COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A jury’s decision in a former Cincinnati Bengals’ cheerleader’s defamation lawsuit against a gossip website could impact websites around the country, attorneys for both sides said Wednesday.
Sarah Jones is seeking damages from thedirty.com and its operator over posts made in 2009 on the Scottsdale, Ariz. – based website. One post claimed she had sex with every Bengals player, and the other said she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases. She says both are false and has accused website operator Nik Richie of malice.
Jones’ attorney, Eric Deters, told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday they have a chance to send a message to websites across the country that they should be careful and “it’s not right to defame people.”
He said Richie is guilty of malice by posting submissions Richie says were anonymous. Even though Richie eventually took the posts down months later, they will never be off the Internet, Deters said.
“He can bash her forever,” Deters said.
Richie’s attorney told jurors their decision could have a negative impact on free speech for other people and websites.
“It’s trying to hold Nik responsible for someone else’s work,” attorney David Gingras said.
The posts were unrelated to the former high school teacher’s guilty plea last year to having sex with an underage ex-student. Gingras told jurors that lies Jones acknowledged she told involving her relationship with the teen were relevant to her credibility.
Deters said Richie is the one on trial and jurors shouldn’t consider Jones’ actions related to the criminal case
Jones was allowed to avoid jail time with her plea, but was forbidden from teaching again. Jones, 28, still has a relationship with the now 18-year-old former student, and they have said they plan to marry.
Jurors have to determine whether the posts were false and whether Richie knew the comments were false or had doubts about their truthfulness when they were posted.
Gingras said his client could not know whether the posts were true or false when he posted them.
Jurors may also award damages to Jones if they find in her favor.
Gingras said Jones did not suffer financial loss or medical problems from the posts and asked that the jury award a nominal amount of $1 if they find for her.
Deters said they are not seeking a specific amount but said Jones suffered mental anguish.
“Deliver justice to him,” Deters said, pointing to Richie. “Deliver mercy to her.”
A January trial in the lawsuit resulted in a hung jury.