Universal Medicine / Serge Benhayon:
'Cult leader' ordered to pay blogger's legal costs
Sydney Morning Herald
By Michaela Whitbourn
February 28, 2019
A self-styled spiritual healer who leads a "socially harmful cult" has been ordered to pay the legal bills of a former client he unsuccessfully sued for defamation.
The NSW Supreme Court judge who presided over the case has also threatened to refer the law firm who acted for Serge Benhayon to the legal profession's watchdog over potential bullying and harassment.
jury found those claims, among others, were true
Mr Benhayon, a former Sydney tennis coach and one-time bankrupt who founded the Lismore-based business Universal Medicine, spectacularly lost his defamation case against blogger Esther Rockett in October last year over a range of claims, including that he is a "charlatan who makes fraudulent medical claims" and is the leader of a "socially harmful cult".
A four-person jury found those claims, among others, were true.
In a judgment on legal costs on Thursday, Justice Julia Lonergan ordered Mr Benhayon to pay Ms Rockett's costs on an indemnity basis, which is higher than the usual costs awarded in litigation and would cover a greater proportion of her legal bill.
breaches of professional conduct standards.
Justice Lonergan also invited submissions – to be heard in court next Wednesday – as to why she should not refer Universal Law, the firm of solicitors who acted for Mr Benhayon, to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner to investigate any breaches of professional conduct standards.
She said Universal Law appeared to have made a "deliberate" choice to send a 31-page letter to Ms Rockett on the day of her father's funeral, at a time when she did not have a solicitor acting for her and had previously told the firm her father was "seriously ill".
The "personal insults" in the letter were "at best, unprofessional and most discourteous" and "at worst, bullying and harassment, deliberately deployed at a time when the defendant is likely to be distracted, sad and vulnerable, with the aim of demoralising her about the litigation she was defending".
Justice Lonergan said "the timing and circumstances of the correspondence, including these personal insults, as well as the way in which they were phrased, suggests that the solicitor who authored them had a lack of independence from, or objectivity about, the litigation".
While "it may well be a coincidence that their names are similar ... there may well be a public perception that somehow Universal Law has an affiliation or direct association with Universal Medicine", she said.
Justice Lonergan stressed that the conduct of the barristers who acted for Mr Benhayon had been "exemplary" and her comments about Universal Law did not extend to them.
unreasonably refused a settlement offer
In ordering indemnity costs against Mr Benhayon, Justice Lonergan said Mr Benhayon had unreasonably refused a settlement offer made "responsibly and at an early stage of the litigation" by Ms Rockett in February 2016.
Mr Benhayon's solicitor made "an unreasonable and extreme counterproposal" demanding an apology from Ms Rockett effectively requiring her to state publicly that she had "acted fraudulently, illegally and with malice".
"The unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s refusal to accept the offer is illustrated by the apparent appetite for public humiliation of the defendant," she said.
Ms Rockett’s lawyer, Stewart O’Connell of O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors said: “We are once again proud of [Ms Rockett's] resilience and happy with this vindication”.
Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.