March 21, 1998 in Nation/World

Orlando Cleared Of Sex Charges By Ex-Singers

John Rogers Associated Press
 

Tony Orlando was cleared Friday of all counts of sexual harassment and discrimination by a federal jury that rejected claims made in a lawsuit filed by two of the entertainer’s former backup singers.

“I guess what this proves is that anybody could end up in court,” a tearful Orlando said later.

“There’s a feeling of liberation after you go through something like this that’s hard to explain. But for the last two years, I think people are looking at me like, ‘There goes that sexual harasser, that slimeball.’ It’s a degrading kind of condition.”

The women, sisters who sang for Orlando at his Yellow Ribbon Theater in Branson, Mo., complained about constant berating and verbal abuse before they quit in 1994.

In closing arguments Friday, Lynn Bratcher said Orlando abused his power over Sonya Buckelew, 37, and her sister Aleta, 34, and urged the jurors to “stand up for the right of someone not in power.”

She asked the jury to award the sisters $50,000 each for pain and suffering they said Orlando caused them. They had originally sought back pay as well, but withdrew that request.

Aleta Buckelew said she wasn’t surprised at the verdict, “because any celebrity in this day and time, they can get away with anything.”

Orlando’s attorney, Brian Niceswanger, said the entertainer may have sometimes treated people harshly in what is a tough business, but that he did nothing wrong. He said the Buckelews hadn’t proved their case.

The two worked for Orlando one season and part of a second before quitting and moving back to California.

The trial, before U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark, began Monday. More than a dozen witnesses, including Orlando, took the stand.

Several testified that Orlando shouted at just about everyone he employed. Witnesses for the entertainer said he never meant to hurt anybody and frequently apologized afterward.

The jury foreman, James Bass, said the sisters didn’t present enough evidence. He also said the jury wasn’t impressed by Orlando’s celebrity.

“I took Tony Orlando as just another witness,” Bass said.


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