A defendant had Fayette Circuit Court abuzz Monday.
It's not every day that a television star comes to court. Actress Suzanne Somers was there to defend herself in a trial involving a failed do-it-yourself meal preparation business that bore her name.
John Shannon Bouchillon, a Louisville attorney who has invested in several restaurant ventures, sued Somers and former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. in 2008, seeking to recover $400,000 he says he invested in Suzanne's Kitchen.
The business's flagship store opened in Lexington's Tates Creek Centre in December 2006. By April 2007, it was closed.
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Bouchillon had Brown dismissed from the lawsuit on Thursday, said Attorney Tom Miller, who represents Somers and the Somers Licensing Co. for food.
But Brown is expected to testify during the trial, as is Somers.
"How many folks recognize Suzanne Somers?" Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael asked during jury selection Monday morning. Nearly everyone in the room raised a hand.
"Could you treat her straight up, just like it was Mary Brown from Lexington, Kentucky?" the judge asked. The potential jurors indicated they could.
Somers, dressed in black, smiled as she sat facing the prospective jurors.
Most members of the jury pool also raised hands when the judge asked whether they recognized the former governor's name.
Later, when attorney Craig Robertson, who represents Bouchillon, asked how many prospective jurors were fans of Somers, a couple of hands went up.
"How long have you been a fan?" he asked one of the women.
"Since Three's Company — a long time," she said, referring to the television show in which Somers starred from 1977 to 1981.
"Does anybody consider themselves a fan of Gov. Brown?" Robertson asked. No hands went up.
"I'm glad he's not here," Robertson said.
Even if members of jury pool were not starstruck, apparently some courthouse personnel and several lawyers were. One courthouse worker was heard discussing how she might go about getting a photo of herself with Somers. Several lawyers not involved in the trial peeked into the courtroom, apparently to get a glimpse of Somers.
Robertson said in his opening argument that Bouchillon was not told the truth before and after he invested in Suzanne's Kitchen. Robertson said the licensing company and Brown did not have an agreement to use Somers' name or image and did not have an operating agreement before the store was opened.
Robertson said that after Bouchillon invested in Suzanne's Kitchen and before the Lexington store was opened, Brown and Somers' husband, Alan Hamel, had a "serious falling out" and grew to seriously dislike each other. Robertson showed the jury copies of e-mails that Hamel had sent to Brown, which make references to chicken served by restaurant chains in which Brown has been involved. Robertson said that, on July 31, 2006, Brown, Somers and Hamel had a meeting that ended in a shouting match between Brown and Hamel.
"The largest investor in the project was not told it was doomed, that it was dead in the water," Robertson said. Brown, Somers and Hamel continued to forge ahead, Robertson said, "playing with other people's money, primarily Mr. Bouchillon's."
Miller told the jury that Somers and her company are collateral damage in a fight between Brown and Bouchillon. Miller said Somers and the licensing company didn't know who Bouchillon was and had no contact or connection with Bouchillon.
All Somers agreed to do was act as a celebrity spokesperson for a concept that Brown came up with, Miller said. Bouchillon's business dealings were with Brown, he said.
He said Somers is "is devoted to the health of the people of the United States." He also said her reputation and credibility are most important to her.
He said Somers promotes many products and was thrilled about Suzanne's Kitchen, but Brown owned 60 percent of the venture, so he got to make decisions about the business.
Brown, who was instrumental in making Kentucky Fried Chicken a household name and who was involved in other successful restaurant ventures, hired competent people to put the idea for Suzanne's Kitchen together; Somers was actively involved in tasting menu items, Miller said. The concept was great, but the public didn't want it, he said.
The trial continues Tuesday.