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Judge awards woman nearly $6 million in ‘Girls Gone Wild’ retrial

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012 10:24 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS (MCT) — A woman who failed to sway jurors with her claim that a “Girls Gone Wild” video exploited her bare chest has won $5.77 million in a retrial before a judge.

Tamara Favazza was a 20-year-old college student in 2004 when someone lifted her tank top at what was then called the Rum Jungle, a club on Laclede’s landing, while a video crew was recording.

She sued in St. Louis Circuit Court for damages, claiming she did not consent to use of her image in the “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy” DVD series.

Attempts to reach Favazza, her lawyers or the defense were not successful.

Defense attorney David Dalton told Missouri Lawyers Weekly that his clients plan to appeal the verdict.

In the first trial, in 2010, a jury sided with Girls Gone Wild. But three months later, the judge, John J. Riley, granted a new trial, saying the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. Riley wrote that it was clear on the video that Favazza was “an unwilling participant” as evidenced by her mouthing the word “no” as her top was yanked up.

The woman who pulled it was an independent contractor for Girls Gone Wild, who was compensated for accompanying its bus tour with tank tops and hats, court records show.

Riley called it “highly questionable whether a reasonable person reading the notices” posted at the club “would believe she was consenting, merely by dancing fully clothed, to the use of her image being spliced into and or used for the promotion of pornographic material not filmed at the location.”

The retrial was assigned to Judge John Garvey for a bench trial. He issued his judgment March 5, after no one showed up on behalf of the defense. The $5.77 million award includes $1.5 million in punitive damages, and accounts for past and some future sales of the DVD.

Favazza, who filed suit as a Jane Doe but whose name was later made part of the court record, said she learned about her appearance on the DVD just three months after her marriage, when a friend of her husband spotted it.

She claimed that while she had danced clothed in front of the camera, she had no intention of exposing herself.

Attorneys for the defendants, Mantra Films Inc. and MRA Holding LLC, pointed out at the first trial that signs posted around the bar told patrons of how the video would be used. She said she never saw the signs.

Asked by the defense whether she had ever contacted the cameraman or the company to complain, Favazza replied that she didn’t think anybody would be “stupid enough” to use the video without permission.

In a pre-trial deposition, she said it caused problems in her marriage, and that friends and some in her “very Catholic, conservative family” were no longer talking to her.

Dalton’s role is somewhat unclear in court records. He had filed a motion to withdraw as defense lawyer in January, citing “irreconcilable differences” with his clients and saying he notified them of his departure and the pending trial date. He is reported to have said that he rejoined the case later.

Favazza’s lawyer, Stephen B. Evans, says in court records that he faxed and mailed notices about the second trial to the company in California and to one of its lawyers, Brian Rayment. in Oklahoma. Last month, Rayment sued Mantra Films in court in California, claiming the company owes him $300,000 in legal bills.

The Missouri Supreme Court temporarily suspended Evans’ law license on March 9, claiming he “committed professional misconduct and … poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public.” The circumstances behind that action were not available.

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