LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal judge on Monday upheld a $338,000 verdict against the website thedirty.com, saying the operator of the site "played a significant role" in developing the content that libeled a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader.
U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman concluded that under the federal Communications Decency Act, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based gossip website and its founder, Hooman Karamian, are not exempt from responsibility for what is posted. Passed in 1995 by Congress, the law was designed in part to provide immunity to website publishers from liability for content that comes from third parties.
In the 12-page ruling, Bertelsman concluded that Karamian, an Orange County, Calif., married father of a young child, went beyond simply allowing others to post and encouraged the comments.
"That is, a website owner who intentionally encourages illegal or actionable third-party postings to which he adds his own comments ratifying or adopting the posts become a 'creator' ... of that content and is not entitled to immunity," Bertelsman wrote.
Bertelsman also concluded that the comments were "knowingly false or in reckless disregard for the truth," which would leave the site open to legal action even from celebrities and other public figures.
"It is clear, therefore, that Richie did far more than just allow postings by others or engage in editorial or self-regulatory functions," Bertelsman wrote.
Jones sued Karamian, who goes by the name Nik Richie, over two posts in October and December of 2011. In the first, Sarah Jones is pictured smiling for the camera with a former kicker for the Bengals with a caption that read she had sex with every single member of the team. The second showed her in a bikini from one of the Bengals calendars, 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 has said 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?"
An attorney for Richie and the website declined to comment about the judge's ruling Monday afternoon.
Richie, who has been sued 17 times over his posts, defends the site as a form of entertainment, created to be TMZ-like for non-celebrities who crave attention or present themselves as perfect.
Richie has been posting racy photos and biting comments for years on his website, mostly picking apart women's looks.
The photos that Richie posts are sometimes submitted by the women themselves seeking Richie's opinion, but more often they are posted by people who want to gossip about someone else. Many of the comments are harsh, but Richie argues that the people posted to the site are usually there for a reason, such as being unfaithful or promiscuous.
Jones resigned as a teacher at Dixie Heights High School in northern Kentucky and from the Bengals cheer squad in late 2011 after four years with both jobs. Jones' attorney said at the time that Jones had done nothing wrong and stepped down because a rumor that she had become involved with a student became too much.