Australia’s Daily Telegraph is appealing a defamation award to Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush which could cost the Sydney tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch millions of dollars, the newspaper said Monday.
The appeal, lodged on May 1, accused the judge of bias in the case, and said the damages awarded to Rush in his April ruling were “excessive”.
In a front-page article published in 2017, the Telegraph wrote that the Sydney Theatre Company received a complaint that Rush had inappropriately touched a female co-star during a staging of “King Lear”.
Following months of legal proceedings, Justice Michael Wigney ruled that the article was a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism” and awarded Rush Aus$850,000 (US$608,000) in damages.
The judge also ruled that Rush should receive compensation for lost earnings due to the allegations against him, with the amount due to be set at a new hearing this week and expected to run into millions of dollars.
The appeal, lodged by Nationwide News, Murdoch’s Australian publishing arm, cited 16 grounds for reversing Wigney’s ruling, including that the judge’s conduct of the case “gave rise to an apprehension of bias”.
It also challenged the judge’s treatment of the actress who made the original complaint against Rush after playing alongside the actor in the production of King Lear in late 2015 and early 2016.
Wigney had said evidence from the actress, Eryn Jean Norvill, was inconsistent and that she “was at times prone to exaggeration and embellishment”.
The appeal also complained that Wigney had refused to hear evidence from a “witness X” who the Telegraph said had worked with Rush in the past and would have corroborated allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously strict and often favour the person accused of bad behaviour.
Rush won the Best Actor Academy Award in 1997 for his role in “Shine” and is one of the few stars to have also won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Tony Award.