LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A juror in the copyright infringement trial over Bratz dolls was dismissed on Friday for making an ethnic slur against MGA Entertainment Inc Chief Executive Isaac Larian, causing MGA to seek a mistrial and casting doubt on the outcome of the case brought by Mattel Inc
Mattel had prevailed in the first phase of trial, winning the rights to dozens of original Bratz drawings and sculpts and was seeking damages of more than $1 billion.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson dismissed the female juror from the federal case in Riverside, California, after another panelist complained about remarks she had made about Larian during deliberations over the drawings. Larian is an Iranian Jew who immigrated to the United States as a teenager.
Larson set an August 4 hearing to determine whether the case should continue or end in a mistrial. The trial had been scheduled for a week-long break starting on Monday before the incident came to light.
In a court order issued late on Friday, Larson said Juror No. 8’s “grossly inappropriate remarks” — that Iranians were “stubborn, rude, stingy ... thieves, and have stolen other persons’ ideas” — occurred near the end of the deliberations and “did not effect (sic) or influence the decision made by the jury.”
“All of the jurors clearly indicated ... that the remarks would have no effect on any deliberations or decision in (the damages phase) of the trial,” Larson wrote. “All jurors believed that they would be completely fair to all parties.”
MGA attorney Thomas Nolan said he had questioned each juror during jury selection about whether they would be influenced by Larian’s Middle Eastern heritage, and all had said no.
Larian, who attended nearly every day of the two-month trial and testified in strongly accented English about persecution his family endured in Iran, broke down after hearing about the juror’s comment, Nolan said.
“I moved today for a mistrial arguing that Mr. Larian and MGA are entitled in the federal system to a unanimous verdict of all jurors and that all jurors must be impartial and not have hidden prejudices,” Nolan said.
Mattel said in a statement that it found “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. Nothing changes that,” the statement said.
Mattel attorney John Quinn noted that several jurors rebuked Juror No. 8 and were “justifiably appalled by her remarks.”
He said the nine remaining jurors “reached an unbiased, fair and just verdict under the governing law. That verdict will stand.”
Mattel won a near total victory over MGA in the first phase of the trial when the jury last week validated its claims to most of the concept drawings and models upon which the designs for the first four Bratz dolls were based.
The jury found that Bratz creator Carter Bryant made most of the drawings and models at issue while he was under contract to Mattel as a Barbie designer, and that MGA obtained them illegally.
This week, the panel was hearing evidence about whether the Bratz dolls and accessories made and sold by MGA since 2001 violate Mattel’s copyright on the drawings and sculpts.
Shares of Mattel fell 5.3 percent, or $1.11, in after hours trade on Friday to $19.70.
Editing by Christian Wiessner