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 Victoria Osteen, accusing the co-pastor of a Houston megachurch of assaulting her before the start of a 2005 flight to Vail, Colo.
Brown alleges Victoria 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. Brown claims Victoria Osteen became so upset she tried to get into the cockpit and had to be physically restrained.
Brown's suit claims the flight attendants asked to have Victoria Osteen removed from the plane. Hardin told jurors Victoria Osteen and her family left voluntarily. The incident delayed the flight about 2 1/2 hours.
The Federal Aviation Administration fined Victoria Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member.
Hardin admitted that Victoria 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," Hardin said. "The aggressor and the person who was out of control, who flipped out, was Ms. Brown."
Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, told jurors that it was Victoria Osteen who became enraged and attacked 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," McKamie said.
About 42,000 people flock to Lakewood Church every week to hear Joel Osteen, whose weekly television address is broadcast nationally and internationally and whose books have been sold across the globe.
The Osteens were both expected to testify during the trial.
Brown wants an apology and punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria 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," McKamie said.
McKamie said Brown, who had undergone reconstructive surgery before the incident on her breasts due to illness, was injured when she was hit on her chest. Brown also suffers from anxiety because of the incident and that her faith was affected, her attorney said. Brown is also suing Victoria Osteen for medical expenses for counseling.
But Hardin told jurors there is no evidence Brown sustained any injuries, including claims she now suffers from 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.
According to an FAA report, Victoria Osteen pushed and elbowed Brown in an attempt to get to the plane's cockpit after two other attendants had not cleaned a liquid on her first-class seat armrest.
Hardin told jurors Victoria Osteen paid the FAA fine not because she was guilty but as a way to conclude the matter and avoid any embarrassment for her church.
Brown had previously claimed she was attacked in another incident by an airport employee, according to a deposition she gave in the case.
Hardin asked that the FAA report's findings not be allowed in the trial, saying the agency's investigation was incomplete.