Solicitors for 'cult leader' may be probed

Serge Benhayon lost his defamation case against blogger Esther Rockett and must pay costs.
Serge Benhayon lost his defamation case against blogger Esther Rockett and must pay costs.

Solicitors acting for a wealthy spiritual healer who lost a defamation case against a blogger sent the woman a "demeaning" 31-page letter on the day of her father's funeral, a NSW Supreme Court judge says.

Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon sued Esther Mary Rockett but a jury in October 2018 found many of her posts and tweets critical of him to be true.

The jury found Mr Benhayon was the leader of a socially harmful cult, preyed on cancer patients, engaged in bizarre sexual manipulation to make money and was "a charlatan who makes fraudulent medical claims".

Justice Julia Lonergan on Thursday ordered Mr Benhayon pay Ms Rockett's costs for her comprehensive win on an indemnity basis - a higher rate than usually applies in legal disputes.

She said his failure to accept an earlier settlement offer was unreasonable.

The case is scheduled to return to court on March 6, when the judge will ask the parties why she shouldn't refer Mr Benhayon's solicitors, Universal Law, to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner for investigation for breach of professional conduct requirements.

She cited a concerning letter emailed by the firm to Ms Rockett on the day of her father's funeral in late 2017, two years after court proceedings began.

It was a date the blogger "politely" asked them to avoid for legal correspondence out of respect for her family.

Justice Lonergan said the tone of the letter, sent during a pre-trial dispute about documents, was unnecessarily insistent, demeaning and contained multiple insults towards Ms Rockett.

"For obvious reasons, I will not repeat them," she said on Thursday, noting the choice of date seemed to have been deliberate.

"They are at best, unprofessional and most discourteous. They are at worst, bullying and harassment."

Solicitors have a fundamental ethical duty and obligation to be honest and courteous, the judge said.

"The timing and circumstances of the correspondence ... suggests that the solicitor who authored them had a lack of independence from, or objectivity about, the litigation," she said.

Ms Rockett's barrister, Tom Molomby SC, previously argued it was the culmination of oppressive behaviour.

The judge said the names could be a coincidence and she doesn't know if Universal Law has any affiliation with Mr Benhayon's corporation Universal Medicine, but there may be a public perception they're directly associated.

Australian Associated Press