Jury seated in Garth Brooks hospital lawsuit
BY RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
1/18/12 at 7:39 AM
CLAREMORE - A jury was seated Tuesday in a breach-of-promise case pitting country music icon Garth Brooks against the largest health-care system in Oklahoma.
Brooks, 49, sued Integris Rural Health Inc. in 2009, alleging that it reneged on a promise to name a hospital building in Yukon after his mother in exchange for Brooks' $500,000 donation to the nonprofit organization.
Colleen Brooks died of cancer in 1999.
Testimony is expected to begin Wednesday in a trial that could last into next week, according to District Judge Dynda Post, who is presiding over the trial.
"It's more than a business deal for him," said John Hickey, an attorney representing Brooks.
"It's about his mom. It's about his hometown, and it's about promises that were made by the hospital," Hickey said. "In his opinion, they just didn't do the right thing."
A jury of nine women and three men - including a software consultant, a disabled Marine Corps veteran, a registered nurse and an accountant - was selected.
A man was chosen as an alternate for the panel, which is scheduled to hear testimony from 14 witnesses, including Brooks.
He donated the money to Integris Canadian Valley Regional Hospital in December 2005, according to his lawsuit.
When the hospital notified Brooks that it wasn't attaching naming rights to the gift, he asked for his money back in 2008 and was turned down, the lawsuit alleges.
In a written answer to Brooks' petition, attorneys for Integris said Brooks made an "anonymous and unconditional" donation to Integris prior to his placement of any conditions.
"It's important to know that we recognize this was a very generous donation," said Hardy Watkins, vice president of marketing and communications for Integris.
"We think that when all the facts are presented, people will see that Integris has followed the law," he said. "We've always hoped through the course of discussions and trying to come to some sort of memorial to honor his mother that we would find the right opportunity.
"Unfortunately, that has not yet occurred."
The Tulsa-born Brooks, the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history with at least 128 million albums sold, sat at his counsel table in Wranglers and a denim shirt, clutching a black cowboy hat that he took off when he entered the courtroom.
His wife, fellow country music superstar Trisha Yearwood, was in an audience composed mostly of prospective jurors and a few members of the media.
The lightest part of the proceedings came when one of Brooks' attorneys, Peter Brolick, asked a prospective juror if she had been a fan of Brooks' as far back as 1988.
"Eaaa-sy," Brooks said, evoking laughter from the gallery.
Brolick hinted that the case will hinge on an oral contract.
"Not all contracts are written," he said.
Integris attorney Terry Thomas told the jurors during questioning that the case will require patience.
"There's some paper going back and forth for a long time," he said.
Beyond a breach-of-contract award, Brooks also is seeking punitive damages.
The case is based in Rogers County because a "substantial portion" of the cause arose there, the lawsuit petition states.
Original Print Headline: Brooks case has a jury
Rhett Morgan 918-581-8395
Country music superstar Garth Brooks and his wife, country singer Trisha Yearwood, sign autographs for fans Tuesday outside the Rogers County Courthouse where Brooks' lawsuit against Integris Rural Health Inc. is being heard. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Country music star Garth Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, walk out of the third-floor courtroom of the Rogers County Courthouse on Tuesday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Country music star Garth Brooks signs autographs for fans Tuesday outside the Rogers County Courthouse after a day of legal wrangling regarding his lawsuit over hospital facility naming rights. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Country singers Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks arrive Tuesday at the Rogers County Courthouse for the start of the trial in Brooks' breach-of-contract lawsuit. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World