'Cult leader' ordered to pay blogger's legal costs
"SERGE Benhayon is the leader of an exploitative cult."
This was among a long list of imputations Justice Julia Lonergan read as part of a verdict in favour of Esther Rockett in the unsuccessful defamation proceedings brought against her by Universal Medicine leader Serge Benhayon.
Ms Rockett appeared in Sydney Supreme Court yesterday for a final hearing, after which Justice Lonergan handed down her judgment in favour of Ms Rockett on all complaints brought against her.
Justice Lonergan ordered Mr Benhayon pay Ms Rockett's costs, with interest, but deferred her decision on whether this is on an indemnity basis.
She reserved judgment on whether Ms Rockett can use some documents obtained during the case's discovery period, not tendered to the court, for potential action against UM by way of regulatory authorities.
Ms Rockett's barrister Tom Molomby said this would include Family and Community Services, the Office of the Children's Guardian and the Health Care Complaints Commission.
Justice Lonergan said FACS had recently - successfully - applied to access court documents, after a matter of potential risk to children was brought to the department's attention by the media.
During yesterday's hearing, Mr Molomby told the court of "uncooperative" correspondence from Mr Benhayon's legal team, including on the day of Ms Rockett's father's funeral.
"(Their conduct was) oppressive and, in my submission, intended to be so," Mr Molomby said.
He also argued Mr Benhayon's economic advantage against the bankrupt Ms Rockett meant he could hinder the resolution of the case.
Mr Benhayon's barrister Nicholas Olson said indemnity costs should not be used as "punishment" for his client.
Mr Olson said Mr Molomby's argument that Mr Benhayon's previous lawyer's actions were "oppressive" was "not an appropriate characterisation of the conduct".
"An order for indemnity costs ... would be punishment for the conduct of (solicitor) Ms (Paula) Fletcher," Mr Olson said.
In relation to a settlement offer Ms Rockett made in February, 2016, Mr Olson said her proposed apology was not sufficient. He said it was reasonable for Mr Benhayon to refuse this offer, considering what he knew of the strength of defence case at the time.
"In effect, Mr Benhayon is told there is a defence, or there's almost a defence, but here's an offer, without the benefit of seeing what would be disclosed by the defence," Mr Olson said.
He said this "walk-away offer" involved "no real element of compromise".
Mr Molomby said Mr Benhayon's counter-offer sought "more than an apology", but to "humiliate" Ms Rockett and would go so far as to criminally implicate the respondent.
He said Mr Benhayon's previous legal team has engaged in "extremely unacceptable behaviour".
Justice Lonergan also ordered The College of Universal Medicine pay Ms Rockett $3000 plus GST for costs involved with the college's failed opposition to a subpoena earlier in the case.