Doll designer breaks down after cross-exam about 'lingerie-gate', Marilyn Manson's Nazi cap
MGA's first witness denied using T.I. or Tiny Harris as inspiration, but cross-exam revealed a photo of the rapper on a doll design board.
After six hours on the witness stand, Blanche Consorti began to weep when asked why she wanted to defend the dolls she designed for toymaker MGA Entertainment.
“This is our livelihood, and I can’t stand that somebody is wrongfully accusing us of stealing and copying when it’s absolutely not true, so I had to speak my truth — which is the truth — and defend our creations,” Consorti, MGA’s former creative director, testified Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California.
Consorti’s tears turned to sobs after 30 minutes of cross-examination in which a lawyer for hip-hop moguls T.I. and Tiny Harris questioned her credibility and linked her to an MGA scandal involving toddler dolls that were revealed to have racy underwear and dark-themed symbols when dipped in water. The cross-exam also established that Consorti was wrong when she repeatedly told jurors in the trade dress misappropriation case that she never sought creative inspiration from rapper T.I. or his family.
“Oh, my gosh. That’s T.I., isn’t it?” attorney John Keville said, zooming in on a photo of the rapper saluting the camera that adorned a design board Consorti created for the doll Honeylicious.
Consorti specifically denied that the so-called mood board had any images of the Harris family when an MGA lawyer first showed it to jurors in her direct-examination during the trial before Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna. T.I. and Tiny allege MGA’s hugely popular L.O.L Surprise! O.M.G Dolls infringe the trade dress and misappropriate the likeness of their daughter Zonnique Pullins’ former music group the OMG Girlz.
“That’s the very same Clifford Harris sitting here,” Keville said as T.I. saluted nearby. The rapper stood up and saluted again before Judge Selna ordered him to sit down.
Keville said Consorti “copied” the gold dog tag necklace T.I. wore in the photo onto the Honeylicious doll, but Consorti said she merely used it as inspiration.
“I didn’t know who that was. I was looking at the necklace,” Consorti answered.
“You testified over and over again Mr. Harris never appeared in any of the design documents, correct?” Keville said.
“Correct, but I did not know who that person was,” Consorti answered.
In the same line of questioning, Keville pointed out a photo of rapper Lil Kim “with her legs open” on a mood board for the Lady Diva doll and noted “she served a one-year prison sentence for lying to the jury.”
Keville, managing partner of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP’s Houston, Texas, office, said he was bringing that up only because MGA lawyers have said another MGA doll designer, Lora Stephens, will testify that she would never allow dolls to be based on the OMG Girlz “because of association with T.I.”
Consorti said she was looking at the photo “from a clothing perspective.”
Keville established that the dolls are marketed to girls ages 5 to 8 years old (“4 1/2,” Consort clarified), then pointed out other adult themes featured on some of the mood boards that Consorti went over in her direct-exam, including the phrase, “You look like death and cigarettes and I think I’m in love with you.”
“There’s some pretty rough images on this mood board,” Keville said. He asked Consorti about a photo of Marilyn Manson “wearing a Nazi officer’s cap.”
“I don’t recognize it as that,” said Consorti, a Bay Area native and a 2009 Rhode Island School of Design. She emphasized that the photos were only used internally and never meant to be shown to the public.
Consorti started to cry as she left the witness stand after Selna ended trial for the day at 4:30 p.m., then began to loudly sob as she exited the courtroom and was consoled in a conference room. She’s to return to the witness stand on Tuesday for continued cross.
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MGA’s lead lawyer Jennifer Keller told Judge Selna after the jury left that Keville’s questions were unfair because “T.I and his family were allowed to present a completely sanitized version of themselves.”
“I wasn’t allowed to examine Mr. Harris about his character, about his prior felony convictions,” Keller said.
But Selna stood by his earlier ruling that allows her to ask questions about T.I.’s background and lyrics only to Stephens after because she said in a declaration she would never base dolls on the OMG Girlz because of their connections to T.I. Selna is limiting Stephens’ testimony about T.I. and his background to 15 minutes, and he’s going to instruct the jury that the testimony isn’t being offered for the truth but to establish Stephens’ state of mind when creating the dolls.
The judge implemented the restrictions after controversy over Keller’s questioning of Pullins over her song lyrics during the first trial in January, which included Keller saying the full n-word repeatedly. The trial ended in a mistrial because jurors mistakenly heard deposition testimony alleging racism and cultural misappropriation. Keller and her co-counsel first asked Selna to enter an order to show cause for why T.I.’s lawyer Erin Ranahan shouldn’t be sanctioned for describing Keller’s behavior in trial as “racist,” but the judge instead issued an order to show cause regarding Keller’s questions about profane lyrics and other background issues regarding the Harris family.
Selna held an evidentiary hearing to determine the scope of Stephens’ upcoming testimony prior to the opening of the second trial on May 9. He told Keller on Thursday that Keville’s questioning of Consorti doesn’t change his analysis.
“My ruling stands,” he told Keller on Thursday.
Keller asked Selna to strike Consorti’s cross about the profane mood boards from the trial record and order jurors to disregard it, saying, “It’s grossly unfair.”
Selna declined, and he also noted the lack of objections during the cross. Keller’s co-counsel Chase Scolnick of Keller/Anderle LLP questioned Consorti, not Keller, so the judge also told Keller, “I think it’d be helpful to have one person who’s handling the witness to make all of the objections when handling the witness.” Keller then deferred to Scolnick.
‘Inspiration really is the first part of your creative journey’
Consorti’s end-of-the-day breakdown followed an approximately seven-hour direct examination that began Wednesday and included detailed testimony about how she designed many of the 31 dolls at issue. She’s MGA’s first witness since T.I. and Tiny’s lawyers rested their case last week, and her direct testimony appeared potentially devastating for the couple’s claims.
Consorti said she didn’t know about the OMG Girlz when she designed the dolls, which she said are meant to be older sisters of MGA’s earlier line of L.O.L Surprise Tots Dolls. She excitedly described the dolls and their personalities as though they were her children — “I love that she’s not afraid to take fashion risks,” she said of one, — and detailed the design process for each doll.
Consorti said the use of OMG, short for Outrageous Millennial Girls, was part of the company’s longstanding use of acronyms and not connected to the OMG Girlz.
“They are fierce, fabulous, fashionable. They’re also sisters in the sense of they’re chosen family. They stick together. They stick up for each other, and they have fun along the way,” Consorti said.
Scolnick showed Consorti photos of the OMG Girlz alongside the dolls at issue as she described the differences. He showed her photos of the dolls Punk Grrrl and Rocker Boi, which Zonnique alleges was modeled off her and her ex-boyfriend from the boy band Mindless Behavior, which toured with the OMG Girlz.
Consorti testified that Rocker Boi was actually inspired by two men she identified as her boyfriends. She detailed how she designed dolls that T.I. and Tiny’s lawyers made the face of their claims by publicizing their photos alongside photos of Zonnique and fellow OMG Girlz members Breaunna Womack and Bahja Rodriguez.
Pullins, Womack and Rodriguez left the courtroom during Consorti’s testimony and didn’t return. Tiny walked out when Consorti was detailing her inspiration for the doll Major Lady, which Tiny alleges is based on her online moniker Major Girl. The doll is part of a group of four, which Tiny alleges is a reference to her R&B group Xscape. Tiny posted a photo of herself alongside a photo of the doll on her Instagram page on April 18, 2022, and wrote, “& if what I posted wasn’t enough already! This Major Lady doll took me out!!! Orange hair & in a Quartet group.. 🤷🏽♀️ Ion am I trippin?!”
Scolnick displayed the post for jurors on Thursday and asked Consorti to list the differences between Tiny and the doll.
“Their hair is different. Ms. Harris does not have sunglasses. She’s not wearing a cape like the doll. She has on a white dress and sleeves and the doll has a silver cape. ... Ms. Harris is wearing a white dress and the doll is waring a glitter blue black and silver jumpsuit. The doll has a belt,” Consorti began. She said the name Major Lady is a nod to the 1970s disco era “and also kind of a reference to Major Tom, the David Bowie song about being in space.”
Consorti said she was inspired by Bowie but did not copy him.
“Copying, there’s no creativity involved whatsoever. It’s literally just taking something, copy, paste,” she said. “Where as being inspired by something — inspiration really is the first part of your creative journey.”
‘I don’t refer to them as lingerie or bondage equipment’
Keville worked to put Consorti’s credibility in question early in his cross by asking her about “the scandal concerning the Lil’ Tots.” She denied that the dolls bore “bondage or devil symbols,” so Keville displayed photos of a L.O.L Surprise Tots Doll named GooGoo Queen dipped in water.
“What we see is suddenly she has caution tape on her upper private parts and her lower private parts, correct?” Keville asked
“Correct,” Consorti answered.
“That’s the surprise for some of these Tots, right?” Keville asked.
“Some of the Tots have color change surprises,” Consorti answered.
Keville asked if the public controversy over the Tots Dolls was known within MGA as a “lingerie-gate;” Consorti said she didn't recognize the term.
Asked about “a large number of angry mothers,” Consorti said, “I was told that there was an issue with the dolls and we needed to adjust them.”
She said the “caution tape color change is something that me and my team crafted” but added, “I don’t refer to them as lingerie or bondage equipment. I just want to make that clear.”
Consorti said she doesn’t remember if Target stores stopped selling the dolls (they did) or if MGA publicly apologized (it did). She confirmed she signed a non-disclosure agreement when she left the company in June 2021 but said it was her first and only job so she doesn’t know if it’s unusual. She continues to work at MGA in a freelance position, she said.
Keville tried to question Consorti about the authenticity of the design boards, noting that an image of one presented to jurors lacked the so-called “meta data” showing its digital history, but Selna cut off the questioning. The judge later said the meta data issue is relevant, but Keville needs a witness to lay the proper technical foundation.
Keville’s continued cross of Consorti on Tuesday could prove pivotal to the case, as could the upcoming testimony of Stephens. Billionaire MGA CEO Isaac Larian, who took a combative attitude with opposing counsel in deposition, also is expected to testify.
The trial is expected to close by Friday. Jurors will be asked to determine the misappropriation and infringement claims for each of the 31 dolls. Some of the dolls were released after T.I. and Tiny sent a cease-and-desist letter to MGA, so their damages request, which will come in closing argument, is to include punitive damages. MGA also added “Outrageous Millennial Girls to the dolls’ packaging, which Keville said exasperated the problem by adding the word ‘girls’ near ‘OMG.’
T.I. and Tiny are seeking at least $100 million, making the trial the highest-stakes courtroom battle for MGA since the epic trade secrets showdown with toy titan Mattel, Inc., over the Bratz dolls, known in business and law lore as Barbie v. Bratz.
MGA lost the first trial but an appellate court gutted the $100 million jury verdict, and the second trial went to U.S. District Judge David O. Carter at the same courthouse where Selna’s courtroom is located. Keller was one of the lead lawyers for MGA the 4 1/2 month trial in 2011, and a jury ended up awarding MGA $88.4 million in what legal experts called “a stunning reversal of fortune.”
Carter tacked on another $85 million in punitive damages. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals eventually gutted both damage awards, but Carter’s $139 million attorney fee order for MGA’s lawyers stood.
Larian is so fond of Carter that he went to his courtroom to visit him during a break in the first OMG Girlz trial in January. He ended up causing a mistrial in a criminal terrorism trial because the courtroom wasn’t locked and he walked in on sealed testimony.
“Isaac greatly admires Judge Carter and was just hoping to say hello,” Keller told me in a text message.
Read more in my Jan. 26 Los Angeles Magazine article. (The defendant, Jason Fong, ended up taking a plea deal instead of going on trial a second time.)
May 18: ‘Humor, sarcasm and satire’: Rapper T.I. testifies in civil infringement trial over dolls, OMG Girlz
May 15: Racial issues still lurk in toymaker’s new trial with T.I. and Tiny Harris over OMG Girlz and dolls
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