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Guess Jeans co-founder ordered to pay $370 million in defamation lawsuit

Five former employees contend Georges Marciano, who is planning to run for California governor, ruined their reputations after he accused them of theft.

July 29, 2009|Victoria Kim

A Los Angeles jury has awarded $370 million to five former employees of Guess Jeans co-founder Georges Marciano in a defamation suit they filed after the former chief executive accused them of stealing millions of dollars in funds and artwork.

The verdict was delivered Monday at the end of a weeklong trial in which the former employees testified that their reputations were ruined after Marciano sent e-mails and letters to law enforcement agencies and various others accusing them of theft and fraud.

Marciano, who earlier this year announced his intention to run for California governor, did not defend himself at the trial. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White excluded him from court proceedings earlier this year as a sanction for repeatedly failing to show up at depositions, attorneys for plaintiffs said.

Neither Marciano nor his campaign responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

In 2007, Marciano first sued the five employees, including a computer technician, an office manager and a receptionist, alleging that they were stealing his e-mails and other personal information and conspiring to sell valuable pieces of art and wine from his collection.

The employees countersued, saying that Marciano was harassing and defaming them.

When Marciano failed to cooperate with pretrial proceedings, White threw out his lawsuit, and his response to the employees' lawsuit, allowing the employees to win their cases by default. In May, she held a bench trial and ruled that he should be held liable for defamation.

Since White ruled against him, Marciano has been waging a public campaign against the judge, issuing news releases through his gubernatorial campaign saying that the judge had denied him his rights, and having people stand outside a downtown Los Angeles courthouse holding a large banner accusing the judge of bias.

He has also sued her in federal court, alleging constitutional violations.

One of the employees, Steven Chapnick, who worked for Marciano for about three years as an assistant, said he had trouble finding a job after Marciano fired him and sent out letters accusing him of fraud. He said he felt "vindicated" by the jury's verdict.

Marciano, who moved to the United States from France with his three brothers, co-founded Guess in 1982. His brothers bought out his share in the Los Angeles-based company in 1993.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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