Solicitor Julian Burnside said in court on Friday that he and Mr Slipper's lawyers would use phone records to prove that Mr Ashby and a female staffer worked together to undermine the Speaker.
Solicitor Julian Burnside said in court on Friday that he and Mr Slipper's lawyers would use phone records to prove that Mr Ashby and a female staffer worked together to undermine the Speaker.

Slipper 'undermined by staff'

BATTLE lines were drawn in the Sydney Federal Court on Friday as the legal teams at the centre of the Peter Slipper controversy were given a July deadline to prepare their cases.

James Ashby, the staffer suing Mr Slipper for alleged sexual harassment, and his lawyers will have to find enough evidence to convince Judge Steven Rares the case should go ahead.

Mr Slipper and the Commonwealth have been ordered to justify their abuse-of-process claims, filed in court last week.

Since Mr Ashby sensationally accused the Speaker of making unwelcome sexual advances towards him in person and by phone, the case has taken many turns.

In the lead-up to the first directions hearing last month, the outline of Mr Ashby's statement of claim was released to the media before being sent to Mr Slipper.

During the hearing Mr Slipper's solicitor Josh Bornstein described the case as a "character assassination" and accused Mr Ashby's legal team of taking no steps to resolve the allegations outside of the public arena.

On the same day, Mr Ashby's solicitor Michael Lee lodged a complaint about comments made about the case in the media by high-ranking politicians including Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Senator Barnaby Joyce.

In the abuse-of-process claim filed in the lead-up to Friday's hearing, Mr Bornstein called the case to be struck out claiming Mr Ashby had started a "vexatious proceeding" against Mr Slipper.

He said the statement of claim failed to disclose a "reasonable cause of action" and asked for costs to be awarded to Mr Slipper and the Commonwealth.

In Friday's hearing, high-profile Commonwealth barrister Julian Burnside accused Mr Ashby of orchestrating a sexual harassment case against the Speaker to help his political opponents, including former Howard government minister Mal Brough.

Mr Brough and a News Limited journalist have been subpoenaed to appear in the court next month.

Mr Burnside said he and Mr Slipper's lawyers would use phone records to prove that Mr Ashby and a fellow staffer, Karen Doane, worked together to undermine the Speaker and leaked sensitive information to the media and Liberal and National party politicians.

He also asked Justice Rares to rule on whether the Commonwealth could use the phone records tendered in court when making decisions about the future of Mr Ashby and Ms Doane's employment.

Both are currently on leave.

Justice Rares said he would not make that decision until lawyers from both sides had attempted to reach an agreement outside of court.

Mr Lee said his client was being hunted like he was in "some kind of fancy."

He said attempting to understand the abuse-of-process claim was like "wrestling with rice pudding" and rejected the suggestion Mr Ashby's case was politically motivated.

The next hearing has been set down for July 23.



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