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A judge has peeled away more than half of stripper Vanessa Steele Inman’s $2.5 million verdict against a Georgia nightclub, the Pink Pony, and its owner. In an order filed Feb. 19, visiting Senior Superior Court Judge L.A. McConnell Jr. of Houston County tossed out a jury award of $1.6 million in punitive damages against Pink Pony owner Jack Galardi, marketing director Jack Pepper and parent company Trop Inc. Inman’s compensatory awards will stand. They include $335,000 for tortious interference with a contract, $500,000 for slander and $100,000 in attorney fees. “[T]he jury’s award of punitive damages is clearly so excessive as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence,” McConnell wrote. In her suit, Inman had charged that managers at the DeKalb County adult nightclub and promoters of the 1997 Miss Nude World International pageant effectively banned her from the pageant on false charges of cheating, and then slandered her to other club owners. Inman says the officials retaliated against her when she refused to participate in the competition’s side activities, which included allowing Galardi to slurp whipped cream off her breasts while cameras flashed. Inman v. Galardi, No. E65732 (Fult. Super. dec’d July 21, 2000). BALLOTS SALVAGED FROM DUMPSTER Inman has said she was leading the contest before she was banned from the club for the remainder of the pageant. She salvaged a stack of ballots from a dumpster outside the club, showing that she was doing well enough at least to reach the finals. Club patrons would vote on contestants after each night’s competition. The former stripper claimed she paid $1,000 to enter the contest and spent more than $10,000 on elaborate costumes. Winning the competition would have earned Inman no prize money, but would have greatly promoted her career. The event included not only the stripping contests at the club, but also events like a golf tournament in which contestants worked as topless caddies, stripped on the greens and played golf in the nude. It was during the golf tournament, Inman claimed, that she refused to participate in the extra-curricular activities, which included the whipped cream incident, and suggestions that contestants go with patrons into secluded areas of the course. The defense never challenged Inman’s whipped cream assertions in court, says Inman’s lawyer at trial, Mark V. Spix, of Spix, Krupp & Reece, because HBO was filming and OUI magazine was shooting a photo spread on the competition. The pictures verified the competition’s extracuricular activities, he says. RULING BOTHERS JUROR The size of the initial award stunned both sides. Some members of the jury wept when they returned with their verdict, and Inman burst into tears. At least one juror says she’s annoyed that the judge eliminated the jury’s award of punitive damages. “That doesn’t seem fair,” says juror Lisa Kagan, 28. “That’s horrible.” Kagan says she and her fellow jurors were trying to be careful about the amount they awarded Inman. They wanted the amount to be significant, she says, but not enough to be in jeopardy of being overturned. “I think the general feeling among jurors was that we wanted to give her more,” she says. “But we were afraid that something like this would happen.” Spix says McConnell’s order puts his client in a box. “It was bad. It was so bad,” Spix says. “Every dime [of the punitives] is gone. Every penny on an intentional tort.” McConnell issued his order in the context of the defendants’ motion to set aside the verdict, or to hold a new trial. The judge denied the defense motions, but issued a remittiur order instead, encouraging the parties to accept his ruling. “[T]his court hereby conditions the grant of a new trial upon any party’s refusal to accept the remittitur of the award of punitive damages,” McConnell wrote. Spix says his partner William R. Reece III, who now is handling the case, will discuss options with Inman before they decide what to do. But, he adds, Inman seems tired of the whole saga. “She’s just so sick of it,” he says. O. Jackson Cook handled the case for Galardi, the Pink Pony and Trop Inc., but the defendant brought in Aubry T. Villines Jr. to handle the motion to set aside the verdict. Villines “did a great job, I’ll tell you that,” Spix says. “He saved Jack Galardi $1.2 million.” Villines says he’s happy with the judge’s order, but his client plans to appeal the award for slander.

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