In a verdict hailed by both sides as a victory, a jury in Dedham, Mass., found yesterday that, although the "gist" of a 1982 Boston Globe article was true, three of its 55 paragraphs about a Republican gubernatorial candidate were false.
The verdict, which Globe lawyers have asked the judge to clarify as a clear victory for the newspaper, was viewed by businessman John R. Lakian as a vindication of his three-year action against the newspaper and reporter Walter V. Robinson.
"I don't have a vendetta against the press," Lakian said after the verdict. "I just wanted to prove that one reporter was out to get me."
The jury of eight men and two women rejected Lakian's claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress by The Globe. After deliberating for 14 hours over three days, they ruled that he deserved no damages because of the three paragraphs.
Calling the verdict "inconsistent," Globe Editor Michael C. Janeway said: "We feel that the jury has read the article, studied the article and found that it's true and that it's not libelous. If they felt otherwise, they would have awarded damages."
Globe lawyers are expected to ask Norfolk County Superior Court Judge George Jacobs today to clear up confusion about the outcome by declaring that The Globe won because the jury awarded Lakian no money and found the story to be substantially true.
"You can't have libel and have zero damages," Globe lawyer Francis H. Fox said. "The judge instructed them on nominal damages. They knew there were such things and that they had to find actual harm . . . like a dollar or a penny."
In a telephone interview, an ebullient Lakian said: "The only confusion about this verdict is the confusion created by The Globe . . . . The question of who won comes down to the question of who will appeal. I'm not going to appeal. I won."
Norman Roy Grutman, Lakian's lawyer, who had returned to his New York offices to await the verdict, said, "The jury gave John Lakian something more precious than money. They gave him his reputation back."
"That's a smart jury," Grutman said. "They picked out the one part of the case that where I always believed The Globe was dead in the water."
After almost a month of testimony, jurors decided that only one section of article, published Aug. 18, 1982, was false and produced with "reckless disregard" for whether it was true.
That involved Lakian's earnings at the firm he founded, Fort Hill Investors. The three paragraphs made it seem as if he had vastly overstated 1981 earnings to between $4 million and $5 million. But Lakian said, and the jury agreed, that he was referring in that section to projected earnings for 1982.
Drafts from The Globe's computer storage system showed that Robinson had changed tenses several times in that section, changes Grutman said were designed intentionally to "warp the facts."
Jurors agreed with the basic thrust of Robinson's article that virtually destroyed Lakian's budding political career when it described a "pattern of discrepancies between what Lakian says and what the records show about his upbringing, schooling, military service and business career."
When the trial began, it was widely viewed in Boston as a classic political encounter between a Reublican politician and the Democratic-oriented Globe. But, after almost a month of testimony, the case was distilled to a battle of personal reputations, a bitter examination of the motives and characters of Lakian, the politician, and Robinson, the reporter.
Both men clearly suffered through the weeks in Dedham. Lakian, who appeared gaunt as the trial ended, said he lost 10 pounds as a result of the daily courtroom encounters, and Robinson said he shed 17 pounds.
Early in the trial, Robinson was forced to acknowledge that he changed quotations from his taped interviews with Lakian that were a part of the court record. But Robinson said he made the changes to shorten and clarify what Lakian said.
Lakian's difficulties came when Fox asked him whether he ever claimed to be a Harvard University graduate, a key issue in the article and the case.
When Lakian said he had not made such a claim, Fox produced sworn testimony from two unrelated law cases in which Lakian said he had a master's degree from Harvard and had taken courses there.
"It's a lie," Fox had said during the tense moment in the trial.
"It's a mistake," Lakian responded.
"It's a lie under oath," Fox insisted.
"No, sir. There's a difference between a lie, a deception and a fraud and a mistake," Lakian said.
Outside the courtroom, where the public relations battle was sometimes more intense than the conflict in court, Fox asked reporters that day: "How do you forget that you never graduated from Harvard?"
Grutman began final arguments Thursday morning by showing the jury war memorabilia from the Lakian family album.
"John Lakian is not a crook. John Lakian is not a fake hero. John Lakian is not the person mentioned in this article," Grutman said.
He said Lakian did commit one "serious" error.
He "foolishly fantasized" about having a Harvard master's degree, Grutman said, calling such a statement a serious but understandable mistake "for which he should be forgiven."
Grutman said yesterday that the finding of falsity and reckless disregard for truth in the three paragraphs may be important for a corollary case filed against The Globe by Lakian's company. Grutman said that case could reach a jury for determination of whether The Globe owes Fort Hill damages