Tears and shouts mark trial in circus family feud
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus owner Kenneth Feld emotionally defended himself Wednesday in a civil assault trial and broke into tears as he accused his only sister of ruining their dead aunt's memorial service with a profanity-laced outburst.
His sister, Karen Feld, was not there to hear his testimony because for the second consecutive day she angrily stormed out of the courtroom after being incorrectly referred to as "Mrs. Feld" although she's never married.
Her departure came shortly after her lawyer rested her case following eight days of testimony that portrayed an often tragic history and allegations of abuse and dysfunction behind a Feld Entertainment empire built on family-friendly productions. She is suing her brother for $110 million because she says his private security guards attacked and injured her as they ejected her from the shiva service for their aunt, Shirley, who reared them after their mother committed suicide in 1958.
The siblings are the only two children of Irvin Feld, who bought the circus in 1967 and passed ownership to his son upon his death in 1984. The siblings have been estranged ever since Karen Feld sued her brother over their father's estate.
On the stand, Kenneth Feld explained how he made a "tough decision" to call his sister in September 2007 when their aunt was on her deathbed. He began to cry as he spoke of how he was in Florida for a circus performance when he learned of her unexpected decline and rushed to see her but she died as his plane landed in Washington.
Kenneth Feld said he was glad to see his sister at the shiva — a Jewish memorial service that was held at the penthouse apartment where they had lived with Shirley Feld while growing up. But he said security guards removed his sister after she launched into a tirade that disrupted the religious service and she repeatedly shouted a four-letter word in reference to the rabbi. Karen Feld has said she was in the midst of a seizure brought on by brain damage and over-stimulation of the event, but Kenneth Feld said his sister had never told him she had such a medical problem.
"Her behavior and what she did to ruin the shiva was an absolute disruption," Kenneth Feld said. Her outburst "is always tied to it. There's never closure."
Karen Feld testified earlier in the day that she didn't think she's responsible for her actions or acted improperly, but was seriously injured and traumatized by the guards' manhandling and groping her on the way out. She also denied allegations by defense attorney Matthew Kirtland that the confrontation began after she was trying to sneak into a back room to get jewelry and memorabilia she considered hers while everyone was gathered in another room for the religious service.
The day before, Karen Feld stood and left court in the middle of the trial, complaining that Kirtland repeatedly referred to her as "Mrs. Feld" even after he'd been repeatedly corrected. On Wednesday, a witness incorrectly used the same courtesy title and she stormed out again and could be heard in the hallway cursing her attorney for failing to stop it. This time the jury wasn't present. She didn't return for the rest of the day.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal told Karen Feld's attorney to try to keep his client under control. "We're not going to have those kind of disruptions in front of the jury," she said.