Geoffrey Rush's $25 Million Damages Claim Has Been Revealed In A Redaction Mistake

    A poorly redacted document on a public court website has revealed the enormous sums at stake in the Australian actor's high profile defamation case.

    Mark Evans / Getty Images

    Australian film star Geoffrey Rush is seeking more than $20 million in the defamation case he is fighting against a Sydney newspaper, according to an improperly redacted document uploaded publicly on a court website.

    The document reveals expert testimony that the Pirates of the Caribbean star's "substantial" future economic loss could range from more than $2 million to as high as $25 million – a figure seven times Australia's largest defamation payout.

    The 67-year-old actor sued publisher Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran after the Daily Telegraph published allegations in November 2017 that Rush had been accused of behaving inappropriately towards a female cast member during the 2015-16 Sydney Theatre Company run of King Lear.

    Rush has strenuously denied the allegations. He claims Nationwide News defamed him by painting him as a pervert, a sexual predator, and someone who engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour and committed sexual assault while acting in King Lear.

    During a three-week trial in the Australian Federal Court last year, Nationwide News argued a defence of truth based on the testimony of actor Eryn Jean Norvill, who alleges Rush sexually harassed her during the run of the play. Norvill did not participate in the initial stories and agreed at a late stage to testify for the Telegraph.

    A document outlining the closing arguments delivered at trial by Rush's barristers, Bruce McClintock SC and Sue Chrysanthou, was uploaded to the online case file on the Federal Court website on Nov. 16, 2018.

    Several paragraphs of the document relating to Rush's calculations of historic income and predicted future earnings are redacted in a way that is easily circumvented by either copying and pasting the text into another document, or simply moving the black boxes off the text.

    The exposed figures reveal the enormous sums at stake in the high profile case, with Rush claiming the articles caused up to $25.3 million in future financial damage to him.

    The figures were calculated by accountant Terence Potter, who gave expert evidence at trial on Rush's future economic losses over ten years following the publication of the articles, applying a range of hypothetical scenarios.

    Under a scenario where Rush's future acting work is reduced by 75%, the document shows a projected loss of $25.3 million over ten years.

    The figure includes a projected loss of $5 million in the period from the articles being published in November 2017 to Sept. 12, 2019 (a date used to indicate when Rush might return to work), and of $20.3 million over the remainder of the ten years.

    This calculation takes into account Rush's prior earnings from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which the court heard garnered a higher income than average for the actor.

    In another scenario, where Rush only receives 25% less work over the next decade and his Pirates of the Caribbean income is not factored in, the total economic loss is estimated at $7.2 million.

    Rush's lawyers urged Justice Michael Wigney to find that Rush's career would have comfortably continued for ten years were it not for the articles, and that there is a substantial risk he will never work again.

    Nationwide News argued there was no evidence Rush had lost work as a result of the articles, and said the projected losses based on reduced future work percentages should be disregarded.

    Rush has also claimed more than $800,000 in general damages, which are awarded for non-economic losses such as damage to reputation and hurt feelings. At trial, McClintock argued that Wigney was free to award general damages above the usual $398,500 cap due to aggravating behaviour from Nationwide News.

    It is ultimately up to Wigney to determine how much Rush should receive, and how it should be calculated, if he succeeds in the case.

    Federal Court

    A redacted portion of the document.

    The document also reveals that Rush earned almost $38 million in the years from 2003 to 2017, and was paid $2 million for his role in the film Gods of Egypt.

    During the trial, the court heard that Rush's income had dwindled from $1.5 million between July and November of 2017 to $44,000 in the 11 months between the articles being published in November 2017 and the trial in October 2018.

    The document containing the figures was removed from the online case file on the Federal Court website on Wednesday evening.

    The Federal Court guidelines on redactions include several warnings about how to avoid redacting documents in a way that leaves the text readable if it is copied and pasted.

    The error appears to be similar to that recently made in the case of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, where copying and pasting sections of seemingly redacted text into another document revealed allegations Manafort had lied about sharing polling data with his former Russian Ukrainian business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik.

    Metadata suggests the redactions were made by a solicitor at the firm HWL Ebsworth, which represented Rush in the lawsuit.

    A spokesperson at the Federal Court confirmed to BuzzFeed News the redactions were made by Rush's legal counsel and not court staff.

    Rush's solicitor Nicholas Pullen told BuzzFeed News he was unable to comment prior to the judgement in the case.

    In recent years, a series of record-breaking payouts have left media outlets jittery and pushing for reform of Australia's defamation laws.

    Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson was initially awarded $4.5 million in her defamation case against magazine publisher Bauer in the Victorian Supreme Court, but the sum was whittled down to $600,000 on appeal, losing the mantle of Australia's biggest ever defamation payout.

    That unenviable record is now held by broadcaster Alan Jones and radio stations 2GB and 4BC, who were ordered to pay $3.4 million to four brothers from the Wagner family in Queensland, after Jones defamed them by suggesting the Wagners were responsible for 12 deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods.

    Justice Wigney is expected to hand down his judgement in the Rush case in early 2019.

    UPDATE

    The document was put back on the Federal Court website by Friday morning, with the redacted sections of text still easily readable.


    Lane Sainty is the editor of BuzzFeed News in Australia and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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