Galliano faces anti-Semitism charges at trial

Spokeswoman does not confirm fashion designer’s alleged Sephardic Jewish roots; Defense expected to claim Galliano addicted to alcohol, pills, lost self-control.

By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL IN PARIS, REUTERS
June 23, 2011 05:16
3 minute read.
Fashion designer John Galliano.

John Galliano 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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PARIS – Disgraced former Christian Dior fashion designer John Galliano arrived in a Paris court on Wednesday to face criminal complaints that he used anti-Semitic and racist language to denigrate patrons at a cafe in the heart of the Jewish quarter in Paris in February.

Galliano is expected to tell the court during his defense against charges of anti-Semitism and racism that multiple addictions to drugs and alcohol led him to lose all self-control in the Paris cafe.

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He appeared in black attire at his first public appearance since his arrest, with his famous pencil mustache and long hair. Galliano’s trial is the latest chapter in a saga that began in February when the designer was questioned by French police after a couple accused him of hurling drunken racist and anti-Semitic abuse at them on the terrace of a cafe.

The Feb. 24 incident – combined with a video in which an apparently inebriated Galliano was filmed telling a woman he loves Hitler and that her parents might have been gassed in a Nazi death camp – led to the designer’s dismissal from his post as creative director for Parisian fashion house Dior.

Magistrates were expected to arrive at a decision quickly in the trial, which pits Galliano, 50, against two accusers – one a woman who claimed to have never heard of the British designer before their February encounter, and another whose accusations refer back to events last October.

If found guilty, Galliano faces a six-month jail sentence and a fine of up to 22,000 euros ($31,517). Precedent in similar cases suggests that a more likely outcome is a smaller fine, a few thousand euros at most.

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The lawyer for one of Galliano’s accusers, museum curator Geraldine Bloch, said she would seek symbolic damages of 1 euro and publication of the court’s decision in two fashion magazines, Elle and Vogue, and French daily Le Figaro.

Her lawyer, Yves Beddouk, told Reuters on Monday that his client was interested not in Galliano’s money, but in getting him to acknowledge the alleged anti-Semitic tirade publicly and make a show of contrition befitting his reputation.

Galliano’s lawyer told Reuters this week that the designer will say he has no recollection of the rants for which he has been charged, was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and had lost control over his words and behavior.

The designer has repeatedly apologized for his remarks on the video which emerged online after the incident.

Galliano’s new lawyer Aurelien Hamelle said that he will call up a toxicology expert to testify that the designer – triply addicted to alcohol, Valium and powerful sleeping pills – would have been in a state of utter abandon, completely free of any inhibitions.

The former fashion star dismissed his French Jewish lawyer Stephane Zerbib in May, claiming “aggravated breach of trust.”

Zerbib staunchly denies the charges of embezzlement , and both Zerbib and Galliano are involved in counter litigation suits. Zerbib initiated a defamation suit against Galliano.

Galliano, who left France shortly after the incident to receive treatment for substance abuse in the United States, is also expected to say that he is not a racist nor an anti-Semite.

As part of his character defense, lawyers will present letters to the court depicting the designer as a model of tolerance and openness who opened his studio to people from all over the world with no regard for their origin.

Plaintiffs will present Galliano as a mean drunk who exposed his anti-Semitic and racist views when inebriated, and had no respect for common people whom he believed were trespassing on his territory.

The British Daily Mail reported in March that Galliano claims to have Sephardic Jewish roots. The paper noted that “he always insisted that he had Jewish blood from the Sephardi Jews who came from Spain and Portugal in the 19th century.”

Galliano was born in Gibraltar in 1960 and raised in London.

According to the Mail’s unnamed source, “Jonny is obsessed with the idea of being descended from Jews.” Galliano was raised Roman Catholic. According to Wednesday’s International Herald Tribune, however, Galliano’s spokeswoman Jo Milloy could not confirm any links to a Sephardic Jewish heritage. The Tribune noted that “both of his mother’s family names, Guillén and Rueda, are listed as historic Sephardic.”

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