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Trial starts in nanny’s suit against Pacers owner

- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A nanny who worked for Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and his wife testified in a wrongful-firing case Monday that the couple knew of her tumultuous life, court cases against her and a brief stint in jail but decided to keep her on their staff.

Claudia Liete claims the Simons fired her in February 2010 when they found out she was pregnant and they failed to pay wages that were due to her. She's seeking compensatory and punitive damages but has not specified an amount.

The Simons contend they fired Liete because she was in conflict with another member of the household staff and caused dissension in the home, according to their attorney. They claim they never knew about her history of violent episodes until she sued.

Liete testified that Simon's wife, Bui, said she didn't care about problems the nanny was having with boyfriends and a husband, and that Herb Simon once told her during a conversation about the problems: "Bad boyfriends, bad boyfriends, Claudia."

Liete denied an allegation by the Simons' attorney, Patricia Glaser, that she once took the couple's young daughter home with her and had her sleep in the same bed with Liete and her boyfriend, and that they had sex while the child was present.

Liete acknowledged that she took the Simons' child to her home between 20 and 40 times while she worked for them and said the Simons were aware that she was living with a boyfriend. Liete worked at the Simons' homes in Malibu and Montecito, Calif.

The testimony came at the beginning of a trial before Superior Court Judge Amy D. Hogue, who will decide after initial testimony whether the Simons knew of the nanny's background and, if not, whether they would have fired her if they had that information.

The nanny repeatedly said she told the Simons of restraining orders against her by her ex-husband and a boyfriend and that she had been charged with spousal abuse after an incident in which she fell through a glass coffee table and wound up in a hospital.

Neither the Simons nor their children, now 2, 7 and 11, were present when any of the incidents occurred.

"How often did you discuss with Bui Simon that you had two restraining orders for violent behavior?" Glaser asked.

"Many times," Liete said.

She then testified that she and Bui Simon had many personal talks about their lives.

"I said I had very bad choices of men in my life and I wished it hadn't happened," Liete said. "We talked of many things. I told her about my days in jail."

Bui Simon, seated in the courtroom and holding hands with her husband, shook her head negatively as the former nanny testified.

In a dramatic incident outside court, Bui Simon, a 1988 Miss Universe from Thailand, wound up directing CPR efforts in the hallway when a lawyer from another case collapsed from an apparent heart attack.

She corralled another lawyer to administer CPR while she gave specific instructions on the procedure and urged him on until medical personnel arrived. In spite of the efforts, she said court security later informed her that the man died.

Bui Simon burst into tears after the incident. She said she takes CPR training once a year because she has children.

She later returned to the courtroom and testimony continued.

After Liete left the stand, her ex-husband, John O'Connell, testified that during their brief marriage she threatened his life and those of his four cats and he was forced to flee with the animals in fear. He said Liete told him that she once punched a co-worker in the face and that she wanted to kill someone who owed her $5. He said he obtained a restraining order, which she violated, and at one point, police were called during a fight.

The lawsuit also involves a former chauffeur's claims against the Simons, but his portion of the case will not be heard until after a jury is chosen, according to lawyers.

Herb Simon, 75, has a net worth of $1.4 billion, according to Forbes. His family founded Simon Property Group, a shopping mall company headquartered in the Indianapolis area. The couple also has a home there.

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