COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A gossip website operator defended himself Wednesday against a defamation lawsuit by arguing that a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader featured in posts on the site is a public figure.
Hooman Karamian, who goes by the name Nik Richie, testified in a northern Kentucky courtroom that cheerleader Sarah Jones was on national television and participated in community events because of the high-profile job. Public figures trying to prove defamation have a higher burden than people who aren’t in the public eye.
Richie, 33, also said his Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website, thedirty.com, is similar to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the way it features user content. Richie has said the two posts cited in Jones’ lawsuit included text and photos submitted by people who knew her.
“My position is freedom of speech, and people are entitled to their own opinion,” Richie testified. “This is America.”
Jones, a onetime teacher who pleaded guilty to having sex with her 17-year-old former student, is suing Richie and the website over two posts in 2009 that were unrelated to her relationship with the teen.
Her attorney, Eric Deters, is arguing that the posts tarnished her reputation as a teacher and Bengals cheerleader before she ever had a relationship with the teen, causing her severe emotional distress.
Jones, 27, testified Wednesday before Richie took the stand that the posts were devastating.
In the first post in October 2009, Jones is pictured smiling for the camera with a former kicker for the Bengals. The caption says she had sex with every member of the team.
The second showed her in a bikini from one of the Bengals calendars. It claimed that her ex-husband contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea after cheating on her with more than 50 women, and that he likely gave it to her.
Richie, who lives in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, said in an interview last week that the comments came from someone who knew Jones and had access to photos she posted on Facebook. He said the only thing he wrote about Jones was in the second post, saying, “Why are all high school teachers freaks in the sacks?”
“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 said Wednesday, adding that she had to tell all her classes that the posts were untrue.
Under questioning from Richie’s attorney, Jones testified that she kept both jobs after the posts and that no one who knew her believed they were true.
Richie’s attorney, Alexis Mattingly, showed jurors glossy calendar photos of Jones wearing bikinis and reminded them that Jones lied to police, her family and her bosses about her relationship with the teenager.
She also read the jurors text messages between Jones and the teen and transcripts of her interviews with police, all in an effort to attack her credibility and character.
Jones has said repeatedly that she has only had sex with two people, her former husband and the teenager.
Jones pleaded guilty in October to having sex with the teen under an agreement that let her avoid jail time. The two are still together.
Jones resigned from Dixie Heights High School and from the Bengals cheer squad in late 2011 after four years in both jobs. Deters said at the time that Jones had done nothing wrong but stepped down because of rumors about her relationship with the teen.
Testimony in the defamation trial is expected to wrap up Thursday and will include footage of Richie from an appearance on “The Dr. Phil Show. The jury could reach a verdict as early as the afternoon.
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