COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) – A defamation lawsuit involving a gossip website and a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader convicted of having sex with a teenage student was scheduled Friday to go to trial again this summer.
Former high school teacher Sarah Jones is seeking $11 million over a pair of 2009 posts on thedirty.com that said she had sex with every Bengals player and probably had two sexually transmitted diseases. Jones says the posts were untrue and caused her severe mental anguish.
A January trial resulted in a hung jury. Federal Judge William Bertelsman set a July 8 retrial date in Jones’ lawsuit against the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site and its operator, Nik Richie.
The posts about Jones were unrelated to her earlier guilty plea in October to charges she had sex with an underage former student. As part of a plea deal, Jones avoided jail time but agreed to never teach again.
Meanwhile Bertelsman is considering a request by Richie’s attorneys to reconsider their argument that the website is protected under the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity to website publishers from liability for content that comes from third parties.
While Richie’s attorneys argue that Jones’ lawsuit is equivalent to someone suing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over a comment that someone else posted, Bertelsman previously ruled that the law was not meant for websites like thedirty.com.
Bertelsman could reverse his ruling, let it stand or refer the matter to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
In January’s trial, jurors had to decide whether Jones proved that the two posts were substantially false, but the closest they came to answering that question was an 8-2 vote in Jones’ favor; the verdict had to be unanimous.
The jury did unanimously agree that Richie did not act with malice when he published the anonymously submitted posts, which means Jones would not have been awarded any money had the jury agreed the posts were substantially false.
During the three-day trial, Jones’ attorney, Eric Deters, argued the posts defamed Jones and called her reputation into question long before her relationship with the student, and she’s therefore entitled to damages. He also urged jurors to give her a big financial reward to effectively shut down thedirty.com.
Richie testified that Jones is a public figure and that the posts were written by an anonymous user, not him.
One of his attorneys, Alex Ward, argued that the first post about Jones having sex with all the Bengals players was a clear exaggeration that no reasonable person would believe, and therefore, didn’t amount to defamation. He said the second post _ which said that Jones’ ex-husband cheated on her with 50 women, had gonorrhea and chlamydia, and likely gave it to Jones _ was merely an opinion that also did not amount to defamation.
Evidence at trial included newly released text messages between Jones and the teen that said she first fell in love with him when he walked into her freshman English classroom when he was 14.
Jones resigned from Dixie Heights High School and from the Bengals cheerleading squad in late 2011 after four years in both jobs.
The day after she pleaded guilty in the student sex case, Jones and the teen spoke with NBC’s Dateline and said they were in love, still in a relationship and didn’t care what anyone thought.
Deters said Friday that the two are still together, and that Jones is studying to become a criminal defense attorney.
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