Helmlsey lawyers say gay jurors make fair trial impossible

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 14 2003 11:00 PM ET

A Manhattan judge has refused to move a case against the Empire State Building's operators to an upstate New York court, rejecting their argument that a fair trial in Manhattan is impossible because part owner Leona Helmsley is so widely disliked by gays. Helmsley's unpopularity was described at length in a change-of-venue request by lawyers for the 102-story landmark's operators. The operators are being sued because of a fatal shooting rampage on the skyscraper's 86th-floor observation deck in 1997. State supreme court justice Harold Lehner said the motion "to transfer the venue of this action based on alleged animosity toward Leona Helmsley is denied" because "no valid and substantiated basis exists for the requested relief."

Harold Lee Schwab, lawyer for the Empire State Building defendants, had argued in court papers that the trial should be moved upstate because jurors in Manhattan, "especially gay jurors, harbor extreme hostility toward Leona Helmsley." Schwab said this antipathy toward Helmsley, often referred to as the "queen of mean," was heightened by media coverage of a recent trial in which former hotel manager Charles Bell said Helmsley fired him because he is gay. Schwab's papers said a survey by Trial Solutions Inc., a trial strategy consulting firm, showed that 10% of New Yorkers are gay, compared with 2.6% of men and 1.1% of women in the rest of the country, and that 86% of New Yorkers have a gay friend. In his court papers, Cyrus Diamond, lawyer for the victims, said the defendants' motion was "a prime example of gay bashing and must not be condoned by this court."

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