- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

HOUSTON (AP) | A flight attendant’s assault accusations against the wife of renowned evangelical pastor Joel Osteen are simply a money grab, Victoria Osteen’s defense attorney said Thursday.

“This is nothing more than an attempted extortion,” attorney Rusty Hardin told jurors during opening statements.

Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown sued Mrs. Osteen, accusing the co-pastor of a Houston megachurch of assaulting her before the start of a 2005 flight to Vail, Colo.

Miss Brown said Mrs. Osteen threw her against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast during an angry outburst over a stain on her first-class seat. Miss Brown claims Mrs. Osteen became so upset she tried to get into the cockpit and had to be physically restrained.

Miss Brown’s suit contends flight attendants asked to have Mrs. Osteen removed from the plane. Mr. Hardin told jurors that Mrs. Osteen and her family left voluntarily. The incident delayed the flight about 2 1/2 hours.

The Federal Aviation Administration fined Mrs. Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member.

Mr. Hardin conceded that Mrs. Osteen can be a “very excitable and expressive person,” but she never got out of control while trying to get a flight attendant to clean up the spill.

“Victoria Osteen never touched her, never screamed at her, never attacked her, never tried to get in the cockpit,” Mr. Hardin said. “The aggressor and the person who was out of control, who flipped out, was Ms. Brown.”

Miss Brown’s attorney, Reginald McKamie, told jurors that Mrs. Osteen became enraged and attacked Miss Brown when flight attendants didn’t immediately clean up the stain.

“Sharon was attacked by someone in the community who supposedly represents a higher degree of human decency. That had an affect on Sharon,” Mr. McKamie said.

About 42,000 people flock to Lakewood Church every week to hear Mr. Osteen, whose weekly television address is broadcast nationally and internationally and whose books have been sold around the globe.

The Osteens were both expected to testify during the trial.

Miss Brown wants an apology and punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Mrs. Osteen’s net worth as part of her suit.

“They will say this is about money, but that is the only remedy a jury can offer,” Mr. McKamie said.

Mr. McKamie said that Miss Brown, who had undergone reconstructive surgery before the incident on her breasts due to illness, was injured when she was hit on her chest. Miss Brown also suffers from anxiety because of the incident and her faith was affected, her attorney said. Miss Brown is also suing Mrs. Osteen for medical expenses for counseling.

But Mr Hardin told jurors there is no evidence Miss Brown sustained any injuries, including claims she now has hemorrhoids.

The jury of seven men and five women was chosen on Wednesday after a couple of hours of questioning of a jury pool of 130 people. The questioning touched on religious beliefs, celebrity and the public’s perception of preachers and televangelists.

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