The jury in Ariel Sharon's $50-million libel suit against Time Inc. found in Sharon's favor today on the second major issue, falsity, and prepared to deliberate on the third issue of malice.
Marshals locked the door to the packed courtroom while the jury's verdict was announced and the judge polled the panel.
Jurors had been deliberating for two days since deciding the first issue before them--that Sharon was defamed by Time's report that he "discussed" the need for revenge with Lebanese Christian Falangist leaders shortly before the massacre of Palestinian refugees.
To award the former Israeli defense minister a libel verdict, the jury must still find that Time published the report either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard of its truth. And Sharon must also convince the jury that his reputation was damaged by the story--a separate issue.
Must Prove Damage Under U.S. law, Sharon must prove to the jury his reputation was damaged by the article before it can return a libel verdict against Time and award him damages. A second phase of the trial, with more witnesses and evidence, would be held to determine injury.
Time had conceded over the course of the trial that a secret Israeli report did not in fact contain the material that its report had alleged, and it printed a correction in this week's issue.
Milton Gould, Sharon's attorney, described the jury as "six ordinary human beings" who proved "this is an outrageous lie."
Subdued Time attorneys and executives handed out a press release stating that Time still believes the paragraph was "substantially true."
Silent After Verdict Sharon was impassive while today's verdict was read and left the courtroom without comment accompanied by his wife, Lili, and guards.
Asked if the partial verdict might lead to a settlement, Gould said, "I don't want any settlement."
Sharon's suit centers on a Feb. 21, 1983, Time cover story that said he had "reportedly discussed" revenge for the assassination of Lebanon's Christian president-elect, Bashir Gemayel, with the Falangists a day before Falangist militiamen began the massacre in Israeli-occupied West Beirut.