A federal judge on Wednesday (Jan. 25) declared a mistrial in the high-profile courtroom battle pitting T.I. and wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris against toymaker MGA over a line of dolls, ending the proceedings after jurors heard inadmissible testimony claiming the company “steals from African Americans.”
A day after attorneys for MGA argued that the “inflammatory” testimony about cultural appropriation had ruined their chances of a fair trial, Judge James V. Selna agreed, granting a mistrial. That means the case will need to be re-tried in front of a new jury at some point in the future.
Following the mistrial, MGA told Billboard that “diversity has always been a key value” at the company: “We are disappointed that the trial was cut short, but look forward to vindicating our rights in the next trial.” An attorney for T.I. and Tiny did not immediately return a request for comment.
The ruling marks an abrupt end for the closely-watched intellectual property trial, in which T.I. and Tiny were trying to persuade a jury that MGA’s line of “OMG” dolls stole their look and name from the OMG Girlz, a defunct teen pop trio created by Tiny and starring her daughter Zonnique Pullins.
In their 2021 complaint, T.I. and Tiny alleged that MGA had committed both “cultural appropriation and outright theft of the intellectual property,” stealing the look of a group of “young multicultural women.” The lawsuit included side-by-side images, aiming to show how each doll was directly based on a particular member of the OMG Girlz, who disbanded in 2015.
On the fifth day of the trial, jurors heard videotaped deposition testimony from a woman named Moneice Campbell, a former MGA customer. According to court documents, Campbell testified that she would no longer purchase the company’s products because MGA “steals from African Americans and their ideas and profit off of it.” She also said that “hundreds” of social media users had agreed with the accusations, citing the fact that “people often steal from the black community and make money off of it.”
Earlier in the case, Judge Selna had already expressly prohibited such testimony from the trial. In one such order, he ruled that statements about “cultural appropriation” were “immaterial and impertinent” to the actual legal issues at play in the case and could not be made in front of jurors.
In a written motion filed after Tuesday’s courtroom proceedings had concluded, MGA’s lawyers demanded an immediate mistrial, arguing that the impact of the inadmissible testimony on the fairness of the case “cannot be understated.”
“There is no way to unring the bell of the jury’s hearing Ms. Campbell’s emotionally charged accusations that MGA has been ‘stealing’ from the African-American community,” the MGA attorneys wrote. “Her improper testimony cannot be challenged, rebutted or cured without drawing further attention to it.”
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