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January 24, 2013

Blogger contests ex-cheerleader's libel suit

COVINGTON, Ky. — 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.

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