Ringling Bros. Heirs Nearly Come to Blows in Assault Trial

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Bob Burgess

Karen Feld and her dog Campari are seen at her home in Washington.

In the continuing legal circus involving an estranged circus family, court proceedings erupted into shouting and profanity on Tuesday when two feuding siblings exploded at each other during testimony.

Karen Feld, who is suing her brother Kenneth for $110 million over an alleged assault against her taking place during their aunt’s bereavement. Their animosity actually goes back years and is reported to be a sordid tale of secrets, money and power worthy of a novel.

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In court, while defense attorney Matthew Kirtland continuously referred to Karen Feld as “Mrs. Feld,” she became angry and snapped at him. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle even had to post a security officer in the courtroom and order the defense and plaintiff teams to leave the court separately. During the lunch break, Kirtland said she confronted him, her brother and her sister-in-law, lunging in a barrage of foul names and threatening gestures.

Feld said she found Kirtland’s mistake disrespectful because of her disdain for her sister-in-law. “If I wanted to be a Mrs., I would have gotten married,” she said to Kirtland.

The jury in the case is expected to head to deliberations on Monday.

UPDATE: May 24, 2011

A Washington jury rejected both Karen Feld’s claim of assault and her brother Kenneth’s counterclaim of trespassing. The jury found that Karen Feld was, in fact held by her brother’s security guards, but said they were justified by her outbursts.

In a statement sent to TIME by spokesman Stephen Payne, Kenneth Feld said: “The jury understood that the plaintiff’s claims were not connected to reality. The actual evidence in the case differed dramatically from the allegations in the complaint, and this lawsuit should not have been filed.”

But in a response e-mail to the Associated Press, Karen Feld wrote of her brother: “He’s nothing but a bully with millions of dollars to hire thugs to assault me and PR pros to detract from the real issues and spin the story his way.”

(MORE: Sibling Rivalry: The Power of Birth Order)

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