The case of Trump vs. the beauty contestant

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Former Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin (left) was successfully sued by Donald Trump after the 2012 Miss USA pageant.

CALL IT a case of the beauty vs. the billionaire.

In one corner was a raven-haired Miss Pennsylvania who dreamed of one day nabbing a national beauty title.

In another corner, there was Donald J. Trump, a real estate tycoon who at the time owned the Miss USA Pageant.

These unlikely adversaries found themselves facing off after Sheena Monnin competed unsuccessfully in the 2012 Miss USA competition. You might recall that she walked away from that contest convinced that something shady had gone down, as the expression goes.

Monnin immediately resigned her state title and went on Facebook, where she posted a lengthy statement in which she claimed that another contestant had seen a list of the top-five finalists in advance of the actual televised competition, which convinced her that the winners had been preselected. In other words, she claimed the pageant had been rigged. Monnin went on to repeat her allegations on NBC's Today Show.

Her accusations enraged Trump, who emerged swinging like a prizefighter. It got ugly. Really ugly. At one point, Trump said, "If you look at her compared to the people who are in the top 15, you'll understand why she's not in the top 15."

Trump vowed to get even and did. Not only did he slap Monnin with a defamation suit, but he wound up getting a $5 million judgment against her.

A $5 million judgment!

Monnin, who last week published a book about how she survived her faceoff against Trump, called it all a "huge overreaction."

Nonetheless, it was a devastating blow.

Think about it. Monnin, who had competed in state pageants in Florida and Texas as well as Pennsylvania, had been a young woman really just getting started in life when one of the nation's wealthiest and more powerful men threw a punch at her that left her on the mats and down for the proverbial count. For a while, she just lay there at her family's home in Pittsburgh. It felt as if her life was over.

"There was a time when I didn't want to leave the house," Monnin recalled during a phone interview. "I didn't want to be social. I didn't want to be my normal self because of the pressure and the stress of facing what became a $5 million lawsuit . . . I had to at some point, force myself to do it and force myself to not give in to feeling tired all the time. To me, that's how the whole stress manifested itself in my mind."

Trump wound up winning the arbitration case by default. Monnin had been under the mistaken impression that she didn't need to show up in court.

"It was a default judgment because I wasn't there," Monnin explained. "The judgment was default because I wasn't represented at all [either]. No one was there on my side."

It was kind of a one-two punch. First the lawsuit. Then the judgment.

But Monnin, who has a master's degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix, dug deep and used some of the counseling skills that she used on her patients on herself to get moving again. She fired her old attorney and got new counsel. Monnin wouldn't disclose what happened next but according to various news reports, she successfully sued her former lawyer for legal malpractice and won an unspecified sum.

She told me her situation with Trump "has been resolved."

When pressed, all she would say is, "I can say that no money was paid out of my pocket." So, I guess in a way that's a victory of sorts. Monnin, who now lives in Detroit, shares her experience of facing off against Trump, now the presumptive GOP nominee, in a new self-help book, called, "Hands on the Wheel: Getting Control of Your Life." A Kindle version went on sale on Amazon last week.

Monnin, whose employee assessment and training company is called Custom Life Design, writes: "The truth is, I was bullied. The truth is, it did hurt . . . I know what it feels like to lose friends because they are afraid of the bully. I know what it feels like to lose everything and have the whole world watching while I did."

"Maybe our bullies look different or maybe your controlling factors aren't people," she adds in the book. "The principle is the same. Life can become really, really difficult."

Especially when it means having to stand up to a bully like Trump.

armstrj@phillynews.com

215-854-2223 @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen