Ex-Lambie staff ordered to pay govt $94k

News, Crime

Two of Senator Jacqui Lambie's former staffers have been ordered to pay the commonwealth government almost $100,000 for their conduct in an unfair dismissal trial in which they attempted to smear the senator.

Ex-chief of staff Rob Messenger and his wife Fern, who managed the senator's offices, were sacked for serious misconduct in 2017 after Mr Messenger sent a letter to the prime minister about alleged inappropriate workplace behaviour.

After being fired, they launched unfair dismissal claims against Senator Lambie in the Federal Court.

The Messengers represented themselves in the case, which took five years to resolve. Justice John Snaden dismissed their claims in June 2022.

The commonwealth government's attendance over the 16-day trial cost it about $200,0000, and it applied to the court to have Messengers pay their costs.

The Messengers filed more than 1000 pages of unnecessary evidence in 2019, a great bulk of which was irrelevant.

The court was also asked by the Messengers to issue subpoenas to a large number of potential witnesses who had no connection with the case, which added to the Commonwealth's legal costs.

The government claimed it was unreasonable for the Messengers to have spent so much time adducing “irrelevant or scandalous” evidence and said they used the trial as a “broad-ranging judicial inquiry into” Senator Lambie's character or trial by media.

Justice Snaden found the Messengers' conduct during the case was unreasonable and ordered each of them pay the Commonwealth $47,300.

“I accept that the trial was extended unreasonably by the Messengers' insistence on exploring matters that bore no connection with anything that they had pleaded,” he wrote in a judgment on Wednesday.

“Self-represented litigants are not at liberty to waste their opponents' (and the court's) time by requiring that they sift through and consider – and, as here, oppose – acres of irrelevant and scandalous material.”

Witnesses subpoenaed by the Messengers included senior political figures, journalists and members of Senator Lambie's family.

The judge said their presence was sought at trial to “smear” the senator.

Senator Lambie's application for costs was dismissed, as Justice Snaden found the Messengers' rejection of her offer of six weeks' pay to resolve the case was not unreasonable.

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