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Jury rules in favor of ex-Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones in defamation case
Website attorney vows quick appeal
Kevin Osborne, WCPO Digital
11:50 AM, Jul 10, 2013
3:38 AM, Jul 12, 2013
COVINGTON, Ky. - A jury decided Thursday afternoon in favor of ex-Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones, ruling she was defamed by anonymous posts about her on an Internet website in 2009.
After about 10-and-a-half hours of deliberations over two days, the eight-woman, two-man jury issued its verdict at roughly 1:35 p.m. Thursday.
The jury found that the items posted by Nik Richie on TheDirty.com were substantially untrue and that he acted with a reckless disregard for the truth when he posted them online.
Jones was awarded $38,000 in compensatory damages, the amount she earned annually as a high school teacher.
The jury also awarded Jones another $300,000 in punitive damages, which are designed to serve as a deterrent to prevent similar actions by the plaintiff in the future.
"I'm just grateful to (the jury) and to the court system," Jones said outside of the U.S. District Courthouse in Covington.
Walking to her car after the verdict, Cheryl Jones -- the plaintiff's mother -- said, "I'm glad it's all over."
Sarah Jones said not all of the details about the incident have yet been made public, and promised to elaborate further in the future.
"That's all I can say at this time," Jones said.
Eric Deters, Jones' high-profile attorney, wasn't present in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
Deters, who was at another trial, later posted on Facebook: "Today. A wise jury. A fair judge. A brave woman. Changed America for the better. This is historic. I am honored to be part of it."
Richie's attorney, David Gingras, said he planned an immediate appeal. He blamed U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman for improperly applying laws involving Internet content, adding the case never should've made it to trial.
"There's no question there will be an appeal," Gingras said minutes after the verdict was announced.
"Jury verdicts are only as good as their instructions from the judge," he added.
Passed by Congress in 1996, the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects website operators from being liable for third-party content posted on websites, Gingras said.
Since that time, more than 300 different courts have prevented similar cases from going to trial based on the law, Gingras added.
The CDA provision cited by Gingras generally immunizes Internet service providers and Internet users from liability for torts committed by others using their website, even if the provider fails to take action after receiving actual notice of the harmful or offensive content.
Jones, 28, sued Richie for two anonymous posts on the gossip site in 2009. The first post said Jones had sex with various Bengals players; the second said her then-boyfriend had chlamydia and gonorrhea, and speculated that Jones did also.
The posts were untrue and caused Jones mental anguish, her lawsuit alleged. An initial trial in January ended with a hung jury.
In August 2010, Jones won a default judgment of $11 million when Richie didn't show up for a court hearing. It eventually was determined Deters had filed the case against the wrong company that had a similar name. The judgment, whose amount was decided by a judge, was set aside in favor of a new trial.
While Jones was waging her legal battle against Richie, she became embroiled in a criminal case.
In late 2011, Jones began a relationship with Cody York. At the time, York was 17 and a student at Dixie Heights High School, where Jones taught. York wasn't Jones' student, however, and was a longtime friend of her family.
After York's ex-girlfriend notified school officials, an investigation was launched.
Jones pleaded no contest in October 2012 to sexual misconduct and custodial interference. In a deal with prosecutors, Jones was sentenced to five years of probation but no jail time, and she didn't have to register as a sex offender.
Also, Jones resigned as a teacher and is no longer a Bengals cheerleader. She and York are now engaged.
During the recent trial, Gingras showcased lies that Jones had initially told about her involvement with York, to cover-up the relationship. Gingras said it damaged Jones' credibility but Deters said the incident should have no bearing on the defamation case, which preceded the criminal case by more than a year.
Last week, Richie called Jones a "child molester" on Instagram. Gingras apologized in court for the comment.
Jones now works as a legal assistant in Deters' office and is planning on going to law school. York, who will turn 19 in August, is a student at Northern Kentucky University and works for a family-owned business.
Richie -- whose birth name is Hooman Karamian -- began his Arizona-based website in 2007. He is married to Shayne Lamas, a reality TV star and daughter of actor Lorenzo Lamas.
Richie and Lamas named their infant daughter "Press," he said, out of respect for the First Amendment.