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ATTORNEY SAYS COUGHLIN SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER

The Tailhook whistle-blower's encounter at the Las Vegas Hilton wasn't her first experience with drunken aviators, the hotel's lawyer said, implying that she should have known not to venture down a hallway filled with raucous pilots.

A jury of four men and four women was seated Monday in former Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin's lawsuit against the hotel where the Tail-hook Association held its annual gathering.Nine months after the 1991 convention, Coughlin went public with her account of being forced down a gantlet of drunken pilots who grabbed her buttocks and slipped their hands inside her bra as she passed. More than 80 other women followed with other complaints of sexual assaults.

Coughlin's lawyer, Dennis Schoville, said in his opening arguments that Hilton security guards saw the assaults but did nothing.

But Hilton lawyer Eugene Wait said Coughlin had been drinking with male aviators since she became an officer in 1984 and should have had the foresight to avoid the gantlet.

"Miss Coughlin knew more about drinking aviators than the Hilton," Wait said. "It was not the first Tailhook party Paula Coughlin had been to."

Wait didn't admit or deny that Coughlin had been assaulted, saying only that the hotel provided adequate security for the convention.

Coughlin is seeking unspecified damages from the hotel and the Hilton Hotel Corp. She says hotel staff ignored the pilots' lewd behavior because the convention was so profitable.

Schoville said similar assaults occurred at hotel during the 1988 convention. Wait argued that the Hilton had never had a problem in the 19 years the convention was held there.

Coughlin, 32, was an admiral's aide when she attended the convention. Her revelations ignited a scandal that led to the resignation of Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III and the early retirement of Chief of Naval Operations Frank B. Kelso II.

Coughlin resigned from the Navy in February, saying "covert attacks" and the strain from the case made it impossible for her to continue her career.

A dozen women have sued the Tailhook Association and the hotel. Coughlin reached a settlement with Tailhook last week; the terms weren't disclosed.

U.S. District Judge Philip Pro said the trial may last five weeks.