More lurid Lehrmann allegations expected as ex-Seven producer continues testimony

Taylor Auerbach claims Bruce Lehrmann promised access to confidential info from his aborted trial.

Taylor Auerbach claims Bruce Lehrmann promised access to confidential info from his aborted trial. Photo: AAP

A decision in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation action may take longer than expected as former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach continues his explosive testimony on Friday. 

Auerbach, a former producer on Seven’s Spotlight current affairs program, gave lurid testimony on Thursday that he witnessed Lehrmann purchase cocaine and attempt to order sex workers to a Sydney hotel.

The explosive claims came on the same day Justice Michael Lee was originally due to hand down his judgment in Lehrmann’s defamation action against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over an interview with fellow ex-Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.

The case was reopened after Ten won a last-minute bid to allow Auerbach to give evidence.

Higgins, who alleges Lehrmann raped her in a Parliament House office in 2019, did not name him in the interview she gave to Wilkinson on The Project in 2021. 

Auerbach told the Federal Court on Thursday he was tasked with building trust and rapport with the 28-year-old Lehrmann, who was a prospective interview subject.

Lehmann gave that interview in 2023, during which he denied raping Higgins – as he always has. 

Ten will attempt to argue that Auerbach’s evidence raises questions about Lehrmann’s credibility.

Auerbach on Thursday told the court he was tasked with building trust and rapport with Lehrmann as Spotlight courted him for its interview.

“I had been reappointed to be his babysitter, minder, looking after him,” he said.

Auerbach claimed he took a taxi with Lehrmann, who was not in court on Thursday, from Franca Brasserie restaurant in Sydney’s Potts Point  to a Meriton Hotel in the city centre.

“Mr Lehrmann had over dinner purchased a bag of cocaine while we were dining at Franca,” he told the court.

“When we got upstairs to the room he pulled that out and started to put it on a plate, and then started talking to me about a prospective Spotlight story and his desire to order prostitutes to the Meriton that night.”

The court heard Auerbach told Lehrmann that he did not have the means to pay for sex workers and that the potential interviewee should fund them himself.

He further claimed Seven later reimbursed Lehrmann, who he maintained issued an invoice to the network, although Auerbach also admitted he didn’t see any receipts.

In a text to his then-boss, Steve Jackson, Auerbach said he raised concerns about Lehrmann’s behaviour.

“I told him that Bruce was on the warpath again and that it was no anomaly,” Auerbach said.

“I think I used the words, ‘this is f—ed’,” he said.

In his testimony, Auerbach also alleged Lehrmann leaked confidential text messages from Higgins’ mobile to Seven in breach of what is known as the Harman undertaking.

Lehrmann, he said, had access to the private and personal texts through an earlier, abandoned criminal case against him, but the material was not tendered into evidence.

Ten will hope Auerbach’s testimony will damage Lehrmann’s credibility. Photo: AAP

The Harman undertaking holds that untendered evidence from an abandoned criminal case can’t be used for other purposes.

Lehrmann’s lawyer, Matthew Richardson SC, put to Auerbach that he was being untruthful in his account, which the former Seven producer denied.

“I want to suggest to you … that you are here today to do as much damage to your former employer and former colleagues as you possibly can,” Richardson said.

The court was shown footage of Auerbach destroying golf clubs belonging to his former boss, Jackson, whom he admitted to hating.

Auerbach also claimed in the days after the Spotlight program went to air – in two episodes on June 4 and August 13 – he was told by a regular external lawyer for Seven that “Ten and Lisa are not very happy about the broadcast and might come after us”.

“I understood that this meant that I should delete any materials that could be damaging for Seven,” Auerbach said in his affidavit that was read to the court.

“I followed this direction and permanently deleted anything that I could find on my computer and phone at the time.” 

Auerbach made a claim for psychological injury against Seven following its decision not to renew his two-year employment contract in August, he told the court in the affidavit.

That claim was settled on confidential terms, he said.

Auerbach endured bullying and anti-Semitism over a significant period at Seven, his lawyer Rebekah Giles told the court.

The court also heard that Auerbach tendered his resignation after putting $10,000 on a company credit card to pay for massages in the early hours of November 26, 2022.

He said he was mortified when he woke the next day and realised he had charged the company and he sent his resignation by email. However, he told the court that, instead of losing his job, he was offered a promotion and pay rise by Seven.

Seven has denied Auerbach’s allegations, labelling them “false and misleading”. In a statement sent to all staff on Thursday night, the network also denied any pay rise or promotion offer to Auerbach.

“Seven is appalled by the allegations made in recent days. We do not condone the behaviours described in these allegations. They do not reflect the culture of Seven,” the statement said.

“Seven did not offer a promotion or pay rise to Mr Auerbach in November 2022, nor did it do so at any time after that.”

Lehrmann rejects that anything sexual happened between himself and Higgins.

His 2022 criminal trial in the ACT was derailed due to juror misconduct, with prosecutors dropping the charges against him over fears for Higgins’ mental health.

He is seeking substantial damages from Ten, claiming the report that aired on The Project in February 2021 ruined his reputation.

The judgment in the defamation case could be handed down early next week. However, Lee indicated on Thursday it was likely to be further delayed as a result of the volume of new evidence.

1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

-with AAP

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