A Massachusetts judge ruled today that The Boston Globe won on all counts in a $50 million libel action against the paper by former Republican gubernatorial candidate John R. Lakian.
In what turned out to be a clarification of last week's confusing jury verdict, Norfolk (County) Superior Court Judge George Jacobs issued a judgment dismissing all of Lakian's charges against the paper, including one that an article in 1982 had libeled him by accusing him of a "pattern of discrepencies" in describing his record.
"I'm elated," said Globe reporter Walter V. Robinson, who wrote the article and was a defendant in the case.
"I can't wait to get back to asking questions instead of answering them," said Robinson, who is to begin covering the White House for The Globe next month.
Jacobs, who interrupted his vacation today to hear lawyers argue about how he should render the judgment for last week's verdict, also took under advisement a request by Lakian's lawyer to chastise The Globe for interviewing jurors in the case after their verdict.
Norman Roy Grutman, Lakian's lawyer, argued that efforts by a Globe writer covering the case to contact jurors were "reprehensible," and that a Globe article after the verdict tried to "undermine" the jury's findings.
After jurors found last week that the "gist" of the article was true, but three of 55 paragraphs contained "defamatory falsehood s ," both sides declared victory.
Globe reporter Thomas Palmer, who covered the trial but was on vacation today, spoke to three jurors and the jury foreman after the verdict. They were quoted in The Globe last Wednesday as saying they had intended their verdict to be in the newspaper's favor and were surprised by some press interpretations of it as a victory for Lakian.
Jacobs, who is not expected to determine whether a hearing is needed on this question until next month, said in court that "the jurors are free as soon as they leave the courtroom . . . to make such statements."
He added, however, that he thought members of the press determined "at the highest levels . . . what, if any, redeemable value" such post-trial interviews have, including how much extra pressure such interviews put on jurors already burdened by having to make a decision in such a case.
In a statement read on the courthouse steps by his public relations consultant, Lakian said the "central point" of the case was that the jury had decided that "The Globe lied."
He referred to the three paragraphs in Robinson's article in August 1982 that the jury said were false and published with reckless disregard for the truth.
"I am deeply disappointed . . . ," Lakian's statement said. "My attorneys and I will now consider the alternatives available to us."
Grutman surprised some Globe officials today when he sought sanctions against the newspaper for its report elaborating on jurors' views of the verdict.
Globe lawyer Francis H. Fox said reporters have a constitutional right to interview jurors after a case is finished and said he had not been contacted by Globe reporters before they spoke with the jurors.
Globe editor Michael C. Janeway, praising what he called Palmer's fair and accurate coverage of the case, said The Globe's editors chose Palmer to cover the trial because "we wanted someone whose reputation for accuracy, fairness and attention to detail was well known. In addition, we wanted the Globe to be, as well as perceived to be, fair and nonpartisan."
Janeway said that Palmer was given a wide berth by editors in his writing, so he could have independence to cover the case "as if he were doing a free-lance piece for a major paper or magazine."
Grutman, who once described reporting on one's own newspaper's libel case as the equivalent of performing one's own appendectomy, said the question should not be whether Palmer was fair.
"No one can be the judge in his own cause," Grutman said.
But Grutman and other members of the Lakian team occasionally had praised Palmer's reporting, and Lakian's public relations aide sometimes attached The Globe's version of the trial to Lakian's press releases to journalists.
Jacobs said today that the jury had ruled that Lakian should receive no damages and that his complaints of libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress by The Globe and Robinson were therefore dismissed. He also ruled that Lakian must pay The Globe's court costs, which Fox said would amount to less than $200.
Grutman had argued that, because the jury found three paragraphs were false and published by The Globe with reckless disregard, the court should award the modern equivalent of a "peppercorn," a token given an aggrieved party in ancient English common law.
"I've taken a hell of a lot bigger disappointments, but I feel this is horrendous," Grutman said after the judgment.
He said that Lakian, a self-made millionaire in the investment business, will decide whether to appeal.
"There's a part of me that says we owe it to the law to do it," Grutman said.