LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- NBC News was ordered to pay Wayne Newton $19.3 million by a jury that ruled network employees knew their reports linking the nightclub star to the mob were false or seriously doubted the truth of the broadcasts.
Newton grinned broadly when he met with reporters after Wednesday's verdict, but refused to comment on the advice of attorney Morton Galane who said, 'It is a major victory but it is not over.'
Network attorneys said they were sure the verdict would be reversed, saying the Las Vegas jury may have been biased in favor of a hometown boy.
'Wayne Newton is one of the favorite and most beloved people in this community,' NBC attorney Floyd Abrams said. 'It is apparent what happened was the jurors rallied in favor of someone who was a leading citizen of the community.
'There has never been a libel judgment of this size (upheld),' Abrams said. 'There is no way this verdict could be upheld.'
Gasps were audible in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Myron Crocker as the clerk read the four-page verdict which favored Newton on virtually every issue.
The ruling said NBC reporter Brian Ross, field producer Ira Silverman and executive producer Paul Greenberg 'had knowledge of falsity or had a serious doubt about the truth' of three broadcasts in 1980 and 1981.
'One or more of the individual defendants harbored ill will or hatred toward (Newton) and intended to injure him,' the verdict said.
Newton claimed in his suit that he lost millions in earnings and got an ulcer because of the NBC Nightly News reports that said Newton was less than candid with officials about his relationship with reputed New York Gambino crime family associate Guido Penosi.
Galane argued that NBC prepared the negative reports on Newton in an attempt to curry favor with 'Tonight Show' host Johnny Carson, who reportedly was angry after his own attempts to buy the Aladdin fell through and Newton subsequently bought the resort with a partner for $85 million in 1980. Newton later sold his interest in the Aladdin.
Abrams called the Carson theory incredible and argued that Newton's continued multimillion-dollar earnings proved that he was not harmed by the network.
The verdict was returned in the sixth day of deliberations by a panel of four women and six men who heard 31 days of arguments and testimony.
Newton sued the network and the news personnel in mid-1981 after NBC refused to make a correction to its Oct. 6, 1980, report titled 'Wayne Newton and the Law' and two subsequent Ross-Silverman stories on the singer.
Newton charged that the reports left viewers with the impression that his purchase of the Aladdin was financed by organized crime figures. He and others testified that the entire purchase was financed by Valley Bank of Nevada and not the mob.
Newton, who earned more than $8 million annually performing 36 weeks a year in Las Vegas showrooms during the 1970s, said the number of weeks he was hired to perform in the resort city dropped by two-thirds after the stories linking him to the mob.
He also claimed the NBC report cost him a motion picture deal and ended any chance of running for lieutenant governor or U.S. senator.
He testified that his relationship with Penosi, dating back to 1963, was casual and that he did not know until mid-1980 that Penosi was regarded as a mob figure.