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MGA seeks mistrial in Bratz case

July 26, 2008|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

There's big trouble in the dollhouse.

One of the jurors in the Barbie vs. Bratz trial -- in which toy giant Mattel Inc. already has scored a major victory over rival MGA Entertainment Inc. -- was removed Friday for making slurs about the ethnicity of Isaac Larian, the Iranian-born chief executive of MGA.

A court order said the juror remarks characterized Iranians as "stubborn, rude" and as "thieves" who have "stolen other person's ideas."

The remarks were made during deliberations in the first phase of the trial that found Larian had aided a Mattel Barbie designer, who created the Bratz concept in violation of his Mattel contract.

MGA asked that the court declare a mistrial, wiping out Mattel's victory. The motion will be heard when court reconvenes Aug. 4.

The trial is currently in its damages phase. U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson began proceedings Friday in Riverside by telling the court he had received a note from a juror who wanted to discuss a matter with him.

In private, the juror disclosed the remarks that another juror -- described as juror No. 8 -- had made. According to the court order, juror No. 8 said her husband had described Iranians in that way.

After interviewing other members of the jury in private, Larson determined that the remarks were made near the end of deliberations, after the jury had already come to unanimous agreement on key issues.

"Although the remarks offended and upset several of the jurors, Larson said in the court order, "the remarks did not, in any way, affect or influence the decision made by the jury."

Larian, who was in the courtroom Friday for the proceedings, bitterly disagreed.

"The verdict that was put against us was only based on racism," he said. "I am saddened that today, in this day and age when for the first time in the history of America an African American is running for president, that there is still racism in this country."

In a statement, Mattel lawyer John Quinn said the remark by juror No. 8 should have no bearing.

"Several of the nine jurors rebuked juror No. 8, and were justifiably appalled by her remarks," Quinn said. "Some claimed that, if anything, the remark made them wonder if they should exercise bias in favor of MGA in response."

Mattel is expected to seek more than $1 billion in damages from Van Nuys-based MGA if the trial moves forward. In a statement, the El Segundo company said, "Mattel finds this development to be very unfortunate. This trial, however, has been, and will continue to be, about Mr. Larian's and MGA's wrongful behavior."

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david.colker@latimes.com

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