PHILADELPHIA, DEC. 7 -- A jury today awarded $6 million to a state Supreme Court justice, saying the Philadelphia Inquirer defamed him in a reprint of a 1983 series about the court's conduct.

The jury, which deliberated nine hours over two days following a seven-week trial, found the reprint was false and defamatory but that the original series was not false.

"The verdict is bizarre because they said the articles themselves were true but they were false when they were reprinted," said William Hangley, the Inquirer's lawyer.

Hangley suggested the jury may have considered an editorial and cartoon also included in the tabloid reprint. He said the paper will appeal.

The award was the second libel judgment against the Inquirer this year.

Common Pleas Court Judge John Lavelle had told the jury that Justice James T. McDermott had to prove the articles, written by reporter Daniel Biddle, were defamatory, false and published with actual malice, and that he suffered harm.

The Inquirer has won 17 Pulitzer Prizes during the past two decades, including one by Biddle for another court series.

{Inquirer editor Maxwell King said in a telephone interview, "We do not understand the basis for the verdict, which is inconsistent. The jury has found the articles to be truthful when we published them but false when we issued a reprint. If a newspaper cannot reprint truthful stories about the public performance of a public official, the First Amendment stands in grave danger."

{Despite the two large libel awards against the paper, King said, "We don't believe they will change the way we cover the news."}

Last May, a jury awarded Philadelphia lawyer Richard Sprague a record $34 million over a 1973 story that criticized his handling of a homicide case when he was an assistant district attorney. The Inquirer is appealing.

McDermott, a member of the state's highest court since January 1982, sued on grounds the articles titled "Above the Law" implied he fixed cases.

The articles were published in May 1983 and reprinted in 1984 for distribution to journalism and law schools.

The reprints, subheaded "the questionable conduct of the Supreme Court," asserted that many of the justices ignored the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Ethics, which the court adopted in 1974.

The articles suggested McDermott should not have participated in two cases involving lawyers from a firm that contributed $6,100 to his 1981 election campaign because it was a conflict of interest. Three months after the justice took his seat on the court he voted favorably for the firm's clients, the articles said.

While McDermott acknowledged that the reported facts were substantially true, he insisted the inferences and innuendos they raised, and the way paragraphs were positioned in the paper, left the impression he was dishonest.

Hangley told jurors the newspaper said McDermott did something wrong by not abiding by the state code of judicial conduct but that the article did not assert that McDermott had committed any crime.

McDermott's lawyer, James Beasley, argued that accusing the justice "of being partial, that's accusing him of a crime."

Besides the two cases involving the law firm, McDermott also claimed he was defamed when the newspaper implied he had improperly used his judicial influence to get his son a job in the Philadelphia district attorney's office. The son still works for the prosecutor.