Jury says psychoanalyst was libeled in articles Panel deadlocked over damages

June 03, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jurors weighing psychoanalyst Jeffrey M. Masson's libel case against the New Yorker said yesterday they believe he was defamed by a 1983 profile in the magazine but are deadlocked on the question of how much money he should be awarded.

In an unexpected turn of events after Day 3 of deliberations, the eight federal court jurors here released a note revealing that while they unanimously agree that Dr. Masson was libeled by writer Janet Malcolm's articles, they are split on his request for $7.5 million in damages.

U.S. District Judge Eugene F. Lynch, looking somewhat befuddled by the development, asked the jurors to return this morning and get a "fresh start." If they are unable to agree on a figure, a mistrial will be declared.

Ms. Malcolm, 58, rushed from the courtroom with her lawyer after the brief session and would not speak with reporters. Dr. Masson, 52, looked gleeful but would say only that he is "pleased with what's happened thus far."

Attorneys on both sides characterized the jurors' announcement as uncommon and agreed that it is a troubling signal for the New Yorker and Ms. Malcolm, one of its star writers. Although Dr. Masson sued both the journalist and the magazine, it was unclear whether the jury has found both parties responsible for the defamation.

Charles O. Morgan Jr., Dr. Masson's lawyer, agreed that many questions remain. But he said the jury's action -- while not a verdict -- clearly shows "they have ruled in favor of my client."

At issue in the case is a two-part series Ms. Malcolm wrote for the New Yorker in 1983. The articles, which explored Dr. Masson's iconoclastic views on psychoanalysis and were later published as a book, portrayed him as a narcissistic womanizer and an academic flake.

Shortly after the series was published Dr. Masson sued, claiming the stories were a "total distortion" of his comments during interviews conducted over a six-month period. Ms. Malcolm insists she is a scrupulously careful writer and charged that Dr. Masson is merely in the painful throes of denial -- wishing he had not said words he did say.

Specifically, Dr. Masson accused Ms. Malcolm of fabricating four quotations and taking a fifth out of context in a manner that made it libelous.

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