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Flimsy Evidence : Legal Lights Ponder Who Invented Glow-in-the-Dark Lingerie

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a town where lawyers file unusual briefs in court every day, the case of the glow-in-the-dark panties was causing some to view jurisprudence in a different light Friday in Los Angeles.

Did Joe Hara steal the idea for phosphorescent lingerie? Or was Mark Graham the one who staged a panty raid--swiping the concept from other designers who sell garments to Frederick’s of Hollywood and Victoria’s Secret?

A jury that has listened to two weeks of arguments and watched luminous teddy demonstrations in a darkened Superior Court began deliberations Friday in hopes of getting to the bottom of it all.

Lights were repeatedly ordered turned off by Judge Lillian Stevens so a nine-woman, three-man jury could see Graham’s lace glow and Hara’s bras shine. Experts explained the mysteries of crotchless panties and pointless bras. Items such as luminous condoms and phosphorescent vibrators could sometimes be seen on the counsels’ table.

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Graham, 41, a former Santa Monica actor who works as a Nashville songwriter, claims he thought up the glow-in-the-dark lingerie concept in early 1991.

“I was with my three brothers at a family reunion at my dad’s place in Alvin, Tex.,” he recalled. “We were sitting around one night having a beer, talking about girls.”

Graham said he refined his idea after admiring a photograph in Playboy magazine and deciding that glowing lace would nicely accent lingerie. He said he approached garment company owner Hara a few months later to ask for help.

Hara seemed interested at first, Graham said. But in early 1992 Hara declined to get involved, Graham added.

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Not so, counters Hara, 43, a Melrose-area resident whose company has produced the Desiree line of lingerie since 1988. He said he wanted to manufacture Graham’s garments, but Graham never called him back.

Hara said he decided to produce his own glow-in-the-dark garments using a luminescent-dying process already commonly utilized in the garment trade. Soon, Hara was selling them all over.

Jurors were told that the concept was hardly Graham’s bright idea.

A 1990 phosphorescent panty product called “Silvery Moons” was introduced as evidence. So was a well-established novelty item, a glowing undergarment-in-a-rosebud product called Panty Rose.

As the lights were flicked on and off, Graham’s lawyer, Lawrence S. Cohen, displayed garments produced by his client. Cohen provoked smiles when he mistakenly held one glowing teddy upside down and then crashed into the courtroom blackboard as he groped for the light switch.

After briefly deliberating whether Graham should be paid the $171,000 he claims Hara made by selling phosphorescent garments, jurors left both sides in the dark Friday.

Hara talked glumly of moving his company to Arizona if he loses. Graham talked wistfully of having a luminary like Madonna promote his product if he wins.

When the verdict is returned, however, the winner will be easy to spot. He’ll be the one who is glowing.

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