The lawyer for Victoria Osteen, wife of TV evangelist Joel Osteen, told jurors today during opening statements in a civil trial in Texas that his client is the victim of an "attempted extortion."
Osteen is being sued by Sandra Brown, a Continental Airlines flight attendant who says she was roughed up during an in-flight confrontation with Osteen in 2005.
Attorney Rusty Hardin told the jury in a Houston courtroom that the only reason they were all there today was because of Osteen's high profile, The Associated Press reported.
Reginald McKamie, Brown's attorney, said his client was assualted by an out-of-control passenger who tried to enter the cockpit and had to be restrained.
"Sharon was attacked by someone in the community who supposedly represents a higher degree of human decency. That had an effect on Sharon," said Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, according to the AP.
But Hardin says his client is innocent. "Victoria Osteen never attacked her, never tried to get in the cockpit," Hardin told jurors. "The aggressor and the person who was out of control, who flipped out, was Ms. Brown."
Maria Johnson, another one of the flight attendants on the Dec. 2005 flight, took the stand and told the jury that Brown was professional and courteous toward Osteen after she complained of a spill on her first-class seat. Johnson described the spill as being the size of a 50-cent piece, the AP reported.
"She was demanding that attention be given to her immediately," Johnson said. Shealso said that Osteen kept saying: "This is ridiculous. I'm a first-class passenger."
Brown had previously claimed she was attacked in another incident by an airport employee, according to a deposition she gave in the case, the AP reported.
A jury of seven men and five women was picked Wednesday.
Brown is seeking 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth, as well as medical and counseling expenses. Osteen's husband, Joel, is not named in the suit but was on the flight that day,Both Osteen and his wife are expected to take the stand.
Hardin says the whole incident has been blown out of proportion, noting that Victoria Osteen volunteered to leave the flight after the incident, and that she subsequently paid a $3,000 FAA fine for interfering with a flight crew.
He scoffs at the claim Brown was traumatized by the encounter.
Brown, in her lawsuit, complains the incident caused her to lose her religious faith and says she now suffers from a variety of physical and emotional ailments because of the trauma of the incident.
Osteen is the wife of popular self-help author and TV minister Joel Osteen, who heads the Lakewood Church, Houston's largest congregation. Victoria is co-pastor of the church and a fixture at his husband's side during his nationally televised sermons.
The lawsuit, filed in Harris County Civil Court in Houston, alleges that Victoria Osteen "shoved, grabbed and pulled the flight attendants." The suit goes on to claim that Osteen elbowed Brown, who was the flight manager, while allegedly trying to get into the cockpit of the airplane.
Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, contends that Osteen has a dark side that the trial will expose. His client, he said, was forced into civil court because Continental did not call police when the incident happened. Osteen and her family were asked to leave the flight and the $3,000 fine was levied.
Osteen lawyer Hardin is a high-profile attorney who has represented embattled baseball pitcher Roger Clemens. He also famously won a case (on appeal) against the accounting giant Arthur Anderson over charges that the company had destroyed Enron documents. Hardin also prevailed over Anna Nicole Smith, blocking her attempt to be awarded the entire fortune of J. Howard Marshall II, her late husband.
The portrait of an out-of-control Victoria Osteen painted by the lawsuit contrasts with the image of the perfectly groomed spouse who is seen helping her husband broadcast his message around the world each Sunday from the Lakewood Church, which boasts a 60,000-member congregation. The Osteen's ministry reaches millions more through television, and through Joel Osteen's best-selling books.