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Oprah Defamation Trial: Potential Settlement as Jury Selected

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 24, 2010 1:45 PM

Jury selection began this week in the infamous Oprah defamation trial. And while the hordes of photographers and "Oprah-philes" moved in to catch a glimpse of the talk-show queen, Oprah herself was nowhere to be seen.

This could quite possibly have been because Oprah and the plaintiff in the defamation suit were discussing settlement in the case, woman to woman, outside the presence of the media.

Oprah was entangled in a bitter defamation lawsuit which stemmed from the alleged abuse scandal at her South African girls' school. As discussed in this blog, the suit involved public comments made, criticizing Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane, the former headmistress of the girls' school in South Africa. Mzamane alleged defamation, claiming that Oprah's comments had harmed her reputation and her chances at seeking gainful employment.  

Mzamane was dismissed shortly after the abuse allegations surfaced at the school.

Jury selection is one of the first stages in the civil trial. Essentially, the jury would have been the main finders of fact in the defamation allegations against Oprah. 

In jury selection, the jurors are questioned on their beliefs and predispositions, among other things. If it can be shown that a particular juror may be impartial or may not be objective in the case, attorneys can make a peremptory challenge and have the juror excused.   

In a high profile case like this, where the defendant is well known, the issue of juror bias may be greater. As such, the attorneys could have had their work cut out for them in jury selection.

Oprah reportedly settled with Mzamane, shortly before the trial was set to begin. Although jury selection began on Monday, the parties convened, in the absence of their attorneys, to come up with a mutual settlement of the lawsuit. Details have not yet emerged on the terms of any settlement.  

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