HOUSTON, Aug. 6, 2008— -- Can a crankiness land you in court? The case of Sandra Brown v. Victoria Osteen is the story of a chance encounter on an airplane that turned into a nasty legal battle.
Osteen is the wife of popular self-help author and television minister Joel Osteen, who heads the Lakewood Church, Houston's largest congregation. Brown is a flight attendant for Continental Airlines.
Osteen and her family were on Brown's flight from Houston to Vail, Colo., two years ago when, according to court documents, witnesses said Osteen became upset about a spill on the armrest of her first-class seat. She asked the flight attendants to clean up the spill and when they did not respond quickly enough, Osteen became confrontational, according to documents filed in the civil case that goes to trial today.
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; Osteen was later fined $3,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration for interfering with a flight crew member.
The attorney representing Victoria Osteen in the lawsuit is the legendary Rusty Hardin, who said his client's actions have been exaggerated and that he looked forward to having her side of the story told in court.
Hardin 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.
But Hardin prevailed over Anna Nicole Smith, blocking her attempt to inherit all the vast 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. She was recently named co-pastor of the 60,000-member congregation. The Osteen's ministry reaches millions more through television, and through Joel Osteen's best-selling books.
Joel Osteen is reportedly expected to testify at the trial.
Brown's attorney promises surprises in court, but it will be up to a jury to decide whether Victoria Osteen was rude and pushy to the point of being legally liable.