Nine Entertainment has been ordered to pay the legal costs for venture capitalist Dr Elaine Stead, following a defamation case against Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston. The costs are estimated to amount to more than $1 million.
On Monday, Justice Michael Lee awarded Dr Stead “indemnity costs” from the date of April 22, 2020, when she offered to settle the case for a $190,000 payout, the removal of offending articles and payment costs, which the publisher rejected. Nine also later rejected an offer from Dr Stead of $140,000, an apology and the removal of the articles.
The decision comes after Dr Stead, the former managing director of venture capital at Blue Sky Alternative Investments, sued the AFR and Aston over a series of published columns.
In January, Justice Lee found that Aston had defamed Dr Stead in a “sustained campaign of offensive mockery” which amounted to a “form of bullying”. Aston had referred to Dr Stead as a “feminist cretin” who “set fire to people’s money”, among other things.
Justice Lee said Dr Stead suffered a “slow death” as a result of Aston’s determination to “go after” her in his columns. Dr Stead was awarded $280,000 in damages by the federal court.
In ordering Nine to pay Dr Stead’s legal costs, Justice Lee said the publisher had been too optimistic about defending Aston’s defamation suit.
“Fairfax and Mr Aston proceeded Micawber-like, in the hope something might turn up to prove truth or allow substantial truth to be proved, notwithstanding the deficiencies in setting out some of the facts relied upon,” he said.