A juror in Ariel Sharon's libel case against Time Inc. confessed to the judge this morning that she had been so emotionally stirred by the testimony of Time correspondent David Halevy -- "a very patriotic person," she called him -- that she did not believe she could be objective in reaching a verdict. The judge excused her from serving, and will select six of the remaining nine jurors to decide the case.
Even Sharon's lead attorney, Milton S. Gould, offered a backhanded compliment after Halevy finished seven days on the witness stand. Veteran trial lawyer Gould called him the "best witness" he had seen since more than a decade ago when a former "bag man" turned state's evidence and testified in a series of New York City public corruption trials.
Courtroom observers had previously considered Halevy the weakest link in Time's defense against Sharon's $50 million suit. Halevy was forced to acknowledge last week that he had no source for a key detail in the February 1983 article at issue in the trial.
Gould had collected extensive documentation at a time when Halevy was put on a one-year probation by Time after the magazine wrote a correction to an article to which he had contributed.
In another memo, Halevy, an Israeli citizen, had revealed strong personal feelings that Sharon and others in Israel were ruining the dream of Israel. And when the correspondent was asked about his objectivity as a journalist shortly after taking the stand, he answered that he had never understood what people meant when they asked that.
Then there was the fact that he was clearly tense and nervous when he first began testifying. He had been so nervous during the taking of depositions before the trial that he confessed his unease in explaining why he could not recall the military schools he had attended.
Gould had clearly awaited the opportunity to take on Halevy. When Halevy took the stand the lawyer dropped his usual genial, easygoing style to confront Halevy.
But Halevy did not break. Rather, he did one of the things he says he enjoys doing most, being the storyteller. Jurors were attentive as he talked about dodging bombs in Beirut and described the smell of death as a Time correspondent in Lebanon after Israel's invasion in June 1982.
His account of the Sept. 15, 1982, funeral of the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia leader Bashir Gemayel had something of the drama of a spy novel. Painting a scene of bereaved Phalangists aimlessly firing their rifles in the air and talking of revenge for Gemayel's assassination, Halevy recalled in testimony of encountering among the throngs an Israeli intelligence agent he knew. As the funeral procession moved from a little church in the town square to the graveyard, Halevy remembered the agent as saying heavily, "All is lost."
When Time's lawyers had their turn at questioning Halevy, he and they attempted to turn the tables on Sharon. Instead of taking a defensive posture about the accusations against him, Halevy, 43, presented himself as something of an expert witness on the Middle East because of his years of experience there as a journalist.
The impression of him as an expert seemed to have so taken hold during his days on the stand that this morning, when Judge Abraham D. Sofaer raised a question, Halevy gently corrected him on a factual detail, which the judge seemed to accept.
Halevy also testified at great length about his feelings that Sharon and other hard-liners had turned a formerly humane Israeli society in which all had been "shareholders" into a militaristic nation. "Something is rotten in the state of Israel," he said bluntly at one point.
Those remarks were the ones the juror told the judge this morning had so deeply affected her. Identified only as "Ms. Hildebrand," the juror was excused from service after she told the judge about her feelings in a private conference.
"I am from Nicaragua originally," she said, "and I feel that listening to Mr. Halevy I have developed a feeling that he is a very patriotic person and I feel the same way about my original, my native country, with the Sandinistas and what they are doing there, as he feels. This is what he is saying now about causing harm to his country and he loves his country."
After Halevy left the stand today, many questions remained unanswered. Halevy frequently invoked New York's reporter shield law to protect the confidentiality of his sources as Sharon had used concerns about Israel's national security in refusing to answer many questions when he was on the stand.
As the questioning began to wind down today, Halevy seemed confident and feisty, occasionally responding to Gould's questions with questions of his own.
In a last effort to impugn Halevy's credibility, Gould read from a sheaf of papers to question Halevy on whether he had ever been court-martialed or accused of smuggling cigarettes. Although the judge sought to cut off this line of questioning, Halevy seemed eager to deny them.
At one point he asked Gould mischievously, "Are you reading from secret Israeli documents?"
The judge interjected, "Don't. Mr. Halevy, I have enough problems with Gould's questions."
Gould: "I didn't hear what he answered."
The judge: "That's all right, Mr. Gould. Go ahead."
Gould: "I think I have no further questions."