A journalist's relationship with Walter Sofronoff KC, who authored a scathing report into the conduct of the ACT's former top prosecutor, "poisoned his mind", a court has heard.
The inquiry chair's communications with Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist from The Australian, included her flying to Brisbane to have a "private lunch" with him, lawyers for Shane Drumgold SC have claimed.
Mr Drumgold resigned as director of public prosecutions after being slammed by the board of inquiry report into the case of Bruce Lehrmann, who has always denied raping fellow former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in 2019.
Mr Drumgold has launched legal action and is seeking Mr Sofronoff's 839-page report be quashed or, alternatively, the conclusions made in relation to him be declared invalid, or affected by bias, or a denial of natural justice.
During a hearing in the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday, Mr Drumgold's counsel, Dan O'Gorman SC, said the case would focus on whether Mr Sofronoff had an apprehended bias against the former ACT top prosecutor.
Lawyers for Mr Drumgold are claiming the relationship between Mr Sofronoff and Ms Albrechtsen caused this bias.
The trial against Mr Lehrmann was aborted last year because of juror misconduct, with the charge levelled at the former Liberal staffer, who maintains his innocence, later discontinued.
'What was so special about Ms Albrechtsen?'
The court heard that before the report was handed down Ms Albrechtsen had flown to Brisbane to have lunch with Mr Sofronoff, who recommended the restaurant.
The pair are said to have had 273 "communications" in a seven-month period.
"No other journalist had the privilege of a private lunch," Mr O'Gorman said.
"What was so special about Ms Albrechtsen?"
The columnist also sent Mr Lehrmann's contact details to the inquiry chair in April 2023.
Public hearings for the board of inquiry were held between May 8 and June 1 last year.
Mr O'Gorman told the court that between February and August 2023, Mr Sofronoff made 91 calls with journalists.
Of these 73 were with The Australian and 51 with Ms Albrechtsen.
During the inquiry hearings, the chairman made nine calls to her.
Mr Drumgold's lawyer claimed this would cause a "fair minded observer concern".
Allegations of apprehended bias
Mr Sofronoff sent a text to Ms Albrechtsen two days before the hearing began, saying: "What a thing to do to two young professionals under your mentorship."
The message was in reference to two witness statements given to the inquiry by Mr Drumgold's junior and solicitor in the Lehrmann trial.
"It shows that Mr Sofronoff had poisoned his mind to Mr Drumgold ... before Mr Drumgold even got into the witness box," Mr O'Gorman told the court.
"It is an example we will say of a failure to provide a fair hearing."
Mr O'Gorman claimed Ms Albrechtsen had written numerous "nasty" articles about the former DPP around this time, which "cast him in a negative light by impugning his character and credibility".
"You have this journalist who is writing extensively about Mr Drumgold [and] has what we would submit is an extraordinary amount of contact with Mr Sofronoff," Mr O'Gorman said.
"In the course of those communications information that was of importance to the inquiry and its deliberations, and not really to a journalist, were passed on."
The lawyer also claimed the inquiry chair had provided Ms Albrechtsen with drafts of the report, some of which had notations.
The inquiry report was sensationally published by The Australian on August 2 last year after the report was leaked ahead of time.
Claims of 'unreasonable' findings
On Tuesday afternoon, Mr O'Gorman alleged many of the findings against the former director of public prosecutions were "unreasonable".
The findings of misconduct in relation to Mr Drumgold include that he knowingly lied to Chief Justice Lucy McCallum and "preyed on" the inexperience of a junior prosecutor while dishonestly withholding documents from Mr Lehrmann's lawyers.
Mr Sofronoff also found Mr Drumgold at times "lost objectivity and did not act with fairness and detachment as was required by his role" during the trial.
The inquiry chair had found propositions put to Senator Linda Reynolds, who employed Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins at the time in question, were "tantamount to an allegation of an attempt to pervert the course of justice".
The now former prosecutor had accused Senator Reynolds of being "politically invested" in the outcome of the trial, that she had inappropriately sought transcripts, and "arranged" for her partner to attend court and inform her about evidence.
On Tuesday, Mr O'Gorman told the court it was "legally unreasonable" to make findings about these propositions and there was "reliable information that could be put" to the witness.
"[It's] an almost ludicrous suggestion that there wasn't evidence she was politically invested in the matter," Mr O'Gorman said.
The hearing continues.