SYDNEY — A newspaper publisher appealing Geoffrey Rush’s 2.9 million Australian dollar ($2 million) payout for defamation told an Australian court on Monday there was no evidence the Oscar-winning actor was unable to work or had fewer job offers because of damage to his reputation.
News Corp.-owned Nationwide News is appealing a Federal Court judge’s ruling in April that the 68-year-old Australian actor had been defamed by newspaper reports that he had been accused of inappropriate behavior by actress Eryn Jean Norvill. She played the daughter of Rush’s character in a Sydney theater production of “King Lear” in 2015 and 2016.
The publisher is also appealing against the size of Rush’s damages awarded in May for two articles published in Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper and a poster that the judge found portrayed him as a pervert and a sexual predator.
Rush and his actress wife Jane Menelaus attended the Sydney court on Monday for the first day of the two-day appeal.
The publisher’s lawyer Tom Blackburn told three Federal Court judges hearing the appeal that the trial judge Michael Wigney heard no evidence that Rush had been unable to work and had fewer job offers as a result of the articles.
“Your Honors might find this an astonishing omission,” Blackburn told the judges.
Blackburn said Wigney “cobbled together” speculation and inference to find Rush was unable to work because of his state of mind following the publications and had fewer job offers since then.
Rush did not give evidence saying: “I am unable to work because of these articles” or testify that he had received no or fewer job offers, Blackburn said.
Blackburn said the actor’s experienced lawyers made a “deliberate decision” not to ask the questions because the answers “might be unfavorable,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn later dropped the publisher’s claim that Wigney’s conduct during the trial created an “apprehension of bias” in favor of the actor.
Rush’s lawyer Bret Walker described that claim as “a slur on the judge.”
Walker will present Rush’s response to the appeal when the hearing resumes on Tuesday.
Rush received the best actor Oscar in 1996 for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott in “Shine” and was nominated for roles in “Shakespeare In Love,” ″Quills” and “The King’s Speech.” He is also famed for his portrayal of Captain Barbossa in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.
He received Australia’s highest civilian honor in 2014, the Companion of the Order of Australia, for service to the arts.
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