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Posted at 07:27 PM ET, 05/23/2011

Karen Feld’s troubled life highlighted in circus family feud trial; lawyer says seizures an issue in clash with brother


Kenneth Feld — on the right in suit and tie — with his father Irvin (in glasses), then the CEO of Ringling Bros. circus, in 1982 (Craig Herndon/The Washington Post )


Karen Feld in Washington this year. (Bob Burgess/AP)

UPDATE, Tuesday afternoon: Verdict reached, no winners

For years, Karen Feld cut a glamorous if eccentric path through Washington — a gossip writer from a showbiz family, known for toting tiny poodles long before Paris Hilton took up the habit. But the portrait painted Monday by rival lawyers in a federal suit over a fracas at a family gathering was much more dark.

Feld’s attorney described her as a woman crippled by brain injuries and broken by years of family abuse — offering her stormy outburst in court last week as an example. But a lawyer for her brother, Kenneth Feld — whom she is suing for $110 million for having her thrown her out of their aunt’s memorial service — portrayed her as a tantrum-prone troublemaker.

“She’s an out-of-control runaway train,” declared defense lawyer Matthew Kirtland, “and she needs to be stopped.”

It’s the latest chapter in the sad Feld family saga. The children of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus mogul Irvin Feld lost their mother to suicide and were mostly raised by their aunt, Shirley.

(Karen claims he was an abusive dad and testified last week that she caught him having sex with her then-fiance.) When Irvin died in 1984, Karen was largely disinherited. She sued her brother, now the circus chief executive, over the estate; they’ve been estranged ever since.

At issue in U.S. District Court in Washington is what happened at their aunt’s 2007 shiva, from which Kenneth had Karen removed by security guards.

In closing arguments Monday after two tumultuous weeks of testimony, Karen’s attorney, Steven Oster, said that his client was only seeking a quiet space in her late aunt’s condo — and that she was afraid one of her “non-epileptic seizures” was coming on when she “was grabbed suddenly and without warning.”

But the defense attorney said that security was trying to keep guests out of private rooms where valuables had not been secured — and that Karen “explode[d] in rage” when she was denied entrance, screaming “anti-Semitic profanities.” Kirtland argued that though Karen went to the hospital for injuries after the incident, doctors prescribed nothing more than “over-the-counter Motrin and Tylenol.” Kenneth Feld has countersued his sister for trespassing.

Oster said Karen’s verbal outburst that day was a symptom of her brain disorder: “Karen has a disability. . . behavior which is beyond her control” — which, he said, manifested itself last week when she shouted at Kirtland and fled the courtroom. Karen Feld was not present for closing arguments — her third day of absence from the court.

“I had seizures in the courtroom two days in a row,” she told us late Monday, “and that is why I left.”

UPDATE: Feld jury declares no winner in family fracas case, 5/24/11

Read earlier: Circus siblings Karen Feld and Kenneth Feld’s explosive family feud blows up again in federal court, 5/21/11

Kenneth and Karen Feld’s sibling rivalry is headed to court, again, 3/27/09

By  |  07:27 PM ET, 05/23/2011

 
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