Television superstar Oprah Winfrey and Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane, former headmistress of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, reached an agreement Tuesday, avoiding a trial in a defamation suit. Mzamane v. Winfrey, et al. had been set for trial March 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Mzamane sued Winfrey, Harpo Productions Inc. and Harpo Inc., alleging statements Winfrey made after reports about alleged sexual abuse at the school surfaced in October 2007 defamed Mzamane.
Mzamane alleged in her amended complaint, filed Feb. 2, 2009, that Winfrey "falsely and maliciously implied and asserted" during two news conferences in October and November 2007 that Mzamane knew of alleged physical and sexual abuse at the school.
In their answer and affirmative defenses, filed Feb. 16, 2009, the defendants deny the allegations and assert that the statements Mzamane takes issue with "are not capable of defamatory meaning."
On Tuesday, lawyers for the two women e-mailed a statement, which reads in part: "The two parties met woman to woman without their lawyers and are happy that they could resolve this dispute peacefully to their mutual satisfaction. Ms. Winfrey testified in her deposition that she did not intend the implications placed on her words by the plaintiff. Ms. Mzamane testified in her deposition that she has no evidence that Ms. Winfrey knowingly made a false statement about her or entertained serious doubt about the truth of what she said."
Timothy McGowan, one of Mzamane's attorneys and a partner in Kelley Jasons McGowan Spinelli & Hanna in Philadelphia, says, "The statement speaks for itself. The case is over." He declines further comment.
Charles "Chip" Babcock, one of Winfrey's attorneys and a partner in Jackson Walker in Dallas and Houston, did not immediately return a telephone call and e-mail seeking comment.
This article first appeared on Tex Parte Blog.