Puzzling verdict in Redgrave-BSO trial

Although actress Vanessa Redgrave received a split decision last week in her suit against the Boston Symphony Orchestra, some say no one really won. A federal court jury ruled Nov. 9 that the BSO had wrongly broken Miss Redgrave's contract when it canceled a series of concerts she was to narrate in 1982. The jury said the cancellation caused ''consequential harm to her career'' and awarded her $100,000 damages, plus the $27,500 performance fee she was to have received.

But the jury rejected Ms. Redgrave's assertion that her civil rights had been violated. The actress claimed she was fired, and the concerts canceled, because of her political views - specifically her support of the Palestine Liberation Organization. She initiated the suit in 1982, after the BSO canceled five scheduled performances of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.

Robert E. Sullivan, attorney for the BSO, argued that the concerts were canceled because of threats the Symphony received. The BSO management was concerned about potential violence, he said, and the decision was ''not a reference . . . to Redgrave's politics. It is all a reaction to her politics.''

Ms. Redgrave and her counsel, argued, however, that the cancellation constituted a type of blacklisting, that the ''quantity and quality of her (job) offers declined'' as a result, and that she didn't work at all for 14 months following the BSO's decision.

Ms. Redgrave called the jury's decision ''tremendously important.'' She said it proved the inviolate nature of professional contracts, and that ''if the jury (had) found for the BSO, no contract in the country would be safe. No one's job would be safe.''

The orchestra management also claimed victory. Mr. Sullivan said the decision showed that the BSO was ''not motivated (in canceling the concert) out of concern for her political views.''

But Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University, says that, in effect, no one won. ''The BSO certainly did wrong in canceling the concerts, and came out looking amateurish and naive.'' he says.

As for Ms. Redgrave, he says, ''Although she's claiming a propaganda victory, this is a common-sense repudiation (of her claim) by the jury.''

Although local Jewish organizations did not take a stand on Redgrave's participation in the performance, Dershowitz says the Jewish community ''was tarred by a broad brush because of the actions of a few.''

Daniel J. Kornstein, one of Ms. Redgrave's lawyers, asked the judge to award her a ''symbolic'' civil rights decision in the amount of one dollar. Such a ruling would be more than symbolic, as it would make the BSO liable for Redgrave's legal costs.

US District Judge Robert Keeton is expected to rule in about two weeks on whether the jury's decisions are supported by the evidence presented during the two-week-long case. Lawyers on both sides said decisions on appeals would be made after the judge's ruling.

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