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Woman disappears after "The People's Court" argument airs

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Hundreds of volunteers searched on Monday for a 33-year-old mother who disappeared the same day as the airing of an episode of The People's Court showing her arguing over a $5,000 engagement ring with her ex-fiance.

Michelle Parker was last seen Thursday afternoon at about the same time the courtroom reality show aired on the local FOX-TV affiliate. Her car was found Friday, according to Orlando police Sgt. Jim Young.

Young said police are treating her disappearance as a missing person's case rather than a crime. Young said investigators have spoken to Parker's ex-fiance Dale Smith, and reviewed the episode of The People's Court during which Parker called her relationship with Smith "poison."

"That (the episode) is just one thing they're looking into. We're not ruling anything out," Young said.

In the People's Court episode, which FOX said was taped several months ago, Smith sued Parker for $5,000, the value of her engagement ring. Both agreed the ring was lost when Parker threw the ring at Smith on the 9th floor of an Atlanta hotel. The ring sailed off the atrium balcony and fell into about 500 conventioneers gathered below in the hotel lobby. Both Parker and Smith agreed they had been drinking and fighting to the point that police and hotel security intervened.

"My 14-year-old daughter has a more mature relationship with her boyfriend than you guys do," television judge Marilyn Milian told them.

Milian ruled that they were both at fault, and ordered Parker to reimburse Smith for $2,500, half the value of the ring. Parker told the TV host that she accepts half the blame, but Smith said he remained "a little upset."

Young said neither Smith nor any other person is considered a suspect in Parker's disappearance. He said Smith is taking care of the couple's 3-year-old twins. Parker also has another 11-year-old child from a different relationship, Young said.

Carol Wick, who heads an Orlando domestic abuse center, said victims of domestic abuse are at greatest danger when they stand up to their partners in court. Wick said their partners often become enraged when they feel they are losing control of the relationship.

"We would never recommend that a victim of domestic violence go on television and try their case in public. It's just not safe. If you've got someone who is very angry at you, you've got to be careful about bringing that out on national television," Wick said.

Parker's mother believes her daughter is being held against her will. Yvonne Stewart made a public plea Monday for her daughter's safe return.

"I know for a fact right now she is not dead. I know that she is alive. She is somewhere scared and I want her home. Somebody has her," Yvonne Stewart said.

(Editing by Greg McCune)