A federal judge yesterday dismissed for lack of evidence two conspiracy allegations against NBC television, which is being sued for $150 million by presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., and instructed jurors to consider only the question of whether the network defamed LaRouche.
Alexandria U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris also told the jury to decide NBC's countersuit in which its attorneys are seeking $10 million for alleged impersonations and wire fraud by LaRouche supporters.
The judge's instructions to the jury and closing arguments yesterday capped eight days of testimony in the case that grew out of two broadcasts that portrayed LaRouche as the anti-Semitic leader of a "violence-prone" political cult. The jury is scheduled to start deliberations this morning.
Michael F. Dennis, one of LaRouche's attorneys, arguing that his client was libeled in the two NBC broadcasts, declared that "reputation is the only real thing a person's got."
Thomas J. Kavaler, representing NBC, countered, describing LaRouche as a "very sick man" who "spews filth" and "runs a very scary cult."
The primary focus of Dennis' closing remarks was a portion of one of the broadcasts that reported that in 1977 LaRouche told his top staff that he wanted to assassinate President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, David Rockefeller and other high officials. Dennis denied that LaRouche made that statement and accused NBC of "setting themselves up as grand inquisitors of this country," and attempting to establish a "dictatorship by media."
"Where's the beef?" asked Kavaler, as he argued that LaRouche had offered no evidence that NBC officials had at any point acted with a "reckless disregard for the truth" -- a showing of which is required for a finding of defamation. Kavaler appealed to the jury to "send a message from the jury box" that would "tell Mr. LaRouche that he can't fool the people of Virginia anymore."
LaRouche, 62, a three-time presidential candidate, will appear on the Nov. 6 presidential ballot in 19 states, including Virginia -- the state where he claims he had had his greatest strength -- plus the District of Columbia.
In testimony yesterday, LaRouche and Sy Pearlman, executive producer for one of the broadcasts in question, took the stand. Pearlman testified that he never had "any serious doubts" about the broadcast and still believes that it was "fair and balanced."
LaRouche, who described himself in testimony earlier this week as "citizen of the world," was called back to the witness stand briefly in response to a request from Kavaler that he clarify questions about his current domicile. He testified he lives in Leesburg, Va., and, after answering questions from Judge Cacheris and Kavaler, he exited with two of his personal security guards, exclaiming loudly, "That son-of-a-bitch," as he stepped into the hall. It was unclear to whom he was referring.
The jurors were excused after Cacheris advised them on the law and recommended that they use their "own common sense" in reaching a verdict.