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Judge cans Stokes lawsuit

Aussie network exec presented 'wasteful' case

SYDNEY — Seven network exec chairman Kerry Stokes has lost a five-year, $A200 million ($170 million) legal battle against the rest of Oz’s media titans who, he claimed, conspired in the demise of his fledgling C7 sports feevee.

Judge in the trial branded the case ”not only extraordinarily wasteful but bordering on the scandalous.”

Federal Court judge Justice Ronald Sackville dismissed the claim that Seven’s rivals had conspired to handcuff C7 in 2000 by ganging up on football broadcast rights.

In a 1,230-page judgment, Sackville not only stated Seven had been “the author of its own misfortune,” but that Stokes himself had been an unreliable witness who had given evidence that was “deliberately false.”

The trial, which has occupied many of Oz’s and Blighty’s best legal minds, began when Stokes initiated civil proceedings against more than 22 media rivals, telcos and sports entities, including Rupert Murdoch’s News, CanWest’s Network Ten, Kerry Packer’s then-Nine Network and PBL, cabler Foxtel, telcos Telstra and Optus, the Australian Football League and National Rugby League.

Stokes is seeking $181 million in compensation.

Mogul rebuffed all attempts at mediation, although he dropped claims against some defendants along the way.

The hearing lasted 120 days in Sydney’s Federal Court before it concluded in October 2006 to allow Justice Sackville to review the 9,530 pages of court transcripts.

Seven has reserved its right to appeal.

“As much as he might not like it, the judge does not get the final word necessarily,” says the web’s commercial director Bruce McWilliam.

But some prominent shareholders want the bloodletting to stop, and local biz commentators have suggested that independent directors on the Seven board should resign.

Stokes is expected to appeal, if only in an attempt to mitigate the potential $85 million in costs he will have to pay his rivals.

The judge asked all parties to lodge proposals for costs in submissions that must not “exceed 10 double-spaced pages.”

Seven has flushed much of its own costs through the balance sheet already, spending $37 million in fiscal 2006 on the case and $10 million in the half ended Dec. 31.

Seven Network shares fell 42¢ on the day of the judgment in Oz, but have since settled.

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