Felds’ Three-Ring Trial Opens

The Feld family circus began its run in federal court May 9 with attorneys for the dueling brother and sister swapping accusations about who did what and why at their aunt’s 2007 memorial service.

At issue is a $110 million suit filed by Karen Feld, daughter of Feld Entertainment and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus patriarch Irvin Feld, against her brother Kenneth, who now owns the company.

Karen Feld claims Kenneth’s security guards beat and groped her as they forcibly removed her from their aunt’s shiva service at Shirley Feld’s penthouse, at which they were raised. She says the assault at her brother’s direction exacerbated a brain injury and injured an arthritic knee, leading to surgery on both.

An attorney for Kenneth Feld responded that Karen’s claims are bogus and suggested she was more interested in lifting her aunt’s jewelry than mourning her death. The attorney, Matthew Kirtland, claimed Karen was caught sneaking into a back bedroom where jewelry was kept and exploded into an expletive-laden rage when intercepted by security. Kenneth Feld has countersued.

“Karen Feld lives in a fantasy land,” Kirtland told the eight jurors and one alternate in opening arguments.

“This is a case where a chosen son took brutal advantage of a neglected daughter,” countered attorney Steven Oster, representing Karen Feld.

The incident was only the latest in at least a decade’s worth of hostilities.

Oster told the jury the hostility stems from a 1990 magazine article about the Feld family that quoted Karen Feld and publicly exposed Irvin Feld’s homosexual affairs and his wife’s suicide. He described a tragic childhood for Karen in which she was physically abused by both parents, brought up by her aunt and uncle after her mother’s death then virtually cut out of her father’s will.

Kirtland said the will split the family after Karen successfully sued Kenneth and her Aunt Shirley to get more of the inheritance. After that, the family no longer associated with Karen Feld – but did inform her when Shirley was dying and invited her to mourn with them when she died.

Instead, according to Kirtland, while the family was with Shirley in the hospital, Karen was in Shirley Feld’s penthouse, “thinking about jewelry” that she felt entitled to. After Shirley’s death, as the family sat shiva, Karen allegedly “made a beeline” for a back bedroom where jewelry was stored as the rabbi called mourners into the living room.

Oster said Karen Feld had long suffered from a brain injury that causes her to have seizures and during the shiva felt seizure symptoms coming on. She retreated to a back bathroom, but was grabbed from behind without warning by a guard who was “laying in wait” for her in her father’s old bedroom.

“They created, in essence, a trap for Karen,” Oster said. He said two guards dragged her from the apartment and, at Kenneth Feld’s direction to “get rid of her,” dragged her to the building’s elevator, beat her on the way down and threw her and her dog out the front door. He showed the jury photos of bruising and played part of a 911 call.

Kirtland said Karen Feld was not injured and instead kicked one guard in the legs and groin. She had been heading to a back bedroom when a guard asked her not to enter. She exploded in a rage, throwing a glass of wine on one guard and shouting obscenities and anti-Semitic remarks, the attorney said.

“The mourners are shocked. The service stops. The rabbi doesn’t know what to say,” Kirtland said.

Oster acknowledged the outburst but said Karen Feld’s brain injury causes her to lose control of her speech, and become volatile and unpredictable. “It’s as if she has a demon inside of her,” Oster said.

Kirtland said Karen Feld’s account can’t be trusted because her condition leaves her confused and with severe memory problems. He said security escorted her into a hall, where Kenneth Feld tried to calm her until she threw a punch at him.

The attorney cited subsequent confrontations in which Karen Feld was allegedly thrown out of a concert and airport, yet claimed she did nothing wrong.

“It’s all make-believe, ladies and gentlemen,” Kirtland said.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks.