WASHINGTON -- A three-man, three-woman jury, told that 'truth is a complete defense' in libel, deliberated 6 hours Wednesday before retiring without a verdict in a $50 million suit against The Washington Post.
The jury was to resume its second day of deliberations at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
Oil executive William Tavoulareas and his son, Peter, are suing the newspaper for $50 million for allegedly defaming them in stories that detailed how the father 'set up his son' in the oil shipping industry.
Wrapping up an 18-day trial, U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch instructed the jury to use stiffer standards in judging whether the elder Tavoulareas wrongly suffered scorn, contempt, embarassment and ridicule as a result of the stories.
The judge declared that William Tavoulareas, president of the second largest U.S. oil company, is a public figure, who cannot win a libel suit unless the jury finds the stories were false, defamatory and were published with reckless disregard or knowledge they were untrue.
Peter Tavoulareas, the 32-year-old partner in a London-based shipping management firm, is considered a private person in suing for libel. Although he also must show the stories were untrue and defamatory, he only needs to prove in addition that the paper acted negligently in printing what it did.
The jury also will consider a separate $20 million slander suit against Baltimore eye surgeon Philip Piro Jr., the former son-in-law of William Tavoulareas, who talked to a Washington Post reporter and others about the alleged father-son business dealings.
'Truth is a complete defense to a libel action,' Judge Gasch reminded the jury. 'No matter how defamatory an article might be, no matter what the motives for writing it, if it is true, you must find' in favor of the newspaper.
The Tavoulareases charged the newpaper distorted the facts and ignored sources that would have exonerated them of any conflict of interest.
William Tavoulareas testified he did not use his corporate powers to get his son a top job in Atlas Maritime Co., which does extensive business with Mobil through a firm called Samarco.
Peter Tavoulareas contended the slant of the newspaper stories made him look like an 'incompetent who couldn't succeed without that kind of help from his father.'
The Washington Post stood by the stories, written by reporter Patrick Tyler and published Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 1979, and vowed the facts had been researched diligently.
The first story outlined the connection between Peter Tavoulareas' shipping company and Mobil and its chief officer. The second revealed a congressional investigation that reported its suspicions about the father-son connection to the Securities and Exchange Commission.