As Charged

09.08.11

Inside Galliano’s Guilty Verdict

After a six-month-long trial, a Parisian court found Dior’s former designer guilty of racist and anti-Semitic rants that shocked the fashion world. Tracy McNicoll goes inside the courtroom and gets reactions from the defense and plaintiff’s counsel about the decision.

The coda to John Galliano’s six-month legal nightmare lasted all of six minutes. The disgraced ex-Dior designer was found guilty of “public insults toward persons on the basis of their religion or origin” in the same wood-paneled Paris courtroom on the Seine with tall windows and gilded fresco of Lady Justice where his emotional seven-hour trial took place in June. Though Galliano captivated a full courtroom with the tormented details of his very personal downward spiral on June 22, he was not present this time to hear the verdict. He would have liked to have been, the lead judge told the court, but said he wanted avoid the press.

The court found that Galliano—despite the “triple addiction” to alcohol, Valium, and sleeping pills that he told the court he suffered from—was sufficiently conscious of what he was saying when he showered invective in October 2010 and again in February 2011 on fellow patrons of La Perle café and that, therefore, his words were intentional. Galliano’s lawyer, Aurélien Hamelle, had argued the designer spoke so softly those drunken nights on the crowded terrace of the popular bar in Paris’s Marais district that his insults may not constitute “public” insults at all. (“Private” racist and anti-Semitic insults are less serious in the eyes of the law and have a statute of limitations that would have thrown the October case out.) But the judges didn’t buy that, either.

Still, when Hamelle tells his client the news, the designer may take solace, as did his counsel, in the court’s leniency. A six-month jail sentence was never actually a possibility, but fines and damages could have been much higher than the judges decided. In fact, unless Galliano reoffends in short order, he will pay no fine at all, which Hamelle called “a strong sign by the court.” The judges decided on 6,000 euros in suspended fines. Plus, Galliano will have to pay symbolic damages (one euro) and legal fees for each of the three Perle patrons and each of the five antiracism groups that joined the civil case, for a total of 16,513 euros. That’s far less than the 220,000 euros ($307,000) in damages plaintiff Philippe Virgitti asked for after Galliano called him a “f--king Asian bastard.”

The court gave several reasons for its clemency: The insults were indeed public, but the “extreme publicity” they received in the world press was not Galliano’s doing. Virgitti himself, the judgment said, told the court he believed Galliano was “not racist or anti-Semitic” and that this “argument in a bar” did not “merit this degree of media attention.” The defense produced attestations from Galliano colleagues vouching for the “values of respect and tolerance to which the defendant generally adheres” and a doctor’s certificate confirmed the couturier was pursuing treatment and was in “total and stable remission” from his addictions. It was Galliano’s first criminal offense and, the court emphasized, he apologized to the victims at trial.

Outside the courtroom after the verdict was handed down, plaintiff Géraldine Bloch’s lawyer, Yves Beddouk, said he was satisfied with the result, slim penalties and all. “Seeing someone in that state of weakness [at trial], talking about himself in the third person, so really in a sort of mental disarray, it cannot but be taken into account by a jurisdiction,” Beddouk told The Daily Beast. “He isn’t here as a far-right activist for racism and anti-Semitism. He comes as a drunk, a sick person.” Beddouk, who only asked for a symbolic euro in damages, believed Galliano already paid extraordinary penalties. “He has paid. He lost several million euros. He lost his brand. Are you going to stroll around with a T-shirt that says ‘Galliano’ in Gothic lettering today? No. It would be in very bad taste,” Beddouk argued. “So, voilà, he has lost. But he lost that himself,” he said. It was not the court that took that from him, Beddouk emphasized. “He shot himself in the foot on his own.”

Of course, the bitter truth for John Galliano is that Thursday’s verdict was virtually moot. Indeed, there was curiously less tension in the Paris courtroom than there was three months ago at trial. With Galliano a no-show, the press presence was thinner. Only one plaintiff sat behind the phalanx of black-robed lawyers representing the plaintiffs and the rights groups. Géraldine Bloch, whom Galliano was accused of calling a “dirty Jewish face,” was more casually dressed than at the June hearing where international media outlets were dying for a look at the woman Galliano was said to have taunted so mercilessly about her style and physique. At the verdict hearing, she appeared more relaxed in a long-sleeve, black V-neck top, orange patterned jeans, a chrome-studded black belt, no visible jewelry, and her hair loosely swept up with a clip.

The fact is a not-guilty verdict wouldn’t quite have absolved Galliano in the court of public opinion. The video that The Sun posted online, in which a visibly inebriated Galliano proclaimed his love for Hitler, would have lingered in many people’s minds as proof enough that Dior was right to oust its iconic leader. Ironically, the incident in the video was not directly on trial. But the tape was played for the court in June, censor beeps and all, and deemed corroborating evidence in the final verdict.

At the courthouse, Galliano’s counsel called the decision virtually absolving his client of fines “a wise verdict.” Speaking for the absent designer, Hamelle said Galliano was “looking forward to a future with understanding and forgiveness—hopefully—and to put all of this behind him.”

As the fashion world moves on and with New York Fashion Week beginning, fashionistas are giddily debating every rumor about Galliano’s impeding replacement at Dior. Many are championing a star like rumored frontrunner Marc Jacobs. But Galliano’s most faithful fans have their fingers crossed for a comeback and they’re putting a lot of stock in Hamelle’s “hopefully.”