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Rush awarded A$2.9m dollars in defamation case, a record for Australia

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The Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush will be awarded A$2.9 million in his defamation case against Rupert Murdoch's Nationwide News, a court said Thursday, the largest such payout to a single person in Australia's history.

[MELBOURNE] The Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush will be awarded A$2.9 million in his defamation case against Rupert Murdoch's Nationwide News, a court said Thursday, the largest such payout to a single person in Australia's history.

Rush was awarded A$850,000 dollars, or about US$600,000, in initial damages in April after winning his defamation case, in which he accused a tabloid newspaper of wrongly portraying him as having behaved inappropriately toward a female co-star.

On Thursday, he was awarded an additional A$1.98 million for past and future economic losses and A$42,000 dollars in interest. That brought the total award to A$2.9 million.

"Geoffrey Rush obviously has won the battle - he is a spectacular winner in the context of litigation," said Matt Collins, an Australian lawyer who is an expert in defamation law. "But you would query whether he has ultimately won the war. You would query whether any sum of money would be sufficient to restore his reputation."

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 Rush's lawyer, Sue Chrysanthou, declined to comment.

The actor's defamation case involved two front-page articles published in late 2017 by The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney newspaper.

The articles alleged unseemly conduct by Rush toward an unidentified female actress in a Sydney Theater Company production of "King Lear" from 2015 to 2016. One of the articles was accompanied by a photo of Rush in costume under the headline "King Leer." The actress was later revealed to be Eryn Jean Norvill.

In a much-publicised trial, Rush, 67, a star of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series and other films, argued that the articles incorrectly depicted him as a "pervert" and a "sexual predator."

Rush's lawyer said in court Thursday that the actor had offered earlier to settle the case, asking Nationwide News to pay him A$50,000  as well as cover his legal costs and issue an apology. He also asked for the articles to be removed. Nationwide News declined.

The April verdict was seen as a blow for the #MeToo movement in Australia; advocates say the country's strict defamation laws have helped keep it from gaining steam. The case was closely watched in part because it was a test of whether a celebrity of Mr Rush's stature could fend off #MeToo accusations through a defamation claim.

In Rush's case, the amount of the economic losses was agreed to between the parties, rather than imposed by the court. Rush originally asked for more than 20 million dollars in damages.

Nationwide News is appealing the defamation verdict. If Rush loses the appeal, Nationwide News will not have to pay any damages.

A cornerstone of the appeal is the evidence of "Witness X," identified this month as Australian actress Yael Stone, 34, who is best known for her role in the Netflix show "Orange is the New Black."

Midway through the trial last year, Nationwide News called on "Witness X" to provide evidence. Justice Michael Wigney, who presided over the case, rejected the bid and ordered Stone's identity suppressed.

In an interview published in December, Stone told The New York Times that Rush had behaved inappropriately toward her during a 2010-11 Sydney production of "The Diary of a Madman."

She said that Rush had danced naked in front of her, sent her erotic text messages and used a mirror to watch her shower.

The actor said in a statement at the time that Stone's allegations were "incorrect and in some instances have been taken completely out of context."

Norvill, for her part, testified last year that Rush had sexually harassed her, saying he had made "groping" and "cupping" gestures toward her breasts.

She said he also "deliberately" stroked her breast in front of a theater audience and on a separate occasion traced her lower back along the waistline of her jeans with his fingertips.

NYTimes