Esther Rockett (centre) leaves Sydney Supreme Court with solicitor Stewart O'Connell and barrister Tom Molomby after the final hearing in the defamation case brought against her by Universal Medicine leader Serge Benhayon.
Esther Rockett (centre) leaves Sydney Supreme Court with solicitor Stewart O'Connell and barrister Tom Molomby after the final hearing in the defamation case brought against her by Universal Medicine leader Serge Benhayon. Liana Turner

How 'cult' leader twice rejected blogger's settlement offer

UNIVERSAL Medicine founder Serge Benhayon declined two settlement offers from Esther Rockett before his failed defamation case against her went to trial.

According to court documents, when he knocked back the second - in which Ms Rockett would have abandoned more than $52,000 in costs amassed from her defence - the rejection came with a counter-offer that Mr Rockett's barrister Tom Molomby claimed was a bid to reap "humiliation" from her.

In his February, 2016 counter-offer, Mr Benhayon's legal team demanded Ms Rockett say she would "unequivocally accept" she had "falsely accused Mr Benhayon ... without evidence" and that she had deliberately tried to "hurt and embarrass Mr Benhayon and harm his personal and business reputation".

"That's asking for more than any verdict would deliver," Mr Molomby told the court.

Judge Julia Lonergan agreed the request was excessive.

"I wouldn't call it an apology," she said.

"I'd call it a declaration of criminal conduct on the part of Ms Rockett.

"It would (be grounds for) a type of tortious damages claim, I would think. But let's not get excited."

Mr Molomby raised this matter as part of a debate on how a costs order should be determined.

Mr Benhayon's barrister Nicholas Olson told the court he wouldn't have chosen the wording used in the counter-offer and while his client conceded to paying costs, he opposed this being on an indemnity basis.

Mr Olson said his client "accepts the analysis of the jury's verdict, and of the remaining issues for defamation flowing from the jury's verdict".

Mr Olson argued the apology in Ms Rockett's February 2, 2016 settlement offer was insufficient, and that it was acceptable for his client to refuse it at the time.

He said an earlier settlement offer from Ms Rocketts, given on December 21, 2015 with a deadline of December 24, was not reasonable.

"The fact that (Mr Benhayon) was ultimately unsuccessful in the proceeding is irrelevant," Mr Olson said.

He told the court Ms Rockett's defence had also not been revealed at that point, meaning Mr Benhayon couldn't assess the strength of the case.

The court heard Ms Rockett was also seeking indemnity costs "on the basis of Mr Benhayon's alleged conduct in instituting and maintaining a defamation proceeding against Ms Rockett in the District Court of Queensland on behalf of his associates, Caroline Raphael and Ray Karam".

But Mr Olsen said Mr Benhayon had no part in this proceedings and didn't contribute to them financially.

At the time of her first offer - six weeks after proceedings had begun - Ms Rockett had incurred almost $20,000 in legal costs.

By her second offer, that had become $52,494.80.

On both occasions, Ms Rockett would have abandoned claim to all costs.

Now, Mr Benhayon's looking at footing the bill for those, and subsequent, legal costs, which included a six-week trial with senior counsel.



'Stumpy' speeds up return to the field

premium_icon 'Stumpy' speeds up return to the field

REBELS get boost as warrior returns to training.

Jail visitor gets week behind bars

premium_icon Jail visitor gets week behind bars

Officers discover knife, prohibited drug in pre-entrance search

SuperCoach is back bigger and better in 2019

premium_icon SuperCoach is back bigger and better in 2019

Here’s some of what you can look forward to