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Journalist ‘infected’ Lehrmann inquiry chair’s findings against prosecutor, court hears

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Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to the alleged rape of colleague Brittany Higgins at Parliament House after a night out with colleagues in March 2019. The trial was abandoned in October 2022 due to jury misconduct and Lehrmann retained his innocence.

The ACT government launched an inquiry into the case after Drumgold accused police of trying to undermine the prosecution. However, in his report Sofronoff made several findings against Drumgold, which the latter sought to overturn.

On the first day of hearings on the challenge, O’Gorman who is a well-known journalist for the The Australian Hedley Thomas introduced Albrechtsen and Sofronoff in February 2023, telling Sofronoff that Albrechtsen would be “happy to collate his writings for you and your inquiry”.

“It’s those words that really disrupt our submission,” O’Gorman said.

He told the court that the “only real inference” that could be drawn was that Albrechtsen was happy to give him the reports that were bad for Drumgold and positive for Lehrmann.

“I think it would be fair to speculate that Janet’s relationship with the defense team in the [Lehrmann] case is more ambiguous than the DPP,” O’Gorman quoted Thomas as saying.

The court heard the pair communicated extensively throughout the inquiry, including one text in which Sofronoff said it was “a real pleasure to be in touch” and another in which Albrechtsen sent her details of Lehrmann’s contact.

Former ACT director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold.Credits: Rhett Wyman

O’Gorman said Sofronoff also sent a message from her private email address — one of four she claims to have contacted him through — that contained the findings of her draft report.

“No other journalist was given drafts of Mr Sofronoff’s report, let alone a version showing the tracked changes,” he said. “Other journalists asked for such favors and were not given them [it].”

Albrechtsen was one of two journalists to whom Sofronoff released his completed report on the same day he gave it to the ACT government commission.

Sofronoff told Chief Minister Andrew Barr in a letter he issued to report on an embargoed basis so that journalists “are in a position [to] quickly and immediately … write and broadcast stories whose foundation is a genuine appreciation of the result of the commission’s work.”

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The barrister told the court there were 13 “communications” between the pair during the time Drumgold was in the witness box, and Albrechtsen on several occasions suggested lines of inquiry to the inquest, including why Drumgold dismissed the allegations against Lehrmann.

O’Gorman said another element “the fair-minded observer could find interesting” was Sofronoff’s scheduled appearance at a Queensland media event on August 25, 2023 hosted by Thomas, which was canceled by Sofronoff.

Sofronoff’s report included a conclusion that Drumgold “victimized” the inexperience of a junior solicitor whom he asked to draft an affidavit supporting a false legal claim of privilege relating to litigation documents .

O’Gorman said Sofronoff sent a text message to Albrechtsen on May 6, 2023, two days before public hearings and Drumgold’s oral evidence began, saying: “What a wonderful thing to do to two young professionals under your mentorship.”

“That particular entry really sums up what our case is about,” O’Gorman said. “It shows that Mr Sofronoff has poisoned his mind in relation to Mr Drumgold, at least in relation to this particular point before Mr D[rumgold] did not even enter the witness box.”

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