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Judge rules Bratz trial can go on despite slur

A juror's remarks are deemed to have not tainted the process. An appeal is promised.

August 05, 2008|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

The Barbie vs. Bratz fight in federal court will go on.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson in Riverside on Monday denied a motion to declare a mistrial sought by the maker of the lucrative Bratz doll, MGA Entertainment Inc., because of a juror's ethnic slur.

The jury already had found that MGA and its chief executive, Iranian-born Isaac Larian, had improperly aided a Mattel Inc. Barbie designer who created the concept in violation of his Mattel contract. The trial, which began May 27, was in its damages phase.

But on July 25, eight days after the initial verdict, a juror told the judge that a fellow juror -- identified in court only as juror No. 8 -- had said during deliberations that her husband described Iranians as "stubborn, rude" and "thieves" who have "stolen other person's ideas," according to a court document.

Juror No. 8 was dismissed after the remarks came to light.

Before announcing his decision Larson said in court Monday: "There is no question that there was a grossly inappropriate statement made" but that the trial could go on because the slurs came after the jurors had already made decisions on all key points.

"I have spoken to a lot of jurors in my time," Larson said, "absent juror No. 8, we have an entirely dedicated and unaffected jury."

The rejection of the mistrial motion is the second major decision in this trial that has gone against MGA.

After the ruling, Larian was embraced by his son Jason, 22, one of several family members in the crowded courtroom. "I am shocked at the United States of America," Larian said, his voice cracking with emotion.

MGA had argued that juror No. 8 had tainted the jury process.

"The notion that a juror could utter those statements in a deliberation room cannot be ignored," said Tom Nolan, attorney for MGA.

Larian said the judge's rejection of the mistrial would be appealed.

Mattel issued a statement, saying it was "pleased" with the judge's rejection of the mistrial motion.

"Mattel believes that to declare a mistrial based on juror No. 8's comment -- an incident that was resoundingly condemned by the remaining jurors and reported by them to the court -- would be to penalize the jury for doing the right thing," the company said.

Things continue to look bad for Mattel's signature Barbie line, which saw U.S. sales drop 21% in the second quarter. Industry analysts say that the success of Bratz -- estimated to boost MGA's yearly revenue from $500 million to $2 billion a year -- has helped cut Barbie sales.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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