A federal court jury decided here yesterday that the right-wing Liberty Lobby had libeled National Review magazine, and awarded the conservative publication $1,001 in damages.
The verdict, in which the jury cleared Liberty Lobby of another libel allegation and decided to award no damages for two others on which a judge had ruled in favor of the magazine, was greeted as a victory by lawyers for both sides.
"We were vindicated," said J. Daniel Mahoney, National Review's attorney. "The judge ruled for us on two counts, and the jury found for us on one other. Of course, we would have liked to have gotten more damages. But it's not easy to get big damages in a libel case."
Mark Lane, the attorney for Liberty Lobby, said he was "satisfied" with the verdict, which came after just 3 1/2 hours of jury deliberations following an acrimonimous three-week trial.
"This reaffirms my belief in the jury system," declared Lane, who added that his client had been "willing to settle this case for many times [the $1,001 figure], and National Review refused . . . . We can afford it."
National Review's suit had asked for $16 million in damages.
Yesterday's libel verdict concerned assertions in Liberty Lobby's weekly newspaper, Spotlight, that National Review Editor William F. Buckley Jr. had a "close working relationship" with George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party.
Buckley had testified that he once hired Rockwell to solicit subscriptions for the magazine, two years before the American Nazi Party was founded.
Buckley also read a letter he wrote in 1958 telling Rockwell that he was "physically appalled" by Rockwell's praise for the "despicable Hitler."
The jury awarded $1 in nominal damages to the magazine and $1,000 in punitive damages.
In 1983, U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green granted summary libel judgment for the magazine as a result of two other statements in Spotlight.
One of these asserted that National Review favored giving "militant sex deviates . . . the right to molest your children" and another called the magazine a "mouthpiece" of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish fraternal organization.
The six-member jury awarded no damages on either of these.
It also rejected an allegation that National Review had been libeled in a 1979 Spotlight article, which asserted that the magazine had published a "muddled smear" of Liberty Lobby founder, Willis A. Carto, in collaboration with a John Birch Society member and Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the Jewish Defense League.
The convoluted case started six years ago when Liberty Lobby, with offices at Independence Avenue SE, sued National Review for libel over a 1979 article that said Carto and his organization were funneling money to Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., a left-wing politician turned right-winger, and his National Caucus of Labor Committees. National Review countersued.
Judge Green dismissed Liberty Lobby's original claim in 1983, but Lane said yesterday that that decision would be appealed.
In discussing yesterday's verdict, Mahoney, who is chairman of the New York Conservative Party, remarked to reporters, "They sued us, and their case was thrown out of court. We countersued, and we prevailed. The best [explanation] I can give [for the $1,001 damage award] is that the jury felt that nobody pays any attention to Spotlight because of what it is, so why go into big damages?"
During the trial before an all-black jury, Lane portrayed Buckley as antiblack, and described National Review as a "racist, pro-Nazi, pro-Fascist publication."
He repeated those accusations after the verdict, which he called "a sharp rebuke to the racism of National Review."
Mahoney said those comments were "hot air."
Buckley testified that National Review had criticized Carto and Liberty Lobby as anti-Jewish and antiblack because he believed "one of the missions" of his magazine is to "ward off the fever swamps of the crazy right."
Lane declared that Buckley was trying to "shut down" Spotlight, which he said has 145,000 readers, and to "silence a dissenting voice."