The high cost of 'cult' leader's failed defamation case
A BLOGGER who was unsuccessfully sued for defamation by a Goonellabah "cult" leader has confirmed she had received a payment of costs.
Esther Rockett last year won a defamation case brought by Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon.
Ms Rockett has confirmed Mr Benhayon had adhered to a court order that he was to pay her legal costs, which amounted to "around $1.2 million".
She had meanwhile revealed plans to lodge her own complaint against Mr Benhayon's solicitor with the Legal Services Commission, regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court takes such action.
Justice Lonergan this week declared the court would refer solicitor Paula Fletcher to the commissioner due to conduct relating to two letters she sent Ms Rockett while representing Mr Benhayon in the defamation proceedings, and also representing Ray Karam and Caroline Raphael in a Queensland-based defamation case.
While Ms Fletcher said in an affidavit she apologised "unreservedly" for some of the content of her letters, Ms Rockett said she did not accept the apology.
Ms Rockett - who was representing herself at the time - received the second letter, 31 pages long, on the day of her father's funeral.
"I understand that litigation is an 'adversarial system', however, Ms Fletcher's behaviour toward me was beyond adversarial," Ms Rockett said.
"In my opinion it constituted harassment.
"During that time I was defending two concurrent defamation proceedings brought by Universal Medicine-associated litigants in NSW and Queensland.
"The plaintiffs were represented in both states by Ms Fletcher.
"Mr Benhayon's claim failed. The claim by Benhayon's associates, Caroline Raphael and Ray Karam was dismissed by the District Court of Queensland in November 2018 by consent.
"Although my defences to the Benhayon claim succeeded, the two defamation proceedings bankrupted me and made me homeless."
Ms Rockett said she made "numerous requests" for Mr Benhayon's solicitor to "conduct herself reasonably".
"Regardless of whether the court is able to make the referral, I intend to make my own complaint to the Legal Services Commission in respect of the conduct in issue and other incidents that were not brought to Her Honour's attention," she said.
Ms Fletcher will have a month to lodge a possible appeal to Justice Lonergan's decision before being referred to the commission.
Her legal firm has been approached for comment.
Justice Lonergan had labelled Mr Fletcher's conduct, particularly in relation to the second, longer, letter in September of 2017, as "at best, unprofessional and most discourteous".
Pending a successful appeal, Ms Fletcher - of Universal Law, which has offices in Mullumbimby, Lismore and Tweed Heads - will be referred to the Legal Services Commissioner of NSW for consideration of a complaint of alleged unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.
Ms Fletcher's daughter, Emmalee, was the first wife of Mr Benhayon's eldest son, Michael.
The court this week also heard others involved with drafting the letters of concern, barrister Charles Wilson and his paralegal wife Allison Greig had "significant involvement in Universal Medicine" and were friends of Mr Benhayon.