[UPDATED with the Defense Table View:] Nik Richie, The Dirty Website Chief Accused of Defaming NFL Cheerleader, Awaits New Trial
See Update No. 1 after the jump explaining why the federal judge declared a mistrial.
The target is a public figure and his site is protected from what third parties post.
Sarah Jones, a onetime Kentucky teacher who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 17-year-old student, is suing Richie (real name: Hooman Karamian) in her home state for two October 2009 posts.
|Sarah Jones, Beng-gal|
Jones' suit claims she suffered emotional distress from the posts that harmed the 27-year-old's job performance with the Bengals and the high school she taught at, even before her tryst with a student.
"As a teacher with those things on the Internet, that I slept with all the Bengals and had two STDs, I didn't want to face my students," Jones testified Wednesday in the Covington, Ky., courtroom, adding that she was forced to tell her students the posts were untrue. She resigned from the Bengals and Dixie Heights High School in late 2011 after four years in both jobs.
But under cross-examination by Richie's attorney, Jones conceded she kept both jobs after the posts were published and that no one who knew her believed they were true.
Attorney Alexis Mattingly also showed jurors glossy calendar photos of Jones wearing bikinis and reminded them that she lied to police, her family and her bosses about her relationship with the teenager. Jones escaped jail time by finally admitting she had sexual relations with her then-student, who is still with her. She said she has only had sex with him and her ex-.
Given the local publicity from the case and her high-profile role with an NFL organization that often sends cheerleaders out to community functions, Richie feels he can assert with confidence Jones is a public figure, who have a harder time than non-celebs proving in court they have been defamed, libeled or slandered.
Richie's Dirty.com pages, like the one Jones was featured on, are zoned for each city and have local followers who post photos and leave comments. On that point, Richie, who often posts short sentences about the material posted by other online community members, noted to the Associated Press he only referenced the second photo by writing, "Why are all high school teachers freaks in the sacks?"
"My position is freedom of speech, and people are entitled to their own opinion," the married, 33-year-old father of one testified in court. "This is America."
Jones' suit maintains the notoriety from her conviction is unrelated to publicity photos of her as a Bengals cheerleader. Whether all of those lambasted on The Dirty are indeed public figures has been debated since Richie launched the website in Scottsdale, Arizona (where it is still based) in March 2007.
Another defense Richie is using in the Jones case, as he has successfully done in other suits past, is claim that social media websites like his are protected under the federal Communications Decency Act from material third parties post, which would apply to the photos and captions of the Bengals' cheerleader.
Richie is used to defending his site in court and has also had his brushes with real celebrities, including three Orange County-tinged instances.
He refused to act after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Newport Coast resident Kobe Bryant's attorney in 2008 that demanded photos and allegations be taken down on The Dirty that claimed the NBA superstar was having an extramarital affair with a Lakers Girl.
Also in 2008 and while still based in Arizona, Richie featured on his site several embarrassing photos of then-Cardinals quarterback and former Mater Dei High School star Matt Leinart with college girls. (Click here and go to the second page for one Dirty shot.)
And shortly before Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore broke up in 2011, The Dirty broke the news that the Two and a Half Men star marked his sixth wedding anniversary by having sex with another woman in a San Diego Hard Rock Hotel suite's balcony hot tub. The UK's Daily Mail carried photographs of the younger woman, Sara Leal, "looking somber" shortly thereafter in Newport Beach.
Ashton Kutcher's Apparent One-Night Stand-in Sara Leal said to be Spotted in Newport Beach
The Jones case is now in the jury's hands, Fox News reports.
UPDATE NO. 1, JAN. 25, 3:16 P.M.: U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman in Northern Kentucky declared a mistrial today because jurors failed to reach a verdict after two days of deliberations and a three-day trial.
Jurors were asked to decide whether TheDirty.com posts about former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones were substantially false and whether website operator Nik Richie posted them with malice. The jury voted 8-2 in favor of the posts being false, but a unanimous decision was required. Jurors did all agree Richie did not act with malice.
Had all jurors agreed the posts were substantially false, Jones would have won that point but, without the malice being found true, she would have received no money from Richie.
A March 1 hearing was set to determine if a new jury should be seated.