Sports

McLachlan hits out at court battle over Essendon drugs saga

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan says Essendon and their players want to move on from the supplements scandal, declaring a court case brought against him "odd" and a waste of money.

Melbourne lawyer Jackson Taylor has fought for years to have McLachlan and former AFL commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick put in the witness box over comments they had made during the anti-doping saga, and had a win on Wednesday through a ruling by Justice John Dixon in the Supreme Court.

Justice Dixon's ruling that comments made during the drugs saga by McLachlan and Fitzpatrick should be tested at a full-blown trial mean the two men, along with former chief Andrew Demetriou, are a step closer to having to appear under oath in court.

However, McLachlan told 3AW on Friday he had not given the case much thought.

"The Essendon issue is sort of closed and solved and has gone to court, the full court, and has been found to be entirely legal. This is an individual who has got a grievance about some comments I made in the media. It is actually … not something that I have actually thought about too much," he said.

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"I think it's an odd one and it will play out as it plays out."

Taylor has pointed to comments McLachlan made on Fox Footy, radio stations 3AW and 2GP, and in The Age and Herald Sun in the 13 months from January 2016 as to why he has brought the case. McLachlan's comments include that the AFL had taken reasonable care in protecting the health and safety of Essendon players and had not sought from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority the removal of material unfavourable to the AFL from its interim report.

The AFL has estimated any case would cost $700,000, with McLachlan reiterating he considered it a waste of money.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan.

Photo: AAP

"There are lawyers at the office – I don't know who is working on it specifically. The point is, media commentary (Taylor's claims) said it (McLachlan's comments) was misleading and deceptive – it seems like a lot of wasted money to me. Anyway, it will play out," McLachlan said.

"It is (a waste of money) at our end for something it's personal, it's against me individually, not related to the Essendon case, and I know that the Essendon footy club and the players and others, all they want to do is move on."

The AFL's counsel in the Supreme Court was Greg Harris, QC, with law firm, K&L Gates, providing instructions.

Taylor has alleged McLachlan and Fitzpatrick contravened consumer law by deceiving or misleading the public over the AFL's handling of the saga in a bid to protect its reputation and consumer interests. He is being represented by human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, QC, who was involved in James Hird's case against the AFL in 2013.

Justice Dixon also ruled that the AFL had to pay Taylor's costs in opposing the application.

He also said a ruling on a deed of release needed to be settled before any trial could go ahead. The deed was done after an earlier case Taylor had brought against the AFL in 2015, and could involve Taylor and AFL in-house lawyer Stephen Meade giving evidence. A date for the hearing on the deed has yet to be determined.

The AFL had argued Taylor's case against McLachlan and Fitzpatrick was a bid "to stain their reputations", for Taylor had not been personally impacted by the drugs saga.

The league had argued an expensive trial would require it to review thousands of documents and seek input from its integrity department, its solicitors Minter Ellison and forensic accountants Deloitte, the AFL's corporate affairs department and contact staff who were no longer at the AFL, including Demetriou,

The supplements saga broke in February, 2013, and would lead to the league suspending coach James Hird for a year for bringing the game into disrepute, fining the club $2 million and banning it from that year's finals series. In January 2016, 34 past and present Essendon players, who were at the club during the injection program of 2012, were handed year-long anti-doping bans when the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency against the AFL's Anti-Doping Tribunal which in March, 2015, had ruled it was not comfortably satisfied the 34 players had breached the AFL anti-doping code.

Jon Pierik

Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.

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