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Jurors at odds in ex-cheerleader's libel suit

Jurors at odds in ex-cheerleader's libel suit

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) Jurors were ordered to try again after telling a judge Thursday they couldn't reach a verdict on a defamation lawsuit filed by a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader against a gossip website that posted lewd comments about her.

U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman sent the jury home Thursday evening after several hours of deliberations and ordered them to return Friday morning. If the jurors ultimately can't agree on the lawsuit filed by former cheerleader and high school teacher Sarah Jones, the case would have to be tried again with a different jury.

The lawsuit against Scottsdale, Ariz.-based thedirty.com and its operator, Hooman Karamian, seeks $11 million. The lawsuit cites two 2009 posts on the website that said Jones had sex with every Bengals player and probably had two sexually transmitted diseases.

The posts were unrelated to Jones' subsequent guilty plea to charges that she had sex with an underage former student, though the criminal case was discussed in court this week as attorneys for the website sought to attack her character. Jones says the posts were untrue and caused her severe mental anguish.

Jones' attorney, Eric Deters, said he has a pretty good idea why the jurors can't reach a decision.

``Both parties knew that neither one represented a client that's sympathetic,'' he said.

In closing arguments Thursday, Deters told jurors that they had the chance to send a message with their verdict.

``You can do something big today,'' he told them. ``You can send a message across America: We're going to stop libel and slander on the Internet.''

He added that awarding Jones millions of dollars would effectively shut down thedirty.com.

``Sock it to them,'' he said, adding that the case is about basic humanity for his ``wounded client.''

Deters is arguing that the posts defamed Jones and called her reputation into question long before her relationship with the student, and that's why she's entitled to damages.

Karamian, who goes by the name Nik Richie, testified during the three-day trial that Jones is a public figure and that the posts were written by an anonymous user, not him.

In his closing argument, Alex Ward - one of Richie's attorneys - argued that the first post about Jones having sex with all the Bengals players was a clear exaggeration that no reasonable person would believe, and therefore, didn't amount to defamation. He said the second post, which said that Jones' ex-husband cheated on her with 50 women, had gonorrhea and chlamydia, and likely gave it to Jones, was merely an opinion that also did not amount to defamation.

Even if jurors didn't agree with those arguments, Ward told them that they should not find in Jones' favor because she's a convicted felon, an admitted liar and had sex with a student.

He added that the posts were generally true because Jones has shown that she is ``sexually immoral.''

Jones sat crying during his closing arguments, which included references to lies that Jones admitted to telling to police, her family and her bosses about her relationship with the student. She pleaded guilty in October to having sex with him as part of a plea deal that allowed her to avoid time in jail. The plea deal also forbade Jones from ever being a teacher again.

``This isn't an argument that you should punish her because she lies,'' Ward told jurors. ``It's because you can't believe her.''

The closing arguments came after three days of testimony and evidence that included newly released text messages between Jones and the teen that said she first fell in love with him when he walked into her freshman English classroom.

Jones resigned from Dixie Heights High School and from the Bengals cheer squad in late 2011 after four years in both jobs.

The day after she pleaded guilty in the case, Jones and the teen spoke with NBC's Dateline and said they were in love, still in a relationship and didn't care what anyone thought.

David Gingras, another attorney for Richie, said if Jones wins the defamation case, he will appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and argue that his client's website is protected under the Communications Decency Act. The law provides immunity to website publishers from liability for content that comes from third parties.

He said the case is equivalent to someone suing Facebook's chief executive over a comment that someone else posted.

Gingras has won similar lawsuits over the same issue, including a separate one against Richie filed in Missouri in 2011.

In that case, a woman sued Richie over a post on thedirty.com titled ``Nasty Church Girl'' that said she was ugly and promiscuous. A judge ruled in March that Richie was protected under the Communications Decency Act because the post came from a third party, and the case was dismissed.

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter athttps://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

3.22.19: Rick Horrow sits down with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

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USA TODAY Sports

3.22.19: Rick Horrow sits down with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST, CLICK HERE

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

 

  • * This year, March Madness could cost employers over $13 billion. According to the annual study done by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., every hour spent on games can cost employers $2.1 billion, for a total of $13.3 billion over the length of the tournament that will end with the NCAA National Championship game on April 8. Research done by staffing firm Office Team indicates that workers spent an average of 25.5 minutes of their workday on March Madness-related activities. And a survey by TSheets and QuickBooks showed that at least 48% of people participating in March Madness won their brackets during work hours. However, the basketball tournament can foster a little excitement among coworkers. “Streaming games during work hours, heading to a local restaurant to watch the games, filling out brackets or just discussing the games with co-workers will mean hours of distractions during the three-week tournament,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President.  But Challenger adds that employers should use the tournament games to build morale and not restrict employees. About 97 million people watched March Madness games last year, according to CBS – tens of millions of them during work hours.
  •  The purse for the just-completed The Players Championship increased for the second consecutive year. The purse at TPC Sawgrass expanded from $11 million in 2018 to $12.5 million this year, making the purse the “largest currently on the PGA Tour schedule,” according to Golf Channel. This marks a “dramatic bump considering that last year’s increase for the Tour’s flagship event was $500,000.” The Masters and PGA Championship had $11 million purses in 2018 and the Open Championship was at $10.5 million. Golf Digest noted 2018 Players winner Webb Simpson’s share of the $11 million purse was $1.98 million while 2018 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka “took home” $2.16 million of the $12 million purse. Based on the same formula of 18% “going to the winner,” this year’s Players champion Rory McIlroy earned $2.25 million. McIlroy, who bested 48 year-old Jim Furyk to win The Players title – Furyk pocketed $1.35 million – is clearly the man to beat heading into The Masters next month. While The Players is a benchmark win for Rory and his brand, The Masters is the sole Slam trophy missing from his extensive trophy case. 
  • * Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed upon a series of rule changes that will kick in over the next two seasons, subject to ratification by all 30 clubs. Changes set to begin this year will include (but are not limited to and subject to broadcast partner buy-in) inning breaks being reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. The All-Star Game will now see fan voting conducted in two rounds, a “primary round” that mirrors the All-Star voting of old, followed in late June or early July by an “Election Day” in which the top three vote-getters at each position will be voted on by fans. In addition, total player prize money for the Home Run Derby will be increased to $2.5 million with the inner receiving $1 million, while in typical games, maximum number of mound visits per team will be reduced from six to five per game. Changes for 2020 will include an opening day roster increasing from 25 to 26, while the 40-man active roster for September will be eliminated. The changes are meant to make America’s pastime more fan friendly – and less time consuming. 

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Mike Trout raised the red flag about free agency, and Nationals players took notice

Mike Trout raised the red flag about free agency, and Nationals players took notice

WASHINGTON -- Mike Trout was everywhere, especially for the supposedly tough-to-market star of the game. 

Anaheim made Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million extension official Sunday. Trout was the center of a large press conference in California, hopped on MLB Network, made the rounds expected of someone who signed the largest deal in American sports history.

Trout made a telling remark at each stop: He noted watching Manny Machado and Bryce Harper slog through last winter as free agents. He then talked to both. The conversations and visual prompted him to label their situations a “red flag” when he thought about free agency.  

That term, from that player, is eye-popping, despite the heft of his current extension and others being struck around the league. It holds force even after Harper set a record with a new contract that was summarily crushed three weeks later by Trout. It also turned heads when read to players in the clubhouse before the Nationals played the New York Yankees on Monday in the final exhibition game of spring training.

“To me, that’s the red flag,” Sean Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “We’re not talking about a veteran guy that’s, you know...we’re talking about the face of our game. If he doesn’t want to go through the free agency process the way it’s been going for guys these past few years, like if he doesn’t think the process could benefit him and he could recognize his full value on the open market, that’s really tell you everything you need to know, right?”

Free agency, once referred to by Max Scherzer as the players’ “golden egg,” has pivoted. Players previously groused about the veteran player who was left jobless. Teams moved away from paying players 30-plus for past performance, both learning a more efficient way to run their team and more financially viable one. Younger players -- unproven players in the eyes of many major leaguers -- were receiving jobs based more on market forces and perceived value than actual value. The process rankled those already in a clubhouse.

“It’s not about players,” Ryan Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “It’s about the valuation or the way that they use it to say it’s going to change their organization. I’ve always said you have to have young guys come up and play. I get it. But my whole thing is to not sign legit big-league players, who you know what they’re going to do at the big-league level, because you have the best farm system in the league, two of those kids might be something. The other eight you’re never going to hear about them again once they leave Baseball America. I just think the percentage of people who become real big leaguers is not very high, and they hold it at a very high value.”

That portion of the debate is receding. What free agency has become is at the forefront. The recent cluster of extensions suggested players realized their best path under this collective bargaining agreement was to stay. The plight of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel -- who remain unemployed just days before the season begins -- shows that premise is correct.

“[I do] recognize the free agent process has changed,” Scherzer said. “Teams used to covet players, marquee players, and be aggressive trying to bid on them -- don’t feel like that’s the case. That’s what I’ll say.”

Doolittle continued to churn through how the idea related to Trout. If he entered free agency, what could be the possible knock on him? 

It’s not on-field skill. It’s not how he interacts with fans. It’s not how he conducts himself off the field. 

“It would have been really fun to see him go through the free agency process,” Doolittle said.

Instead of finding out, Trout decided to take a lifetime deal to stay in Anaheim. The cash haul was enormous. The terms record-setting. The process? Not so good.

“We need to make some adjustments to the system,” Doolittle said. “Because, yeah, it’s good Manny and Bryce got those deals. It’s unfortunate it took so long. I think it’s very concerning and very notable the face of the game, one of the best players in the history of the game, didn’t want to have to go through that because of the way it’s been going.”

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