. Tedeschi.
‘In my opinion, the second conversation was devastating to the complainant,’ replied Mr Whybrow.
The defense attorney insisted the police would not tell him whether they believed Mr Lehrmann was innocent or guilty, even though he tried to illicit those responses from them.
He said it wasn’t unusual to “lash out” with officers to gauge their opinions, but said most wouldn’t react the way he wanted.
However, Mr Whybrow did recall that Detective Boorman suffered a ‘moral trauma’ while the jury was deliberating in October, before the trial was dropped.
It was previously revealed that the same detective was convinced Mr. Lehrmann was innocent, to the point where he vowed to resign if convicted.
The investigation will continue on Tuesday.