During long wait for Sharon verdict, it was time for trial trivia

A subscription card for Time magazine lay forlornly on the marble floor in the hallway of the federal court in Manhattan Monday, a reminder of the controversial trial that had been taking place down the corridor. It most likely fell out of one of the Time magazines bought that day by the clutch of reporters covering the Sharon vs. Time libel trial. They wanted to see how Time reported the first two decisions to come out of the $50 million libel suit -- decisions that Time lost.

By the time court clerk Dan Black announced that Judge Abraham Sofaer was about to come out, just after noon on Thursday, the reporters and court buffs had been maintaining their vigil for nearly six days. Rumors that the jury had reached a verdict on the last of three elements in the trial began floating around the courtroom and hallways at 11 a.m.

The four women and two men met through last week and during the weekend, before they emerged with their final decision: Time was not guilty of ``actual malice'' in this hotly contested case, which began in November.

In the intervening days, there had not been much for observers to do except to hang around, talk to attorneys, read pages of testimony that the jurors had requested, trade quips about the trial, and nab former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon when he came out from the back room he occupied while he waited.

Reporters even made an Ariel Sharon v. Time Inc. trivia quiz, with such questions as ``What kind of house did Ariel Sharon grow up in?'' and ``How many words are there in the offending paragraph?''

Time lawyers responded in kind with their own quiz: Name all the witnesses who testified, in the precise order of their appearance. Name four other trials that were held in Courtroom 110. According to Time lawyer Paul Saunders, courtroom 110 has also been the scene of trials involving Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, IBM, and former US Attorney General John Mitchell.

At the Sharon trial, there were court buffs who were almost as dedicated as the reporters. One man was able to get his own copy of Judge Sofaer's 60-plus page charge to the jury, and was ready to give his analysis.

Another trial regular was Milton Feibusch, a retired garment-district businessman.

``I'm Jewish,'' he says. ``I have an interest in Israel.'' He calls the courtrooms ``the best show in town.''

Sharon received messages of support throughout the trial. He was sent matzo-ball soup and was toasted by a group of rabbis.

In the press conferences after the verdict, one Jewish observer said Sharon won on the key issues. ``He'll be prime minister of Israel one day,'' the man said. -- 30 --{et

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