Court upholds ruling against beauty queen

Pageant rigging allegation costs $5 million


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A federal judge this week upheld a 2012 ruling that a Cranberry woman who resigned as Miss Pennsylvania USA, claiming the pageant system was fixed, must pay $5 million in damages to the Miss Universe Organization.

An arbitrator in December found Sheena Monnin, 28, had made defamatory comments against Donald Trump's organization last year and that there was "virtually no possibility that the judging was rigged."

In a 30-page opinion filed Tuesday, U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken of New York supported that ruling.

"The Court does not take lightly that Monnin is compelled to pay what is a devastating monetary award. ... Sympathy, or apparent inequity, may play no role in a court's legal analysis, and here, the law is clear," he wrote.

A statement posted Thursday on Ms. Monnin's Facebook page said: "This is not about me being a 'sore loser' or wanting my '15 minutes of fame.' This is about the [Miss Universe Organization's] admission under oath that they manipulate the judges' results to suit their own ends. This is not what they advertise to the public."

Michael D. Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel to Mr. Trump, said they applauded the judge's decision.

"I disagree with every statement made by Ms. Monnin, and I'm shocked to see that she has yet to learn her lesson," he said. "I thought she would be smarter the second time around."

Ms. Monnin appealed retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz's Dec. 10 opinion on the grounds that he exceeded the scope of his powers and that she lacked notice of the arbitration hearing. She also contended there was no evidence at the arbitration hearing to suggest her comments caused BP to cancel its sponsorship for the 2013 pageant.

Judge Oetken wrote that Ms. Monnin "undeniably is suffering from her poor choice of counsel" who was absent from the arbitration proceedings and "presented no evidence on her behalf over the course of several months."

Further, he wrote that she was "woefully unaware of the consequences of her disengagement and the severity of the allegations."

Ms. Monnin was crowned Miss Pennsylvania USA in December 2011 and competed in the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas in June 2012. After she was eliminated June 3 in that pageant, Ms. Monnin sent a message to Randy Sanders, director of the Miss Pennsylvania USA Pageant, saying the competition was rigged.

The next day, she sent a note to Mr. Sanders resigning her title, citing her disagreement with the Miss Universe Organization allowing transgender people to participate in the program.

Then on June 5, 2012, she posted on her Facebook page that she resigned because she said she learned during the pageant from another contestant, Miss Florida, that the top five finalists were written on a list before the show even started.

Event organizers denied the allegations, and Mr. Trump threatened to sue her, but the dispute went into mediation, per the contestants' contract.

The Miss Universe Organization claimed Ms. Monnin made libelous and defamatory statements against it, constituting a breach of contract and claimed damage to its reputation.

Ms. Monnin did not attend the mediation, so the process moved to binding arbitration. Neither Ms. Monnin nor her attorney, Richard Klineburger, participated, and he claimed that his client never entered into any agreement and therefore was not subject to arbitration.

The $5 million in damages was derived from the sponsorship loss, Judge Katz found.

state

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede.


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