Although it took four years, former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones won her defamation lawsuit against the gossip website The Dirty.com in federal court.
A ten-person jury consisting of eight women and two men unanimously ruled in Jones’ favor. She was awarded a total of $338,000.
28-year-old Sarah Jones sued the website in 2009 when The Dirty published comments in October alleging that Jones had slept with every Bengals player. The website posted a second message in December 2009 claiming that Jones had a sexually transmitted disease.
Jones filed a defamation lawsuit in December 2009 and was awarded $11 million in a default judgment because no one from The Dirty.com responded to the suit. Jones never saw any of the $11 million because of a clerical error that involved Jones suing The Dirt.com rather than The Dirty.com.
During the first trial in January, jurors were unable to agree whether the posts about Jones’ having sex with all the Bengals players and likely having sexually transmitted diseases were substantially false. The Associated Press reported that jurors were deadlocked 8-2 in favor of Jones.
Jurors did unanimously agree that Nik Richie, owner of The Dirty.com, did not act with malice when he posted the submissions, the AP reported. What this means is that jurors would not have awarded Jones any money if they were all able to agree that the posts were substantially false.
First Amendment and technology experts began watching Jones’ defamation case closely after U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman ruled the website was not shielded from liability by the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The decision, issued in January 2012, was seen as a departure from numerous other rulings protecting website operators who use material provided to them, known as ‘third-party’ content.
Bertelsman found that Richie lost protection from the Decency Act because he commented on posts about her alleged sexual promiscuity.
Richie’s defense was that his comments were ‘satire’.
The website trial was unrelated to Jones’ sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student while she taught at Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood. In March 2012, Jones was charged with two counts of sexual abuse for having a relationship with a student. Jones was also married for six weeks while this was going on.
Jones pleaded guilty in October 2012 in state court to misdemeanor sexual misconduct and felony custodial interference and was sentenced to two years in prison. Her plea agreement allows her to avoid any confinement as long as she follows the terms of her probation for five years.
After her plea in the criminal case, Jones walked out of the courtroom at the end of that case holding hands with the student, Cody York. Last month, Jones and York, now 18 years old, announced on social medial sites, that they were engaged to be married.
Even though it is not morally correct to have an affair with an under-age student, especially while you are married to another man, it does not make it right to publish injurious statements which harms one’s reputation. Do you feel this verdict was appropriate?
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