LAS VEGAS — A federal judge Wednesday threw out all but $5.3 million of the record $22.8-million libel judgment won by Wayne Newton against NBC for news stories linking the singer to organized crime figures.
U.S. District Judge Myron Crocker, in upholding the liability portion of the jury award, ruled that Newton had proved by "clear and convincing evidence" that NBC had defamed Newton.
But the judge cut nearly $17.5 million awarded for damage to Newton's reputation and loss of earnings. He said the evidence did not support Newton's allegation that the broadcasts hurt his reputation or cut his earnings.
NBC attorney Floyd Abrams said the network will continue to appeal the verdict.
"We are pleased the damages have been significantly reduced, but still believe they are far beyond any amount that could possibly be sustained," he said. "It still is a loss in the sense that the judge is assuring the jury verdict of liability."
"It's a big victory for Wayne Newton," said Newton attorney Morton Galane. "It vindicates him completely and it's still the biggest libel award in history."
Galane said Newton has not decided whether to accept the reduced damages or seek a new trial on damages only.
Crocker, who presided at the libel trial last year, said he was convinced that NBC journalists Brian Ross and Ira Silverman had "serious subjective doubts as to the truth of the broadcasts" but went ahead with them anyway.
The judge said Ross and Silverman edited and combined the audio with the visual portions of the broadcasts "in a way that created defamatory impressions."
He said the jury was proper to conclude that the defendants intended to defame Newton.
Newton had sued the network over stories in 1980 and 1981 that he said falsely linked him to the mob.
The jury on Dec. 17, 1986, awarded the singer $19.3 million. He was given $3.5 million more by the judge one month later because of a mathematical error by the jury. Interest is compounding at the rate of 5.5% annually.
The NBC reports said that Newton turned to crime figure Guido Penosi for help in halting death threats against his family in 1980 and that mob figures bragged that they earned a share of the Aladdin Hotel and casino in return.
Newton admitted during the trial that he had known Penosi for years and asked him to get the threats stopped, but denied that the crime figure was tied to the Aladdin purchase. Newton bought the hotel in 1980 and sold it two years later.