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Defamation suit against Oprah Winfrey headed for trial

March 16, 2010 | 12:42 pm

Oprah winfrey

Did Oprah Winfrey defame the headmistress of her Leadership Academy for Girls back in 2007? A judge has decided that a jury needs to get in on the action before that question is answered. 

At issue are comments Winfrey made in a meeting with parents and at a press conference after allegations of abuse by a dorm matron at the South African school for girls began to surface toward the end of 2007. Rather than dismiss the case, as Winfrey's lawyers requested in 2008, Judge Eduardo C. Robreno has decided there's enough evidence for former headmistress Nomvuyo Mzamane to proceed with her defamation suit. For specifics on what the judge wrote, click here.

The school opened in January 2007 in Johannesburg for 150-plus live-in students selected by Winfrey, who donated $40 million toward the effort. It was christened with a celebration attended by Nelson Mandela, Sidney Poitier, Spike Lee, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and other celebs. Currently about 300 girls attend the free school in grades 7 to 10,, and plans are to add grades 11 and 12 by next year.

Winfrey visited Johannesburg in late 2007 with private detectives after the allegations surfaced; according to Time magazine, all dorm matrons were dismissed and the police were notified. Tiny Virginia Makopo was accused of indecently assaulting six girls at the school; her trial is ongoing. Mzamane, who was recruited by Winfrey from a private school in Philadelphia, said at the time the suit was filed that she'd been unable to find comparable work since losing her position at the Leadership Academy.

Mzamane also filed a defamation suit in October 2008 against the Huffington Post, its owner Arianna Huffington and blogger and PR professional Joan Stewart, regarding blog posts that incorrectly stated Mzamane had been charged with a crime. A settlement was reached a few months later, with apologies and retractions published.

The defamation trial against Winfrey is scheduled to start March 29 in Philadelphia.

-- Christie D'Zurilla

Photo: Oprah Winfrey at the Academy Awards on March 7. Credit: Gabriel Bouys / AFP / Getty Images. 

Related dispatches from the Ministry of Gossip:

Stars galore at the 2010 Academy Awards Governors Ball

Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King celebrate Oscar nominee Mo'Nique's success with an L.A. luncheon

Today in news that's not 'New Moon': Say adios to Oprah as we know her

Why didn't Oprah ask Sarah about Tina? Oh wait, she did.

Lots of celebrities get their day in court, or close to it -- click here and scroll down for more

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