Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: Seven’s big payout for Taylor Auerbach

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Ex-Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach received a six-figure settlement when he left his job after lodging a complaint that Seven settled on a “no admissions” basis, according to new evidence filed with the Federal Court.

News.com.au has confirmed the payout was around $150,000 which was close to one year’s salary for him at the time, according to colleagues.

Bruce Lehrmann’s legal team has subpoenaed Mr Auerbach’s confidential records in relation to the matter, but Seven insiders fear it could unleash a new “Pandora’s box” of horrors for the broadcaster.

As network executives hold crisis meetings that Seven insiders claim could involve discussions over the future of the program following allegations that Auerbach wooed Mr Lehrmann with wining, dining and a brothel visit to secure the exclusive interview, a new reputational risk is coming into focus ahead of the return of the subpoenas at 9.30am on Thursday.

Seven is also set to reveal whether or not per diems – daily allowances – were paid to Mr Lehrmann.

Mr Auerbach claims in his affidavit that after spending time at the Meriton and at a brothel with Mr Lehrmann, he made inquiries about being paid per diems.

However, according to his affidavit, he only had a memory of this and did not have receipts.

Seven sources have told news.com.au that no such per diems paid directly to the former Liberal staffer had been located after an initial search of financial records.

But the confidential payout deal has sent executives scurrying to find records to respond to the subpoena.

When a company offers a payout for an employee on a “no admissions basis” it means it does so without admitting any of the claims are true, and the complainant agrees not to take further legal action to settle the matter.

The payout followed Mr Auerbach’s complaint that he received a psychiatric injury while working at Spotlight, and his decision to spend $10,000 on a corporate credit card on Thai masseuses.

He immediately confessed to the expenditure and apologised, admitting he was in a “drunken daze.” Mr Auerbach has flatly rejected Seven’s claim that he ever received a written warning over the incident.

‘Psychiatric condition’

Mr Lehrmann’s barrister, Matthew Richardson SC, honed in on the circumstances of Mr Auerbach’s departure during Tuesday’s hearing, in which Justice Michael Lee ruled he would reopen the case based on “fresh evidence”.

“I won’t be overly dramatic. I know that Your Honour would never tolerate any sort of substantial delay, but this is a brand new witness,’’ he said.

“We need to subpoena Channel Seven. We need to find out what happened when he left there.

Mr Richardson said there was evidence to the effect Mr Auerbach had a medical issue.

“A psychiatric injury, which led to his termination or separation from Channel Seven and, speaking frankly, multiple journalists, including I assume some of the back of the court, have described his appearances in public as bizarre,’’ he said.

“That is a word that has been used frequently. We want to have a look at this and check if he does have a psychiatric condition and check more about this person.”

Untested claims

Mr Auerbach claims Mr Lehrmann leaked Brittany Higgins’ personal text messages to Spotlight after the producer and Mr Lehrmann went on a two-night bender that included partying with sex workers.

The untested claims are contained in an affidavit that was tendered to the Federal Court during the hearing presided over by Justice Lee on Tuesday night.

The claims involve two nights in January, 2023, after Auerbach spent $10,000 on Thai massages in November, 2022, without the knowledge or consent of the Seven Network, on a corporate credit card.

The material is untested and Mr Auerbach will be cross examined on Thursday after Justice Lee announced Network Ten had won its bid to reopen the case.