Shooting victim Natania Reuben, who is expected to be a star witness in Sean “Puffy” Combs’ upcoming trial on gun charges, was part of another, wildly different courtroom proceeding last year, when she appeared as a plaintiff on the “The People’s Court.”
Reuben taped an episode of the syndicated courtroom series on December 9, 1999, three weeks before she was shot in the face during a fracas at Manhattan’s Club New York that allegedly involved Combs. The episode — in which Reuben sued the landlord of her Brooklyn, New York, beauty salon for allegedly depriving her of business by not providing heat — aired in February 2000.
Reuben, who is expected to testify that Combs brandished a gun at Club New York on December 27, 1999, is also suing the rapper for $130 million for his alleged role in the dispute that led to the shooting. In the suit, she claims her injuries forced her to close the same beauty salon that was at issue on “People’s Court.”
Bodyguard Anthony “Wolf” Jones also faces weapons charges in the incident, while rapper Shyne (born Jamal Barrow) faces attempted-murder charges. Both men are named in Reuben’s suit as well.
Reuben, who had demanded $3,000 in damages, was awarded $115 by Judge Jerry Sheindlin during her “People’s Court” appearance. While she won the case, the judge said she failed to prove she had actually lost business because of the lack of heat in her salon.
During the hearing, Sheindlin took issue with a statement from Reuben that she paid rent on her salon. “Explain to me, madam, why I have before me a judge’s order, signed by a judge, dated December 7, 1999, directing you to pay him $3,000 in back rent,” he said.
He also mocked a homemade videotape of the salon that Reuben presented as evidence, and berated her for not protecting herself by signing a detailed lease.
Defense lawyers could find it difficult to use Reuben’s previous brush with fame against her on the witness stand, unless they can argue that it shows her to be untrustworthy, legal experts said.
Lawyer Peter Frankel, who has represented members of the Wu-Tang Clan, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard, in criminal proceedings, said Reuben’s TV appearance could be used in court only if it suggested that she has been dishonest.
Mark Mahoney, who has represented rapper DMX, concurred. “They can’t use extrinsic evidence like this tape challenging her unless they can prove that she has a history of being untruthful on the stand,” Mahoney said.
Defense lawyer Robert L. Shapiro, who helped win former football star O.J. Simpson acquittal on murder charges, said he doubted that attorneys will be permitted to even mention Reuben’s TV appearance during the trial.
“I don’t think a judge would allow it,” Shapiro said. “The fact that she was on ‘The People’s Court’ would be no different than if she filed a suit in small claims court.”
If Reuben had taped her appearance after the shooting took place, then defense lawyers could have claimed she was capitalizing on notoriety from the incident, Shapiro said. But in the absence of such a claim, the appearance could be seen as irrelevant.
Reuben’s civil lawyer, Debra Reiser, did not return repeated calls for comment on Tuesday (January 9). Lawyers on both sides of Combs’ criminal case declined to comment, citing a gag order issued last week by Judge Charles Solomon.