The six jurors deliberating Ariel Sharon's $50 million libel suit against Time Inc. asked for a dictionary, a blackboard, file folders and some courtroom exhibits today as they deliberated over whether the former Israeli defense minister was defamed by a paragraph of a February 1983 Time cover story.
By this evening, they had reached no decision in their second day of deliberations on the defamation issue, the first of four legal questions they must decide in determining whether Time libeled Sharon. The jury then recessed until Wednesday. The length of the jury's deliberations seemed to trouble lawyers for both sides.
Thomas D. Barr, Time's lead attorney, sat tensely in the courtroom this afternoon. Milton S. Gould, lead counsel for Sharon, attempted for the first time during the trial to rein in his irrepressible client, who was holding a news conference.
For several days, Sharon has claimed victory because of Time's concession that a key detail in the paragraph at issue was wrong.
Instructing the jurors before deliberations began on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Abraham D. Sofaer told them: "This is a lawsuit and not a course in language or philosophy."
But in many respects it is a duel over the meaning of words. More than 10,000 pieces of paper were produced by both sides before the trial began Nov. 13, and thousands more have been generated since.
The paragraph at issue dealt with Sharon's role in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at two Beirut refugee camps. Time reported that Sharon discussed revenge with Lebanese Phalangist Christian leaders before sending them into the camps.
Sharon's lawyers argued that a reader would understand the wording to mean that Sharon "encouraged" or "consciously intended" for the militia to kill the Palestinians. If the jury thinks the paragraph does not mean either of those things, Sharon will have lost.
The judge's instruction on the defamation issue alone takes up 14 of the 65 pages given to the jury. Although Sofaer told jurors that they should consider only how an average reader would interpret the paragraph, the standards he set forth to guide them in their decision are often complex.
For Sharon to win, the jurors must agree that he clearly and convincingly proved two things in addition to defamation: that the paragraph was false and that Time had a "high degree of awareness" of that when it printed the article.
The jurors will consider these elements separately and report back to Sofaer before going to the next step. If they find for Sharon on all three questions, he will have proven his case and the trial will move into a second phase to determine what compensation should be paid.
Earlier today, Sofaer released a sealed transcript of a portion of the lawyers' closing arguments after getting permission from the Israeli Cabinet and a committee of Israel's parliament.
Lawyers had argued over a letter from an Israeli representative for Time who had inspected secret Israeli government documents. The letter of "reservations" was little more than an expression by the representative of his feeling that he may not have seen all the classified data bearing on the issues.