Former Ben-Gal Sarah Jones, who earlier entered a guilty plea in her criminal case, is going to trial this week on a civil case: for defamation. Her earlier case was covered extensively by Crimcourts. The defamation case actually predates her criminal case, going back a few years to come things posted on website TheDirty.com. On that site, she was accused of several things she disputes, including sleeping with one or more Cincinnati Bengals, contracting STDs from her former boyfriend, and having sex with a man in her classroom.
The case is interesting from a defamation standpoint. She is suing the website, and its owner ‘Nik Richie’, for making statements that harmed her reputation. The legal twist is that most of the offending comments were not generated by Richie, but by commenters on the website. Generally, websites are not responsible for content posted by others. That’s why Facebook doesn’t get sued every time anybody posts something libelous. However, Jones is claiming that since TheDirty exercises editorial control over the comments, that they are more akin to a newspaper that publishes defamatory statements. Richie counters that the only thing he personally posted is that she is a ‘freak’ in bed, and is claiming truth as a defense. To back it up, the defense is prepared to share some of the steamy text messages from Jones’ criminal case.
As a blogger, I hope that Richie is not found liable for the comments of others. TheDirty is probably going to see a surge of hits thanks to publicity for this trial: Crimcourts has already seen a surge thanks to our coverage of the earlier case. I am not a fan of Richie’s site, but I don’t think he should take an 11 million dollar hit for outside commenters. Even if liable, Jones will have difficulty proving damages. She already hurt her reputation immensely due to the illegal relationship she had with her student. She’s claiming this caused her to resign her job, but she was teaching until charges were brought in her criminal case. She has indicated an interest in law school, so she may end up earning more there than she would have in her teaching job anyway. I wish her luck as she pursues her law degree, and she is not likely to win retirement money in this suit.