HOUSTON – As one of the leaders of a Houston megachurch, the wife of renowned pastor Joel Osteen is known for her Christianity. But a flight attendant is accusing Victoria Osteen of committing some very unchristian-like behavior — and wants the couple to pay for it.
Opening arguments were set for Thursday in a civil lawsuit that accuses Victoria Osteen of assaulting Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown before the start of a 2005 flight from Houston to Vail, Colo.
Brown wants an apology and punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth as part of her suit.
The lawyer for Victoria Osteen, co-pastor at Lakewood Church, called the lawsuit silly and denied that her client assaulted Brown. Brown's attorney, Reginald McKamie, said he hopes the trial will show "that celebrity status doesn't take precedence."
Brown alleges Victoria Osteen threw her against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast during an outburst over a stain on her first-class seat. The Federal Aviation Administration fined Victoria Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member.
Victoria Osteen "clearly was angry on this flight," McKamie said.
A 12-person jury was seated Wednesday after lawyers spent several hours questioning a pool of 130 people. The questioning touched on religious beliefs, celebrity and the public's perception of preachers and televangelists.
Many of those in the jury pool said they had been to Lakewood Church and acknowledged holding the Osteens in high regard and being star-struck by them.
But other potential jurors said they didn't like preachers or televangelists and that ministers can lie.
Joel Osteen was at his wife's side Wednesday in court. McKamie said he expected to call the couple as witnesses.
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 armrest.
Brown's suit claims the flight attendants asked to have Victoria Osteen removed from the plane. Victoria Osteen's lawyer, Rusty Hardin, says his client and her family left voluntarily. The incident delayed the flight about 2 1/2 hours.
Hardin asked that the FAA report's findings not be allowed in the trial, saying the agency's investigation was incomplete. State District Judge Patricia Hancock said she would make a decision later.
Brown had previously claimed she was attacked in another incident by an airport employee, according to a deposition she gave in the case.
According to court documents, Brown claims that she suffers from anxiety and hemorrhoids because of the incident involving Victoria Osteen and said her faith was affected. She is also suing Victoria Osteen for medical expenses for counseling.
Joel Osteen preaches at Lakewood, a megachurch where about 42,000 people flock each week. Services are held at a 16,000-seat sports arena where the Houston Rockets once played. His weekly television address is broadcast nationally and internationally.