HOUSTON – Some potential jurors in a lawsuit alleging the wife of nationally known pastor Joel Osteen assaulted a flight attendant admitted Wednesday to being star-struck by the couple and that their respect for them might affect their judgment in the case.
Jury selection began Wednesday in the lawsuit filed by Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown, who says Victoria Osteen assaulted her before the start of a 2005 flight from Houston 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 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.
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."
But many of the people in the 130 member jury pool said they had been to Lakewood Church, 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 juror said.
A 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.
"As a Christian, I wouldn't feel it would be my place to judge them," another prospective female juror said.
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.
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.
Joel Osteen preaches at Lakewood, a megachurch where about 42,000 people flock each week. Services are held at a 16,000 seat facility that was formerly the Houston Rockets' basketball arena. His weekly television address is broadcast nationally and internationally.