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PARIS — John Galliano, who is to stand trial here today on charges of public insult, is likely to put forth medical testimony about his long-standing battle with substance abuse.
According to sources, the designer is still undergoing rehabilitation for excessive drinking and use of prescription medications, eager to make a full recovery.
Ousted from Christian Dior and his signature fashion house in March in the wake of allegations he uttered racist and anti-Semitic insults at Paris cafes, Galliano is expected to appear at the Palais de Justice this afternoon.
Open to the public — and sure to be a media circus — the case is to be heard in front of a panel of three judges. Both Galliano and his three accusers are expected to present testimony from several witnesses.
However, it is understood the explosive video in which Galliano is heard to say in a slurred voice, “I love Hitler,” will not be a subject of the trial, as the anonymous people who filmed the episode never came forward with a complaint.
It is understood the trial could last four or five hours, but a judgment is unlikely until the fall.
Only fragments of the allegations have been reported. Two of the three plaintiffs — Geraldine Bloch, Philippe Virgitti and Fathia Oumeddour — gave interviews to the French media and recounted some details of the altercations.
The trial will address two separate incidents, one on Feb. 24 of this year and one on Oct. 8, 2010.
Oumeddour came forward about the Oct. 8 incident following the February announcement that Bloch and Virgitti would be taking legal action against the designer. The penalty in France for insulting someone on the basis of their origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity is imprisonment of six months and a fine of 22,500 euros, or $32,390 at current exchange, according to the French prosecutor.
Jean-Yves Dupeux, of French law firm Lussan & Associés, said that unlike U.S. law, under which free speech is protected by the First Amendment, the French system curtails what can be said in the public sphere through a variety of laws including media libel laws and legislation against “inciting hatred, discrimination and violence.”
Dupeux, who defended French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux in a recent court case in which he was convicted of making “private insults of a racial nature,” said these laws were specific to France, although they are rooted in the history of the Second World War.
The first anti-racist law was voted by parliament in 1972 following heavy lobbying by the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, and further laws were subsequently added to protect people from libel and insults based on gender, sexual orientation, physical disability and other criteria, he noted.
Ordinarily, a trial for public insults such as the one Galliano faces would come to court one year after the facts, and if there is an appeal, it usually takes another year, said Dupeux. “This is taking place very rapidly compared to the norm,” he noted.
The court would usually defer its ruling until four to six weeks after the hearing, but with French courts closed over most of July and August for the summer recess, it is likely the ruling in Galliano’s case won’t happen before September, Dupeux added.
In practice, jail sentences are rarely handed down, said Dupeux.
“In theory, the law provides for a prison sentence but it’s extremely rare. Prison sentences are practically never handed down, except in the case of repeat offenders, in other words when you are dealing with someone who is permanently reiterating insults. You get these crazy people on Internet sites, for instance, who are constantly making anti-Semitic remarks. In some cases, they end up being sentenced to jail terms,” he explained.
“Although I am not very familiar with his case, since I have only heard about it through the media, even if Galliano is convicted, he will probably not receive a prison sentence, not even a suspended one,” Dupeux said.
The lawyer said that pleading dependence on drugs and alcohol would likely not work in Galliano’s favor.
“It’s unusual in a case of insults, but it’s not unusual in criminal cases. But it’s not a very good line of defense, since jurisdictions consider that people dispose of free will and that if they are addicts, they should just go into rehab, and that if it has come to this, it’s a bit their own fault,” he said.
The Galliano saga has been fraught with drama and discord. Last month, the designer dismissed his longtime lawyer amid allegations of irregularities in respect to his firm’s administration of Galliano’s financial affairs. He is now represented by Aurélien Hamelle at Metzner Associés in Paris.