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Former Miss N.C. Asks Appeals Court To Restore Lawsuit Against Pageant

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DURHAM, N.C. — More than three years after a topless snapshot cost Miss North Carolina her crown, Rebekah Revels' fight with pageant officials resumed Tuesday with her lawyer asking the state Court of Appeals to restore her lawsuit against the state organization.

The lawsuit was dismissed in May 2004 after Revels refused an arbitrator's repeated orders to turn over the photographs that led to her removal as the state's reigning beauty queen.

Revels' lawyer, Barry Nakell, argued that his client was right to keep the photographs private in an effort to protect against their public release.

"The arbitrator never asked the defendants, 'What's relevant about these photographs, why do you need them?'" he said.

Lawyers for the pageant organization and its eight officials who are being sued said letting their clients see the pictures could help determine whether Revels knew her picture was being made and thereby violated a "morality clause" in her pageant contract.

Only seeing the pictures would resolve clashing accounts given by Revels and her ex-boyfriend, who took the pictures and threatened to make them public, they said.

"They were a key issue in the case, whether she posed voluntarily nude," said Debbie Dewar, who represents the eight individuals. "There was a credibility contest only to be settled by the photographs."

Revels was not at the hearing, held at North Carolina Central University's College of Law. Nakell said later that the Robeson County native now lives in Atlanta, where she is pursuing a music career.

The appeals court must rule on two questions: whether the case was properly dismissed, and whether it should have gone to arbitration to begin with. There was no indication of when the judges would rule.

Nakell argued that a clause in the state pageant contract that mandates arbitration of disputes is grossly unfair and denied Revels the right to pursue her case in a more appropriate venue. But pageant lawyer Kenneth Carlson Jr. said the fact that Revels' case remains in the state court system proves that she can pursue other remedies.

Revels won the Miss North Carolina pageant in June 2002. As she prepared to compete in the Miss America pageant, former boyfriend Tosh Welch contacted national pageant officials to say he had topless photos of her.

He later claimed Revels knew he was taking the pictures, but she insisted one was taken when he surprised her as she changed clothes, and the other was shot without her knowledge at Welch's family home.

Revels resigned her title a month later under pressure from pageant officials, then sued to be reinstated. In October 2002, she won a court order that blocked Welch from releasing the pictures and forced him to give them to Nakell. She later sued him for invasion of privacy, interfering with a contract and inflicting emotional distress. A Superior Court jury in Lumberton ordered him to pay her $11,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

In 2003, Superior Court Judge Narley Cashwell ordered that Revels' lawsuit against the pageant organization be arbitrated. There, Revels and Nakell repeatedly refused arbitrator G. Conley Ingram's order to show the photographs to pageant lawyers.

Ingram dismissed the case, and Cashwell upheld his decision on May 14, 2004, ordering Revels to pay a $6,000 arbitration fee and $507.50 to cover Ingram's expenses.

Since reinstating Revels is now impossible, her lawsuit now seeks unspecified monetary damages.