Kennett's huge bill


  PREMIER Jeff Kennett faces a massive personal legal bill after a
  Supreme Court jury threw out his defamation claim.

  A jury of four women and two men took just 50 minutes yesterday to
  find The Australian newspaper did not defame Mr Kennett.

  The Premier had sought at least $200,000 damages, claiming an article
  in the paper suggested he had affairs with two prominent women.

  Instead, Justice David Ashley ordered Mr Kennett to pay the paper's
  legal costs.

  The final bill could be at least $150,000, legal sources say.

  Mr Kennett was in court during the trial but not for the verdict.

  In a hushed courtroom, the forewoman of the jury was asked if the jury

  found the article had defamed Mr Kennett. "No," she replied.

  A government spokesman said the legal costs would be paid by the
  Premier, not taxpayers.

  Mr Kennett would not comment last night on the verdict or how he will
  pay the legal costs.

Outside court, News Limited group editorial manager Warren Beeby said 
the verdict vindicated the reputation of The Australian.  

"We said all along the article was not defamatory and that was 
obviously why no apology was offered," Mr Beeby said.  

"You don't apologise for something you haven't done wrong."  

Asked how high the legal bills would run, Mr Beeby said: "I couldn't 
begin to estimate, but ... it will be a lot of money."  

News Limited is the publisher of The Australian and the Herald Sun.  

The dramatic verdict, delivered to a packed courtroom, came after a 
hard-fought five-day trial that involved some of Victoria's most 
influential people.  

Long-time Liberal supporters Dame Margaret Guilfoyle and Dame Beryl 
Beaurepaire, and WMC chief Hugh Morgan gave character evidence for Mr 

Mr Kennett told the jury he was hurt and disgusted by a feature 
article written by journalist Stuart Rintoul and published the day 
after the Kennetts publicly announced they had separated.  

The article  "A House Divided"  contained unsubstantiated rumors Mr 
Kennett had sexual affairs with then Grand Prix Corporation chief 
executive Judith Griggs and arts director Maudie Palmer.  

"It indicated I was having an affair with two women during my 
marriage    with whom I have never been alone with privately or 
publicly in my life," Mr Kennett told the jury.  

Felicity Kennett told the jury Mr Kennett wept as he tried to explain 
to his children the accusations in the article were false.  

"We are talking about a hard time for us emotionally and he couldn't 
explain to them in a simple enough language to say, 'This hasn't 
happened in my life. This is not what has been happening'," she said. 

Mr Kennett was seeking compensatory, aggravated and exemplary damages 
from the publishers of The Australian, Nationwide News Pty Ltd, 
alleging the article seriously defamed him.  

His senior counsel, Jeremy Ruskin, QC, asked the jury this week to 
award Mr Kennett more than $200,000 plus extra money to punish the 

But defence counsel Jeff Sher, QC, told the jury the article was not 
defamatory and Mr Kennett had simply misinterpreted it.  

Mr Sher, who was not present yesterday for the verdict, said the 
article conveyed the message the rumors were not true.  

Mr Rintoul had to publish the rumors to discuss them and he did so 
faithfully, he said.  

Mr Sher also attacked Mr Kennett's relationship with the media and 
his    history of attacking other public figures.  

Outside court yesterday, Mr Beeby said rumors were a fact of 
political    life.  

"Nothing we say or do can make rumors go away and obviously rumors, 
right or wrong, are always going to be an influence on politics," he 

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