CINCINNATI (AP) — A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader who had sex with her underage student is about to begin another court battle on Tuesday in a bizarre case stemming from sexually tinged, disparaging comments made about her on a website long before the scandal was revealed.
Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old northern Kentucky woman, was convicted three months ago of having sex with a student who at the time was 17. She and the young man, who is now 18, are in a relationship — and she is suing a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based gossip website and its owner over lewd comments made about her online long before any accusations involving the teenager surfaced.
The trial over the lawsuit begins Tuesday with jury selection in Covington, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. It's expected to last less than a week.
Jones is seeking $11 million in damages, accusing thedirty.com and its owner, Hooman Karamian, of defamation and invasion of privacy.
Karamian, who goes by the name Nik Richie and lives in Orange County, Calif., has been posting racy photos and biting comments for years on the website, mostly picking apart a woman's looks. Among some of his lines: "there is a line on her chin that bothers me," ''her hips exceed her shoulders," and "her arms are blotchy."
Particularly unappealing women get nicknames like "Leper" and "Chewbacca."
The photos that Richie posts are sometimes submitted by the women themselves seeking Richie's opinion, but more often they are posted by people who want to gossip about someone online.
In Jones' case, Richie posted a photo of her on Dec. 7, 2009. The post, submitted by someone who knows her, called her a "dirty Bengals cheerleader." It claimed that her ex-boyfriend contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea after cheating on her with more than 50 women, and that he likely gave it to Jones.
Richie, a 33-year-old married father of a 1-year-old girl, said the only thing he wrote about Jones was, "Why are all high school teachers freaks in the sack?"
If Jones' lawsuit succeeds and is awarded a large sum of money, other websites including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon could be bombarded with lawsuits over material posted by their users.
"It opens the floodgates," said Richie's Phoenix-area lawyer, David Gingras, who has successfully argued dozens of similar cases across the country. "It would basically destroy the ability of websites like Facebook that allow users to post comments. ... Once you strip away their immunity, once you make it conditional, you open the door to allow them to get sued."
Gingras said those websites and Richie's are clearly protected under the federal Communications Decency Act.
Passed in 1995 by Congress, the law was designed in part to provide immunity to website publishers from liability for content that comes from third parties.
Jones' attorney, Eric Deters, said Richie could be responsible for the entire post involving his client because he hasn't said who submitted it and will argue that the Communications Decency Act doesn't protect thedirty.com.
"Unlike social media sites such as Facebook or YouTube that allow someone to put up something and they don't comment about it, Nik Richie personally acts as the editor in determining what goes up," he said. "It's nothing more than an electronic newspaper that peddles smut."
Richie, who has been sued 17 times over his posts, defends the site as a form of entertainment, created to be a sort-of TMZ for non-celebrities who crave attention or present themselves as perfect.
"The site was created to make people laugh and give them an escape from their job and see people they know, not Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan and the same regurgitated celebrity stuff, but the pseudo-celebrities in their town, who go out to the clubs, the popular kids," he said. "It's not intended to harm people." Continued...