[UPDATED with the Defense Table View:] Nik Richie, The Dirty Website Chief Accused of Defaming NFL Cheerleader, Awaits New Trial
See Update No. 2 on page 2 on Nik Richie Radio coverage of the host's surreal, Kentucky fried reception as a Middle Eastern terrorist as well as his lawyer vowing to win the defamation case.
See Update No. 1 after the jump explaining why the federal judge declared a mistrial.
ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 24, 1:53 P.M.: Newport Beach's Nik Richie is hoping a jury deliberating in a Kentucky defamation lawsuit brought against him by a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader buys a defense the operator of TheDirty.com website known for "slutshaming" young men and women has often used:
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
The first was a photo of a smiling Jones with a former Bengals kicker and a caption claiming she had sex with every member of the NFL team. The second was a shot of Jones in a bikini for a Bengals calendar with the cutline claiming she likely contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea from her ex-husband, who'd cheated on her with more than 50 women.
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.
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.
UPDATE NO. 2, JAN. 31, 3:55 P.M.: Newport Beach's Nik Richie spent nearly 20 minutes to the second explaining to his Internet radio audience today what went down in a Northern Kentucky courtroom last week, which included his feeling it was "a circus," "a waste of my time" and that it was "happening in a different country."
Speaking of a different country, TheDirty.com founder born Hooman Abedi Karamian in Hackensack, New Jersey, revealed he felt he was perceived as a Middle Eastern terrorist in U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman's courtroom. But Richie was also relieved to hear David Gingras, one of his defense lawyers, vow he'll ultimately win the defamation case brought by former shamed teacher and Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones.
This discussion begins about 10 minutes into the webcast, with Richie answering one of his co-host's questions about the case with, "It was a great eperience, you know, it was pretty much the biggest waste of my time. I feel she is doing this for so much fame, and she's spewing out so much negative energy."
After we let that linger a beat as we consider the energy being spewed out by a photo of a young lady on his site with a Richie-ism like, "[H]er mouth area scares the sh*t out of me and she has Vagina dimple... I hate that," we'll get to Gingras cutting into the conversation over the phone. The lawyer accused Jones and her lawyer of "declaring war on the First Amendment" and "trying to muzzle the entire country except for what she likes and her lawyer likes."
Dragging Richie into court over the third-party postings on The Dirty, which has pages dedicated to cities across the country, "is exacly the same thing as suing Mark Zuckerberg for something said on Facebook," Gingras maintained.
The lawyer boasted of having "handled more than 40 cases like this" without every having gone to trial as, after he explained to what's in the federal Communications Decency Act, the opposing counsel either dropped their complaints or settled.
"It just happened in Orange County," informed Gingras, who said he and Richie were so "warmed" by the unnamed lawyer's conduct, Richie voluntary removed the offending posting.
"That's not the case in Kentucy," said Gingras, who seemed amazed the Jones case has gone as far as it has. Incidentally, Richie also removed the posting that enraged Jones. Her lawyer has argued, to the point of crying and having his face turn red, according to Richie and Gingras, that it is Richie who is editing and publishing the posts of others, so he should not be afforded Communications Decency Act protection.
Gingras warns that if a federal court agrees with that--and it survives appeals--the entire Internet is vulnerable as any site that carries any comment left by anyone will be liable for those words. Fortunately for Richie (and the Internet, to follow this logic), his lawyer does not believe the case will end that way.
"My level of confidence with this case moving forward is you will not lose," Gingras said. "Sarah is said to be very angry about it, but this is very irresponsible. Her life has been in the toilet as a result of filing this lawsuit. If she let it go, if she was the bigger person instead of moving forward, I think she would have had a great life."
Gingras and Richie believe Jones is fixated on the amount $11 million, want she wants to make the case go away (or win in damages). The only positive Gingras could see would be other Sarah Joneses out there, who do not like what people have posted about them on The Dirty or any other site, perhaps pausing and deciding not to file suit after discovering Jones received nothing for her troubles.
"You've got to just turn the other cheek," Gingras said. "People argue I'm biased, and I am. I don't want to see people ruin their lives the way Sarah did."
"She lies and lies," Richie interjected. "She's like Sandsusky with a liar's mind."
On gingras' mind is a March 8 hearing in the same courtroom, where the idea of starting a new trial will be batted about. Gingras hinted he has a "special way" to appeal in the middle of the proceedings if he does not like the way the case is going and that he believes it would take an appellate court "10 minutes" to rule in Richie's favor.
"This one case in Kentucky is the only one going this way while 199 cases have already gone the other way," Gingras said. "At the end of the day, Sarah will walk away from this whole thing with a felony conviction and a ban on teaching for life."
He added, "I think the jurors almost figured it out," pointing to the 10-0 vote in Richie's favor on the question of whether he acted with malice."
"I didn't even know who she was," Richie said incredulously.
"You didn't ask anyone to post about her," Gingras said. "There's no malice."
He then pointed to something he agrees with Jones about: "Sarah said this isn't about her anymore. I agree, and this isn't about you [Richie]. It's about everyone's right to freedom of speech."
Soon after, the lawyer hung up, and Richie described for his radio chums what going to Kentucky was like.
"It just sucks to be in this situation because it makes no sense," he said. "I was sitting in Kentucy, freezing my balls off, sittng there thinking I never said she had chlamydia and gonorrhea. And I was looking through the evidence reading an email by her mom that said they were pretty confident this was submitted by a cheerleader on the squad that's just jealous of Sarah. Then why don't you go after the cheerleaders? Why are you dragging me into this? This is just a money grab."
A co-hosts mentioned some on Jones' side noted Richie has a Middle Eastern background.
"I remember I was sitting there and [a Jones supporter] said, 'Your parents are immigrants, right?' And I remember thinking, "OK, buddy . . ."
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