Ex-Aide Puts 'Ms. Martha in Her Place'

02/06/2004 AT 01:48 PM EST

A weary-looking Martha Stewart and a jury that is trying her heard further testimony Thursday in Manhattan federal court from a former Merrill Lynch assistant who painted a portrait of the domestic diva as shrill, rude and constantly complaining.

Stewart, 62, who is not on trial for complaining, is charged with obstructing justice by lying to federal authorities investigating possible insider trading of her shares of the ImClone biotech stock. She is also charged with misleading investors in her own company, Martha Stewart Omnimedia Inc.

Her broker, Peter Bacanovic, 41, is similarly charged with obstruction of justice. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Describing his telephone relationship with Stewart, Bacanovic's former assistant, Douglas Faneuil, 28, compared the sound of her voice to "a lion roaring underwater" and said, "I have never ever been treated more rudely by a stranger on the telephone," reports Reuters and other news sources.

While David Apfel, Bacanovic's lawyer, attempted to present a case that it was Faneuil's dislike of Stewart that led the ex assistant to make up stories about her for federal prosecutors (Faneuil swung a deal and pleaded guilty to the feds, in exchange for a lighter sentence), Fanueil's witness-stand replies often had Thursday's courtroom laughing out loud, reports The New York Times.

Asked by Apfel if he had told prosecutors that Stewart "told you she was going to leave Mr. Bacanovic and leave Merrill Lynch unless the hold music (on the telephone) was changed," Faneuil replied that it was true about the threat, but that "this is one conversation with Ms. Stewart I chose not to tell Peter about."

The defense team also showed the jury some e-mail messages that Faneuil sent to his friends and which had newscasters on New York's morning shows cackling among themselves early Friday.

Said one Faneuil e-mail: "I have never ever been treated more rudely by a stranger on the telephone. She actually hung up on me." Said another: "Martha yelled at me today but I snapped at her face and she actually backed down. Baby put Ms. Martha in her place."

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