HOUSTON (AP) - After questioning that touched on religious beliefs, celebrity and the public's perception of preachers and televangelists, a jury was seated Wednesday in a civil lawsuit alleging the wife of nationally known pastor Joel Osteen assaulted a flight attendant.
A jury panel of seven men and five women was set to hear opening statements in the trial on Thursday.
In the lawsuit, Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown accuses Victoria Osteen of assaulting her before the start of a 2005 flight from Houston to Vail, Colo. Brown alleges Victoria Osteen, co-pastor of Houston's popular Lakewood Church, 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.
Brown wants an apology and punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth as part of her suit.
Victoria Osteen's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said before jury selection began Wednesday that Brown's claims are false and that what happened was a "minor incident." Hardin also asked a judge to throw out a federal report detailing the alleged incident.
"This is a very silly case," Hardin told reporters.
Joel Osteen was at his wife's side Wednesday in court. Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, said he expected to call the Osteens as witnesses during the trial.
McKamie, said he hopes the trial will show "that celebrity status doesn't take precedence."
However, some potential jurors during questioning admitted to being star-struck by the Osteens and that their respect for them might affect their judgment in the case.
Many of the people in the 130 member jury pool said they had been to Lakewood Church, had read Joel Osteen's books and held the Osteens in high regard.
"He has gotten me through a lot of tough times. I would believe what he has to say. I have a lot of respect for him," one female in the jury pool said.
A prospective male juror said, "I would have the tendency to believe they were telling the truth a little bit more."
The religious beliefs of some jurors came out during the selection process.
"If Victoria did assault Ms. Brown, God sees that...and she will be judged in her own way," another prospective female juror said.
While Hardin questioned potential jurors, some said they didn't like preachers or televangelists and that ministers can lie.
The Federal Aviation Administration fined Victoria Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member. The FAA report states Victoria Osteen asked another attendant to clean a liquid on her first-class seat armrest. When that attendant said she would get another flight attendant, Osteen grabbed a second flight attendant and took her to the seat, the report said.
The second attendant said she would call cleaning personnel and headed to the cockpit, the FAA said. Victoria Osteen followed her and came across Brown, whom she pushed and elbowed in an attempt to get to the cockpit, according to the report.
Brown's suit claims the flight attendants asked to have Victoria Osteen removed from the plane. Hardin says Victoria Osteen and her family left voluntarily. The incident delayed the flight about 2 1/2 hours.
Brown had previously claimed she was attacked in another incident by an airport employee, according to a deposition she gave in the case.
During a court hearing Wednesday before jury selection began, Hardin asked that the FAA report's findings not be allowed to be heard during the trial.
"The FAA does, in all due respect, an incredibly incomplete investigation," Hardin said.
McKamie said the FAA did an appropriate investigation.
State District Judge Patricia Hancock said she would make a decision later on whether the report would be allowed .
According to court documents, Brown claims that she suffers from anxiety and hemorrhoids because of the incident and said her faith was affected. She is also suing Osteen for medical expenses for counseling.
"We just want the jury to hear the evidence and make a decision," McKamie told reporters.