BOSTON -- The Boston Globe did not libel former Gov. Edward J. King when it published a column saying King pressured a judge to change a decision in a gang rape case -- even though the allegation was false, a jury ruled Thursday.
The nine-woman, seven-man Suffolk Superior Court jury deliberated for three hours before returning the verdict, which the newspaper hailed as a victory for the right 'to speak and write about the actions of the government.' King's lawyer declined to discuss an appeal.
'We did the very best we could,' said King, who was defeated for re-election in the 1982 Democratic primary by Michael Dukakis and spent 6 years pursuing his case through a maze of courts -- including the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The trial focused on a single sentence in a Nov. 8, 1981, column by David Farrell accusing King of telephoning Judge Herbert Abrams to demand he change the suspended sentences and $500 fines given five men who pleaded guilty to raping a former beauty queen and leaving her naked along a road.
The judge revoked the sentence four days later following a firestorm of criticism and a news conference in which the governor called for two agencies to investigate.
Farrell, who has since left the Globe for reasons not related to the suit, wrote, 'King called a judge and demanded he change a decision he had rendered in a gang rape case.'
Both King and Abrams testified there was no such phone call. But Farrell has stood by his source, state Treasurer Robert Q. Crane, who testified he could not recall where he obtained his information.
A key issue in the case was whether the Globe had a duty to probe beyond a reliable source to determine the veracity of the source's information.
Judge James P. Lynch told the jurors that to find there was libel they must be persuaded the statement was false, that King was discredited 'in the minds of any considerable and respectable class of the community,' that Farrell and the Globe published the statement with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard to its truth, and that King suffered actual harm.
The panel ruled the allegation was false but that it did not discredit the one-term governor.
Lynch, who presided over the trial that began Sept. 14, immediately dismissed the libel counts against the Globe and Farrell without a ruling on the questions of disregard for the truth or actual damage.
'I feel vindicated that the jury found in my favor,' said Farrell, insisting he still believed his information was correct. 'I always felt that I did a good job in that column.'
'After seven years of litigation, the jury has reaffirmed the rights of all people -- including columnists and cartoonists -- to speak and write about the actions of government,' said Globe Editor John S. Driscoll.
Driscoll said acceptance of King's contention that reporters must delve into the source of their source's information 'would have been devastating to all reporters and broadcasters in Massachusetts because it would have set a new standard that does not prevail elsewhere.' He said the case would not affect the newspaper's policy on news sources.
Globe attorney Joseph Kociubes declared the verdict as defending 'the right of the press to write freely about the government.'
King attorney Robert Goldman conceded jurors believed that 'even if he had made the call ... the public still wouldn't have thought less of him because they were so upset about the sentence.
'That doesn't mean I agree,' he added, declining to discuss what steps he might take to appeal the decision.
King attorneys argued Farrell was motivated by 'anger and hostility' when he accused King, a former high school friend with whom he had a falling out in 1978.
But Globe attorneys suggested King waged a public pressure campaign against the judge, then shunned traditional avenues of public comment and sued the newspaper that had long been a thorn in his side.
The Farrell column is all that remains of a $3.6 million suit brought by King in 1982 against a newspaper that was one of his most vocal critics.
The remaining items -- including three editorials, two columns and an editorial cartoon -- were dismissed after lengthy proceedings.
A jury later acquitted all five rape defendants after the Supreme Court refused to prevent the trial on grounds of double jeopardy. The defendants claimed the woman had willingly engaged in sex.
Farrell was forced to resign from the Globe in 1985 after admitting he performed outside work without the newspaper's permission.