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So far, the 1997 Miss Nude World International pageant has been one big tease for Vanessa Steele-Inman. When she competed in the Atlanta-based event seven years ago, the former stripper qualified for the semifinals before being kicked out on what she said were trumped-up charges of cheating. Three years later, a Fulton County jury said the contest promoters and managers of the Pink Pony nightclub should pay Steele-Inman more than $2.5 million in compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees for slander and tortious interference with business relations. But last week the Georgia Court of Appeals took away her victory, leaving her a consolation prize of $3,500 in attorney fees for the pageant’s violation of state beauty contest rules. Presiding Judge Edward H. Johnson, joined by Judges Frank M. Eldridge and Charles B. Mikell Jr., found that there was no evidence upon which the jury could have ruled for Steele-Inman. L. Lee Bennett Jr., one of Steele-Inman’s lawyers, said he will ask the Georgia Supreme Court to review the case. He added that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict and that there were procedural problems with the defendants’ case that should have automatically required the court to affirm the trial court’s decision. “We think this is a complete travesty and miscarriage of justice,” said Bennett, who came into the case to help with appeals. The case was tried by Mark Van Spix of Spix & Krupp, but he is no longer involved. His partner, Spencer J. Krupp, is working on the appeal with Bennett. Aubrey T. Villines Jr., who represents Pink Pony owner Jack Galardi, said, “I am not at all surprised by the decision,” adding that the verdict should have been thrown out by the trial judge. The appeals court’s decision was the latest turn in the strange case. BACKSTAGE AT MISS NUDE PAGEANT Steele-Inman claimed contest promoters and managers of the Pink Pony kicked her out of the pageant on trumped-up charges of cheating after she refused to submit to club owner Galardi’s sexual demands, including a request to slurp whipped cream off her breasts at a golf tournament. She claimed that Pink Pony manager Jack Pepper told a pageant official that witnesses saw Steele-Inman walking with a stack of ballots and heard her say she had “bought” the contest, according to the court record. Although her story convinced the jury in 2000, it could not get past the appeals court’s acceptance of a web of interweaving arguments for the defendants. NIGHTCLUB OWNER OFF THE HOOK Johnson wrote for the panel that they would affirm the verdict if “any evidence” supported it. But they found that the corporation that owned the nightclub could not be found liable for the alleged statements of Pepper because there was no evidence that he was expressly directed to make them. Steele-Inman’s lawyers argued that Pepper was the “personal representative” of Galardi, the owner of the corporation, but the panel held that the doctrine of “respondeat superior,” — which holds employers liable for their workers’ misdeeds — does not apply in slander cases. The court then agreed with Pepper’s argument that even if he did make slanderous statements, they were privileged because they were made between two groups doing business together. The pageant official, Johnson wrote, “had reason to be advised of allegedly improper acts of a contestant in the parties’ pageant.” Galardi v. Steele-Inman, No. A03A2565 (Ct. App. Ga. March 24, 2004). Steele-Inman had claimed being thrown out of the contest hurt her chances to make lucrative business deals in the future, but the court found that there was no direct evidence that the defendants had contact with any entities that refused to hire her. Thus, they added, the tortious interference claim failed.

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