COVINGTON, Ky. - As ex-Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones tries to prove in court that a website owner acted with malice when he published derogatory comments about her on the site, the owner was asked Tuesday to explain a photo he put online just last week.
Jones’ attorney asked Nik Richie, operator of TheDirty.com, about the photo posted July 5 on Instagram.
The photo is of a check that Richie wrote to Jones for $11 million as a joke. On the memo line, it reads, “for a child molester.”
On the Instagram post, Richie wrote, “Headed to Kentucky to drop off a check.”
During questioning Tuesday in Jones’ defamation case against Richie, the website owner at first appeared apologetic about the dispute.
“I feel bad about Sarah. It should never got to this,” Richie testified in U.S. District Court in Covington. “I reached out to her.”
But when Eric Deters, Jones’ attorney, asked Richie about why he posted the recent photo, he replied, “Because I just wanted to get it out there that we were awarding a child molester.”
Jones is suing 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 alleges. An initial trial in January ended with a hung jury.
Richie’s comment on the check referred to a 2012 criminal case stemming from Jones’ sexual relationship with Cody York, who was a student at Dixie Heights High School. Jones was a teacher at the school.
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.
In testimony earlier Tuesday, Jones said she has been punished for her misconduct. The publicity over the website’s comments helped spark her depression, which led to her making poor decisions, Jones added.
“Nik Richie has not been held accountable for what he has done,” Jones said. “This is not about what I did wrong, this is about what he did wrong.”
David Gingras, Richie's attorney, compared the website to Facebook or My Space. Richie isn’t responsible for content written by users, Gingras said.
Richie testified he didn’t know Jones and couldn’t state whether the posts about her were true.
“It’s not my job to fact-check,” Richie said. “I have terms of service (for users) on the website. I don’t want false stuff.”
Still, Richie conceded under questioning that the website receives about 1,000 potential submissions each day. Assistants select the top 100-200 for Richie’s review, and he decides what items are posted.
Richie – whose birth name is Hooman Karamian – said he first created his website “so I could date Paris Hilton.”
Several lawsuits have been filed against TheDirty.com over the years, but that doesn’t deter Richie from his work, he said.
“I’m not going to take the fault for what other people say,” Richie said. “I view it as an open forum. People can vent.”
During the trial, a video of an interview that Richie gave to TV talk show host “Dr. Phil” McGraw was played. In the segment, Richie explained the website’s purpose.
“I think it’s new wave social media and it’s definitely revolutionary,” Richie said on the tape.
When Dr. Phil asked if the website hurt people, Richie replied, “It’s to get a rise out of someone. I’m not going to say hurt, because that’s not what it is.”
Attorneys in the case will present their closing arguments Wednesday morning, before the jury begins deliberations.
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