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05.12.11

John Galliano Heads to Court

John Galliano, the disgraced Dior designer charged with anti-Semitic hate speech, will stand trial on June 22. Isabel Wilkinson previews what to expect.

UPDATE: Galliano’s lawyer tells The Daily Beast “we all know he was sick,” when he made the anti-Semitic remarks, and that his client is standing trial not because of racist beliefs—but because of the infamous videotape.

Disgraced Dior designer John Galliano will stand trial on June 22, a French court announced on Thursday. Galliano was fired amid scandal in February after a videotape surfaced of him saying “I love Hitler,” among other anti-Semitic remarks. He was quickly dismissed from the fashion house, and immediately issued a statement that said he would deny the charges against him and cooperate with a police investigation. Not long afterward, the designer checked into a rehab facility in Arizona. He has since returned to Paris, where he will stand trial. Below, a breakdown of the case as it heads to trial.

The Charges
The charges against Galliano are described as “public insults against individuals based on origin, religious affiliation, race, or ethnicity.” The anti-hate-speech law is particularly strict in France because of the nation’s history in the Holocaust. These kinds of charges are fairly frequent there, and are often used to raise public awareness about the strict penalty for hate speech. Galliano was accused by three people on two separate occasions, which may make his sentence more severe because the prosecution will be able to prove that his remarks were not a one-time occurrence.

The Defense
Galliano will deny the charges against him. In February he filed a defamation case against a couple who are accusing him of one of the anti-Semitic rants. “The question is to know who said what at what moment," Galliano’s lawyer, Aurélien Hamelle, said on Thursday morning. In an e-mail to The Daily Beast on Friday, Hamelle elaborated: “Mr. Galliano is not standing trial because he would have a racist opinion or belief but because, while we all know he was sick, he can be seen on a video uttering a few words for which he has already said that he is sorry and that are by his own admission clearly not acceptable. He will repeat that in Court.”

It’s unclear whether Galliano’s public apology will help or hurt him in court. “I have fought my entire life against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination, having been subjected to it myself,” Galliano said in a statement in February. “In all my work my inspiration has been to unite people of every race, creed, religion and sexuality by celebrating their cultural and ethnic diversity through fashion. That remains my guiding light. Anti-semitism and racism have no part in our society. I unreservedly apologise for my behaviour in causing any offence.” According to Matt Kline, an L.A.-based partner in litigation at O’Melveny & Myers LLP who is unaffiliated with the case, it is puzzling that Galliano plans to defend his actions in court. “A provocation defense seems somewhat inconsistent with an apology—especially given the noxious nature of his statements,” he says.

The Representation
When Galliano was first charged with anti-Semitism in March, his lawyer, Stephane Zerbib, was immediately targeted. Zerbib is Jewish, and his installment seemed like a stunt. But in an interview with Israel’s Y News in March, Zerbib claimed that he has represented Galliano for seven years and “it has nothing to do with the fact that I have a Jewish name.” Zerbib said he had received death threats, but said his religion wasn’t going to stand in the way of him representing Galliano, because he had always observed the designer to be a “polite, courteous” person. But just a week before the May 12 hearing, news broke that Galliano had fired Zerbib for an “abuse of trust.” In a complaint filed by the designer on April 13, he alleged that Zerbib embezzled almost €3 million ($4.4 million) from accounts in a company he managed for Galliano. According to Zerbib’s own lawyer, he is planning to sue Galliano for defamation. Galliano has retained new representation—Aurélien Hamelle from the firm Metzner Associates.

Video screenshot

The Penalty
In France, a typical sentence for hate-speech crimes is six months in prison and a fine of €22,500 ($31,207). Galliano’s sentence may be worse, however, because his is a high-profile case. The penalty will send a clear message to the world about French tolerance (or lack thereof) for hate speech. It’s possible, of course, that Galliano will strike a plea bargain—which happens less often in France than it does in the United States, but which could considerably lighten his sentence.

That Stint in Rehab
Galliano recently completed an “intensive” one-month stint at The Meadows, a rehab facility in Arizona. The specifics of his treatment are unclear—though his completion of the program will most likely be used by the defense during the trial. In the States, if a convict can prove he or she suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, his or her prison sentence in the federal criminal system can be lessened by a year. “I’m sure [Galliano’s team] will present that defense,” says Kline. “But it’ll be up to the French authorities to see if that’s a ploy to deny liability or gain sympathy.”

Isabel Wilkinson is a fashion and arts correspondent for The Daily Beast.