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MILAN — “Scusa, scusa.…Don’t crush my lawyers,” implored George Clooney as he pressed his way toward an Italian courtroom.
Murmurs of “che bello” (how handsome) spread throughout the crowd of spectators.
It was quite a star turn.
Clooney, tanned and charming, brought a bit of Hollywood to a small, packed courtroom here on Friday, seeking justice from those who would use his name for a fashion brand without his consent.
Testifying in the trial of three defendants accused of fraudulently using him to launch a signature women’s and men’s clothing line, Clooney was every inch the leading man. Even the judge seemed a bit awestruck.
“It’s lasted the time of a movie,” proclaimed Judge Pietro Caccialanza, thanking Clooney after more than 90 minutes of testimony.
The Oscar-winning actor has owned a villa at nearby Lake Como for about nine years but usually manages to keep a pretty low profile. So when word of his court appearance spread, there was a throng waiting — undeterred by 91 degree heat.
In the courtroom, the judge admonished spectators to quiet down and banished several women for taking pictures of Clooney, who was dapper in a navy blue suit, white shirt and red-spotted blue tie, and who apologized for his limited Italian. For the most part, the star seemed to float above all the ruckus.
Clooney, who has attended Giorgio Armani shows in Milan and often dons the designer’s looks, denied under questioning by prosecutor Letizia Mannella and defense lawyers that he had signed an agreement with the firm GC Exclusive to produce the fashion apparel brand under his moniker.
Although there are three defendants — Vincenzo Cannalire, Francesco Galdelli and Vanja Goffi — only Cannalire, managing director of GC Exclusive, managed to make it to the courtroom. He might have been better off staying home.
“I came here because I believe in the judicial system and because there were people using my name to take advantage of people,” Clooney told the court with more than a little righteous indignation.
The actor testified that photos supposedly showing him with Cannalire or Goffi and documents that purported to carry his signature had been altered or Photoshopped. He denied knowing any of the defendants.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him,” Clooney said of Cannalire, adding sarcastically, “so I’d like to say, ‘Hello, nice to meet you.’”
Looking at the images, the actor mentioned there were some real photos, such as one with actress Joan Collins, mixed with many altered ones found on the Internet from the premiere of the 2005 film “Syriana,” for which Clooney won an Oscar for best supporting actor.
Examining a photo, he said, “Here, for instance, I don’t smoke and I don’t wear that watch. I also don’t wear long jean shorts.”
Clooney said his signature was either forged or “photocopied several times over.” He noted that his “signature is very easy to get, as you can imagine, off the Internet….You would think if you were going to forge my signature, you would borrow several different versions of it.”
As for Goffi, whose claims of a relationship with the actor made headlines a few years ago, Clooney said he had read stories about her and she had moved to his hometown in Italy but reiterated that he had never met or spoken with her.
Goffi also has been accused of selling counterfeit Rolex watches using Clooney’s name. The actor, who is a spokesman for Omega, said Rolex sent him a letter in 2006 telling him to stop selling its watches.
The prosecutor also produced what she said was a forged “permanent residence card” with a photo of the actor. “It’s funny because this photo of mine was taken by a very famous photographer: Annie Leibovitz,” said Clooney, who then stumbled when asked to spell the photographer’s surname. “I never had such a card, and I don’t think it’s allowed in the U.S.”
Appearing frustrated, defense attorneys were thwarted by the judge and elicited laughter when they tried to question Clooney about whether he met many Italian women — apparently trying to get him to somehow refer to Goffi — and about who took care of his three Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Clooney left the courtroom flanked by several Carabinieri policemen, followed by onlookers and a scrum of scuffling journalists, photographers and TV crews, and exited through a side door, where a car was waiting for him. Asked about her famous client, lawyer Grazia Maria Mantelli sounded smitten. “He is supernice,” she said.