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PARIS — A Paris court has found John Galliano guilty of uttering racist and anti-Semitic insults at a Paris cafe following a series of drunken altercations that prompted his dismissal from Christian Dior in March after 15 years as creative director.
This story first appeared in the September 9, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But the British designer got off relatively lightly, with the court sentencing him to suspended fines totaling 6,000 euros, or $8,400. In addition, it ordered him to pay three plaintiffs and five antidiscrimination groups 1 euro, or $1.40, each in symbolic damages and a combined 16,500 euros, or $23,200, in costs.
Galliano, 50, was absent from the hearing, but his lawyer Aurélien Hamelle welcomed what he termed a “satisfactory” decision.
Hamelle said suspending the fine was a “strong sign” and demonstrated that the court had taken into account that the designer was suffering from addictions to alcohol, Valium and sleeping pills at the time of the events, which, in addition to being fired from Dior, caused him to be ousted from his signature fashion house.
“It is unusual, because the court here took into account the apologies of Mr. Galliano, took into account the fact that he was sick at the time of the events — a triple addiction. Now Mr. Galliano is relieved, he is looking forward to the future and hopes people will, with time, understand and forgive,” Hamelle told reporters.
The maximum penalty in France for insulting someone on the basis of their origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity is six months in jail and a fine of 22,500 euros, or $32,000 at current exchange. Public prosecutor Anne de Fontette had called for a fine of no less than 10,000 euros, or $14,100, while Hamelle had pleaded for an acquittal.
At Galliano’s trial on June 22, the court heard allegations that in two separate incidents, Galliano hurled insults including “dirty Jewish face,” “f—ing Asian bastard” and “f—ing ugly Jewish b—ch.”
It also viewed an undated video, originally made public by British tabloid newspaper The Sun, which shows the designer saying in a slurred voice, “I love Hitler.”
Galliano testified that he remembered nothing of the incidents, but apologized several times to plaintiffs Geraldine Bloch, Philippe Virgitti and Fatiha Oumeddour, and to the court.
“All my life I’ve fought against prejudice and intolerance and discrimination because I have been subjected to it myself,” he said, referring to his homosexuality.
Bloch’s lawyer Yves Beddouk greeted Thursday’s ruling.
“It is measured. Justice has been done. The court recognized his guilt; that was all that was required,” he said. “The fact that he has lost the iconic status conferred on him by his position as artistic director of Dior is the greatest punishment of all. I think the court understood that. That punishment was self-inflicted.”
Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center also supported the ruling. “The symbolic 1-euro fine by a French court was the right legal punishment for John Galliano’s public anti-Semitic outbursts,” they stated. “Now it is up to him to make amends to the community he demeaned and to the public at large. That cannot be achieved through carefully crafted press releases but only through his future deeds and words.”
Presiding judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud said that despite conflicting accounts, there was “ample and corroborating” evidence that Galliano was guilty as charged. She also cited a report dated June 16 by Dr. Philippe Batel, head of the outpatient addictions unit at the Beaujon hospital in the Paris suburb of Clichy, which said Galliano had contacted three different rehab clinics in the previous six months and spoken to an addictions specialist at the American Hospital in Paris as far back as February 2010, without pursuing treatment. “This shows he was aware of his addiction and refused to seek treatment at the time,” Sauteraud noted in her ruling. However, she added that Galliano had not intended for his remarks to be so widely publicized, had sought treatment and apologized to his victims.
Galliano said at his trial that he was “in denial” when he was detained by police following the Feb. 24 altercation with Bloch and Virgitti. He was subsequently found to have an alcohol reading of 1.01 milligrams of alcohol per liter of exhaled air, four times the legal driving limit in France.
The designer has since spent two months at a treatment center in Arizona, followed by a stay in Switzerland. “He wants to put this episode behind him, to continue putting his life back together and to pursue his treatment,” Hamelle said.
Galliano explained to the court in a letter that he had decided not to attend Thursday’s hearing in order to avoid the media limelight. The disgraced designer has mainly kept a low profile, though he did appear at the July wedding of his longtime muse Kate Moss, for which he designed the Thirties-inspired dress. “She dared me to be John Galliano again,” the designer is quoted as saying in a feature on the wedding in the September issue of U.S. Vogue, which has a photo spread of the designer holding Moss’ dress. “I couldn’t pick up a pencil. It’s been my creative rehab.”