Lawyer sues over ‘romance’ claim and 'fat and slut shaming'
High profile lawyer Zali Burrows is suing the Sydney Morning Herald over a gossip column claiming it falsely implied she was romantically linked to disgraced former Auburn deputy mayor, Salim Mehajer - arguably one of Australia's most "disliked persons".
Ms Burrows is seeking a string of damages over the article titled "Headline-grabbing solicitor stands by 60 Minute's man" and social media posts headlined "Salim Mehajer and his solicitor are a good pairing …" claiming the story about her and Mehajer, a convicted criminal, commented on her hair, her weight and the clients she has represented to embarrass and ridicule her.
The defamation action against Fairfax Media as publisher of the SMH over the gossip piece, which appeared in May last year, was lodged in the Federal Court this week and also names journalist Andrew Hornery as the second respondent.
Ms Burrows said in the statement of claim, the gossip item had also been used by another person in a stalking campaign to harass, embarrass and menace her.
"No woman should be treated in this way - shamed about her weight - and for representing male clients no matter who they are," Ms Burrows said on Wednesday.
"It is no wonder women have eating disorders and are unhappy with their body image. I am taking this action to stop it, and to stop the stalking campaign."
Ms Burrows has also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission claiming sex discrimination over the article.
Her complaint claimed the article was "sexist, misogynistic, fat shaming and slut-shaming".
"Salim Mehajer has had numerous male lawyers prior to me and neither male lawyer received any reporting referring to how he looks, his hair colour, his weight and the male lawyer has not incurred any imputation that acting for him suggests they are a homosexual and having a romantic/sexual relationship with Salim Mehajer," the complaint said.
"I am a female criminal solicitor and criminal solicitors often do have unpopular and high-profile male criminal clients.
"However, as a woman, I am not reported in the same manner and standard a male lawyer is, and it appears as a woman lawyer the respondent's standard significantly drops and the respondents apply a sexist misogynist licence based on my sex."
The Federal Court statement of claim argues the meaning of the story was that Ms Burrows was "false to her oath as a solicitor because she allows herself to be romantically involved with her clients."
That she "by reason of her excessive weight" and "her manner of dress" has justifiably exposed herself to ridicule".
The article in Private Sydney ran two pictures of Ms Burrows, showing the difference in her weight from 2016 to 2019.
It also states the article implies she is a "ridiculous lawyer" because she acts for Mehajer and that Mehajer is a high profile criminal who has received unprecedented and adverse media attention, and is arguably one of the most disliked persons in Australia and he "evokes a negative reaction from both the public at large and commentators".
The statement of claim also said Ms Burrows' hurt and injury has been amplified by the story being posted on the SMH Facebook page and open to "comments and to ridicule by persons throughout the world".
Ms Burrows is a criminal defence lawyer who has acted for a string of high profile clients in recent years including convicted Islamic State recruiter Hamdi Al Qudsi, convicted murderer and Brothers for Life gang leader Bassim Hamzy, and for convicted terror plotter Alo-Bridget Namoa in a High Court application for leave to appeal her conviction.
She is asking for general damages, aggravated damages, Andrews damages (related to commercial loss of business) and special damages and a restraining order to stop the SMH publishing the imputations.
The SMH has been contacted for comment.
Originally published as Lawyer sues over false Mehajer 'romance' claims