Court’s ruling in pageant case is a crowning decision

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The board of directors of the Miss Colorado pageant today refused to give the crown back to the first Hispanic to win it, ignoring an arbitrator’s ruling in the woman’s favor.
Retired Denver Judge Harold Reed on Tuesday ordered Regina Flores reinstated and awarded her $153,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees. He said the pageant “intentionally inflicted emotional harm and distress” on Flores, who was stripped of the crown last year during a bitter dispute.
But today, director Vonnie Pederson said the pageant may disband if the award is upheld.
Flores, 22, was fired Dec. 30 after pageant officials said she violated her contract when she got a part-time job at a department store without approval, got her mother to book her appearances and missed one appearance.
“We still consider Gina Waegele Miss Colorado,” Pederson said, referring to the runner-up who replaced Flores. He also said the pageant doesn’t have the money to pay the award, and will appeal the decision.
Waegele, who accompanied Pederson, praised pageant organizers, and said Flores “is not the queen of everyone, and she doesn’t run the program.”
But Walter Gerash, the attorney for Flores, said the ruling was the result of binding arbitration and the pageant is therefore in contempt of court.
Flores, a bilingual college student, said she was fired without cause. She sued to get her title back and the rights to the $11,000 in scholarship money she won.
“I hope this case will set a precedent not just in Colorado, but in other states as well about the way contestants are treated,” she said at a news conference to announce the judge’s ruling.
Flores said Colorado pageant officials sent investigators to New Mexico to find out if she was married in an effort to cancel her contract. She said Miss America pageant officials told their counterparts to record her phone conversations and said if she didn’t shape up to “get rid of her.”
Reed sided firmly with Flores after a three-day hearing, dismissing one of the pageant’s causes for termination — that she failed to agree to fly to Russia for an appearance — as “absolutely ludicrous.” Reed said no such trip was planned.
The ruling ordered the pageant to allow Flores to finish serving her tenure, which ends next month. She is finishing up her senior year at the University of Colorado, where she is studying music education.