Court shares light moment during Oprah jury selection
January 20, 1998
Oprah Winfrey arrived at court early Tuesday
Web posted at: 4:05 p.m. EST (2105 GMT)
AMARILLO, Texas (CNN) -- Animal-rights advocates in cow suits were among the spectators outside a federal courthouse
Tuesday for the start of jury selection in the beef industry
lawsuit against talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson questioned a pool of
58 potential jurors. At least nine were dismissed. Some
admitted ties to the beef industry as ranchers, former
ranchers or friends of plaintiffs; others said they would
tend to favor Winfrey in the case.
Amarillo cattle feeder Paul Engler and other cattlemen are
suing Winfrey and vegetarian activist Howard Lyman over
comments they made about beef safety on her April 16, 1996,
During the program, Lyman contended that feeding ground-up
animal parts to cattle, a practice that was banned in the
United States last summer, could spread mad cow disease to
humans in the United States.
To applause from the studio audience, Winfrey exclaimed: "It
has just stopped me from eating another burger!"
After the broadcast, already slumping cattle prices fell to
some of their lowest levels in a decade. Engler claimed he
lost $6.7 million. He and other plaintiffs who later joined
the suit are seeking to recoup total losses of more than $12
million, plus other, unspecified damages.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a
brain-destroying disease that has afflicted cattle in Britain
since the late 1980s.
It is believed to have been spread by cattle feed containing
ground-up sheep parts, but it was not until 1996 that British
scientists announced that humans may have contracted the
disease by eating the beef.
Winfrey evokes laughter
Winfrey sat in court with her attorneys and listened intently
to the proceedings. She was cheered when she left the
courthouse during a lunch break.
At one point, there was laughter in the courtroom. When
Robinson asked if any of the potential jurors was a regular
viewer of the show, three women stood.
"The Oprah Winfrey Show" took mad cow disease as a topic in its April 16, 1996, broadcast
When one was asked if she liked the show, she replied: "I've
enjoyed some and not enjoyed some."
Winfrey then smirked, drawing laughter throughout the
courtroom, even from the judge.
The woman was stricken after she told Robinson she was
"probably a little for her (Winfrey)."
The federal lawsuit could be the biggest test yet of "veggie
libel" laws. Those laws, on the books in more than a dozen
states, are designed to protect agricultural products from
false and disparaging statements.
Robinson said she anticipated that there would be 150 hours
of testimony, divided roughly evenly between the two sides.
That means the trial could last about five weeks.
Robinson also issued a summary judgment dismissing King World
Productions as a defendant in the suit. The judge said King
World was only the distributor and had nothing to do with its
planning and production.