The Osteen Trial: All Over But The Shouting

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The world’s most ridiculous trial continued today with two dynamo attorneys displaying radically different styles: Rusty Hardin, representing defendant Victoria Osteen, chose to impeach the plaintiff on the stand by presenting factual evidence that contradicted her claims, and by generally highlighting how

prima facie foolish

Sharon Brown’s claims are.

Playing yin to Hardin’s yang (or possibly the other way around), Reginald McKamie opted for the ol’ "call a witness you never even talked to before and hope they say good stuff" strategy, a brilliant tactic taught in most Ivy League law schools. In this instance, it was a passenger on that fateful December 2005 flight in which Osteen supposedly went all Rowdy Roddy Piper on Brown’s ass.

Barbara Shedden testified that there was no way an assault like the one Brown alleges could have occurred without Shedden seeing it. Shedden also said she never heard Osteen scream or saw her touch Brown. She described their encounter as a “power of the wills,” which we assume is a courtroom-friendly way of saying “two stubborn jackasses bitching and moaning.”

Shedden also said she told the FAA she didn’t see any assault, and she also said the same to the FBI, which may be the first time anyone mentioned that the G-men were sticking their heads into this mess.

Shedden’s testimony was followed by similar testimony from two more passengers and the pilot, Captain William Burnett, who unfortunately drew the ire of McKamie by testifying that he at no time felt Osteen was a security threat. That’s when McKamie launched into a dramatic performance the likes of which haven’t been seen since Pacino’s brilliant climactic monologue in Scent of a Woman. The only thing missing was the trademark hooah! (and the fact that McKamie’s not a blind suicidal retired Army lieutenant colonel).

“You failed on your duty, didn’t you, Captain?!” McKamie shouted, going on to remind Burnett that flight attendants are the pilot’s eyes and ears, and if they say there’s trouble, then you best believe there’s trouble.

Burnett remained calm, and it certainly says a lot that the pilot wasn’t aware of a rabid passenger attacking a flight attendant and charging the cockpit; however, there’s something a bit disturbing about a witness who has to stop and think in order to answer the question, “How old a man are you?” as Burnett did when asked by Hardin. Burnett also said part of the reason he didn’t want to call security was because he didn’t feel like doing the paperwork, which is apparently part of Continental’s new “Work Hard, Fly Right, Maybe Not Die” ad campaign.

But perhaps the most telling part of the day was Brown’s testimony.

McKamie did nothing to help his client while Hardin backed her into a corner. As everyone in the world now knows, Sharon Brown claimed that this whole nasty business gave her hemorrhoids. But Hardin showed the jury a doctor’s note from June 2005 – six months before the alleged assault – that said Brown was complaining of hemorrhoids.

Hardin also asked Brown about her earlier statement that she would continue to “fight the battle” no matter what the jury decided. Hardin asked exactly what “battle” that would be, to which Brown responded, “to stand for what’s right and what’s just,” followed by “I’m going to fight the battle to keep our work environment safe,” followed by a statement that, since 9/11, everyone faces potential danger every time they go to work.

McKamie remained silent while his client was skewered, but perhaps he was too busy worrying about workplace danger to offer up an objection or two, which, even if overruled, would’ve at least interrupted the flow.

The day ended with videotaped testimony of a former Continental flight attendant who was accused of assault by Brown in 1995. Claudia Hall testified in that deposition that she had lightly touched Brown’s arm during a conversation, causing Brown to flip out. Brown subsequently wrote a letter of complaint to Hall’s supervisor, who asked Hall to write a letter of apology to Brown. When Hall refused, her supervisor wrote a letter to Brown saying “please accept our apologies.” Hardin also had Hall point out that she was pretty much broke at the time, indicating that Brown had no motive to sue.

If McKamie wasn’t too busy looking for his helmet and duct tape, he could have reminded the jury that Brown said she never would’ve sued Osteen if she got an apology. But then again, maybe McKamie’s got an ace in the hole – he’s putting on a rebuttal witness Thursday before closing arguments. We just hope for Brown’s sake, McKamie knows what the hell this witness is going to say.

-- Craig Malisow

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