COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader who is suing a gossip website for alleged defamation wiped tears from her eyes Monday as she testified that she was mocked and humiliated by website posts that she says were false and malicious.
Sarah Jones took the stand Monday in a retrial of her federal lawsuit in Covington, Ky., against thedirty.com, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website, and its operator, Nik Richie. A January trial in the lawsuit resulted in a hung jury.
Jones is suing for damages over two 2009 posts on the website. One alleged she had sex with every Bengals player and another said she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases. Jones denies both allegations.
The posts were unrelated to the former high school teacher’s guilty plea last year to charges she had sex with an underage ex-student, and Jones’ attorney, Eric Deters, stressed in his opening statement that Jones is only seeking damages up to Feb. 1, 2011. He urged jurors not to judge her by actions after that. Jones, 28, still has a relationship with the student and they have said they plan to marry.
After pleading guilty last year in the criminal case, Jones was allowed to avoid jail time but forbidden from teaching again.
Richie’s attorney, David Gingras, told jurors in his opening statement that the case is about Jones’ character and that “felony convictions are relevant to a person’s credibility.”
“You must judge Sarah’s reputation based on her actions,” he said, adding that Jones initially denied charges to which she later pleaded guilty in the criminal case.
Gingras told jurors that the posts were anonymous and not authored by his client. He also said there was no proof of any financial loss or other damage to Jones as a result of the posts, and he said that she has lied.
Under cross-examination by Gingras, Jones acknowledged that she lied at times about her relationship with the former student she is now engaged to marry. She testified that she has not lied under oath.
Gingras also questioned Jones about text messages to the teen that he said suggested she planned to use money from the lawsuit to buy him an expensive car. Jones replied that some text messages were taken out of context and that some were just jokes between the two of them.
Jones had reportedly been seeking $11 million in damages, but she testified Monday that she never sought that amount. “You can’t really put a damage on the way you feel,” she said.
Deters said after court that they are not asking for specific damages.
“We just want to win,” Deters said.
He told jurors that they could send a message that false and malicious posts on websites are wrong and that Richie and other website operators “are not allowed to commit defamation.”
Gingras said after court that he believes Jones is backing off an amount she doesn’t now think she can get and that he is trying to show that “you can’t believe a word she says.”
Jones is expected to testify again Tuesday, and Deters says he also plans to call Richie to the stand.