ORCHARD PARK, New York The people vs. Tim McGraw and company took another unexpected turn Monday when the country star and his co-defendants were served with a civil lawsuit on their way into the courthouse.
As McGraw, Kenny Chesney and former road manager Mark Russo walked into the Orchard Park Town Courthouse near Buffalo on Monday morning (May 21), the defendants received papers for a civil suit filed by Sgt. Mark Rokitka of the Erie County Sheriff's Department.
Rokikta testified last week that McGraw thwarted both of his attempts to pull the singer off his partner while the three fought backstage during the George Strait Music Festival at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium last June. Rokitka's subpoena for the civil suit was dated May 15, one day before Rokitka testified in the criminal trial.
Thomas Eoannou, McGraw's attorney, said the delivery of the papers was in poor taste and did not sit well with McGraw. "The fact that they would do it right in the middle of the courthouse makes it obvious they're looking for money after they say they weren't."
The trial resumed Monday for the first time since Rokitka ended his testimony Wednesday. The next morning, Justice Edmund S. Brown, 66, suffered a heart attack in the courthouse. In the confusion surrounding his departure, attorneys on both sides said that if Brown could not continue, the case would end in a mistrial (see "Tim McGraw Trial Delayed By Judge's Heart Attack").
Brown, after spending time in intensive care, decided he could not continue, but legal precedent provides for such a situation. Orchard Park's other town justice, John M. Curran, reviewed more than 700 pages of court documents over the weekend and took command of the trial.
McGraw is charged with misdemeanor assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration, menacing and harassment.
Chesney, who maintains he had permission to not only mount but also to ride a police horse that night, is charged with disorderly conduct. Russo is charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
With the trial moving at a much brisker pace, the prosecution called eight witnesses to the stand Monday and rested its case. The defense said witnesses who were flown into town last week, only to be sent back home, have been flown back again. One witness is especially anxious to take the stand, Eoannou said.
"Mr. McGraw is very eager to tell his side of the story," said Eoannou, who added that he was not positive whether his client would testify.
McGraw watched intently as the eight witnesses two security guards, three sheriff's deputies and three reserve mounted division deputies told the jury what happened on June 3. All day McGraw took notes on a legal pad.
"Tim McGraw doesn't miss a thing," Eoannou said. "He catches every inconsistency in the people's proof, [and] he immediately notifies me. He's a very intelligent guy."
Once again, the defense team tried to poke holes in the witnesses' testimony by asking why statements given in testimony were not part of the statements or notes they wrote on the evening of the incident. With the last witness on the stand, Assistant District Attorney Michael McHale asked if such notes were meant to be all-encompassing.
"No," Deputy James Pikowski replied. "I'm not a novelist."
The defense took issue when Pikowski testified he saw Russo and Rokitka entangled as well as when Capt. James Coyle said he felt someone grab his gun during the chaos, because neither detail had been included earlier in any written statement.
Adding to the courtroom drama, Deputy Wayne Wolf, a member of the mounted reserve division and a radio personality at a local country station, failed to identify McGraw in the courtroom. Wolf then testified that Russo, not McGraw, was the main actor in the melee, a statement that Russo's attorney said was "from Mars."
Again defense lawyers sought to find out exactly who arrested McGraw and under what circumstances. Chief Thomas Steabell, the ranking officer that night, said he negotiated directly with McGraw to get him off his tour bus and into police custody.
The defense, challenging the charges that McGraw resisted arrest, asked why McGraw was not handcuffed and placed in a police car. Steabell responded that he was making concessions by not cuffing the stars and by allowing them to follow in their own vehicle.
"I was trying not to incite the crowd of people in the parking lot," he said.
Testimony will resume Tuesday morning.