Passengers didn't see attack by Osteen's wife

August 13, 2008 4:40:24 PM PDT
Passengers and a pilot testified Wednesday they never saw or heard anything that indicated the wife of renowned pastor Joel Osteen assaulted a flight attendant before the start of a 2005 flight. [LIVE BLOG: Deborah Wrigley is sending back realtime updates from inside the courtroom]

Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown is suing Victoria Osteen, claiming the co-pastor of Houston's famed Lakewood Church became verbally and physically abusive before the start of a flight from Houston to Vail, Colo.

After about a week of testimony, closing arguments in the civil trial were expected on Thursday.

Brown claims she suffered physical and psychological injuries after Victoria Osteen got angry that a spill on the armrest of her first-class seat was not quickly cleaned up. Brown says Osteen got so upset, she threw the flight attendant against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast while attempting to rush into the cockpit.

But three passengers on the plane, one of them called to the witness stand by Brown's attorney, testified Wednesday they were sitting in the first-class section but never heard or saw anything that would have led them to believe Victoria Osteen assaulted the flight attendant.

"There wasn't anything that occurred that she could be suing over," said Laura Knoppe, who was sitting in the first row of first-class seats, closest to where the alleged attack took place. Knoppe, who was called by Victoria Osteen's attorney, Rusty Hardin, told jurors she never heard Osteen yelling or screaming. She also testified that she had a good view of the bathroom door that Brown claims Victoria Osteen threw her against.

"Did that happen?" Hardin asked "No," Knoppe responded.

Another passenger, Barbara Shedden, who had been called by Brown's attorney, described the interaction that Brown and Victoria Osteen had on the plane as "just a power of the wills. It was very authoritative on both parts."

Shedden said Victoria Osteen was out of line by standing in the aisle while she waited for the spill to be cleaned up. But Shedden told jurors she doubted an attack took place.

"There is no way," Shedden said when asked whether Brown would have been pushed by Victoria Osteen without her seeing it. A third passenger, James Steele, testified he never heard any yelling or sounds of a physical altercation.

William Burnett, the captain on the flight, told jurors, "There was nobody fighting the flight attendants."

But Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, told jurors that in an August 2007 deposition Burnett claimed he saw Brown and another flight attendant standing shoulder to shoulder outside the cockpit, which made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

"You had a duty as the captain of this plane to call the police and you didn't do it?" McKamie said.

"I didn't see a threat," Burnett said.

Both Victoria Osteen and Joel Osteen, who was on the same flight, testified last week that no attack took place.

Just before he rested his case, Hardin showed jurors a videotaped deposition of Claudia Hall, a former Continental Airlines flight attendant and gate agent who says she was falsely accused by Brown of hitting and pushing her into the bathroom wall of a plane in November 1995.

"I definitely did not get very angry," said Hall about the incident over a missing ticket. "I did not hit her."

Hardin, who has said his client is only being sued for her money, asked Hall if she had been sued by Brown could she have paid any judgment. She said she was living paycheck to paycheck at the time.

Two other witnesses for Victoria Osteen, Mike LeMaster and Thurman Nunez, both Continental employees, testified they each spoke with Brown and Victoria Osteen after the alleged attack.

They described Victoria Osteen as being calm while Brown was aggressive.

Nunez, who is also a member of Lakewood Church, was working as a baggage handler for the flight at the time of the incident. Earlier Wednesday, McKamie rested his case.

Hardin finished his sometimes relentless and aggressive cross-examination of Brown, which began Tuesday. He repeatedly asked her Wednesday what damages she had suffered as a result of the alleged attack.

Brown told jurors she should be compensated for anxiety, sleeplessness and public humiliation.

Brown also wants an apology and punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth as part of her lawsuit. Hardin has declined to discuss her finances, so it was unclear how much 10 percent would be.

Hardin took issue with Brown's claim that she should be compensated for public humiliation, saying that the only reason the public knows about what happened is because of her lawsuit.

"Is this somehow like the child who kills his parents and then complains about being an orphan?" Hardin asked as some people in the courtroom laughed.

The Osteens are co-pastors of Houston's Lakewood Church, which draws about 42,000 people each week for services. Joel Osteen's weekly television address is broadcast in the U.S. and internationally and his books are sold around the globe.

The Osteens paid a $3,000 fine the Federal Aviation Administration levied against Victoria Osteen for interfering with a crew member but testified they did that to put the incident behind them.

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