COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A former Bengals cheerleader who is suing a gossip website for alleged defamation suffered mental anguish from website posts that were malicious and false, and jurors can send a message by awarding her money, her attorney said Monday.
Attorney Eric Deters told jurors in the retrial of Sarah Jones' federal lawsuit in Covington, Ky., that the posts on thedirty.com website damaged Jones' reputation. He said the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website is operated by defendant Nik Richie for financial gain and that Richie "peddles dirt."
Jones is seeking $11 million over two 2009 posts on the website. The posts alleged Jones had sex with every Bengals player and probably had two sexually transmitted diseases. Jones says the posts were false. A January trial in the federal lawsuit resulted in a hung jury.
The posts were unrelated to the former high school teacher's guilty plea last year to charges she had sex with an underage ex-student, and Deters stressed that Jones is only seeking damages up to Feb. 1, 2011. He urged jurors not to judge her by actions that she took after that.
But Richie's attorney, David Gingras, said the case is about Jones' character and that "felony convictions are relevant to a person's credibility."
"You must judge Sarah's reputation based on her actions," he said, adding that Jones initially denied charges to which she later pleaded guilty in the criminal case.
Gingras added that the evidence will show the posts were anonymous and not authored by his client. He also said there is no proof of any financial loss or other damage to Jones as a result of the posts.
Both attorneys agreed the case could have a broader impact than just resolving the dispute between Richie and Jones. Deters has said that while jurors cannot make Richie take the posts down, they can "send a message to society" that false and malicious posts are harmful.
Deters also told jurors that they will end up liking his client and despising Richie, whom Deters described as "mean."
Gingras acknowledged that his client "can be mean, but mean is not a crime." He said the evidence will show Jones has lied and his client has been truthful.
Jones, now 28, still has a relationship with her former 17-year-old student, her attorney said outside of court. After pleading guilty in that case last year, she was allowed to avoid jail time but forbidden from teaching again.
Jurors are being asked to decide whether Jones has proved the posts about her having sex with all the Bengals players and likely having STDs were substantially false. They also must decide whether Richie acted with malice when he posted the submissions.
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