STEUBENVILLE - A Jefferson County family has pulled the plug on a defamation suit they'd filed against an Internet blogger and other individuals who'd posted comments concerning the alleged rape of an underage girl by Steubenville High School student-athletes at an end-of-summer party in August.
The suit, filed in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court in October by Jim and Johna Saltsman, had sought to force blogger Alexandria Goddard of Columbus to purge postings referencing their son, Cody, from her website, prinnified.com, and to provide authorities with identifying information for 15 other "John Doe" bloggers who also posted comments on the site.
It also had sought in excess of $25,000 in damages.
On Thursday the Saltsmans' attorney, Shawn Blake of Steubenville, filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice, meaning the charges cannot be refiled. The Saltsmans could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment, and Blake, speaking on their behalf, would say only that, "The Saltsmans' are pleased to have reached a resolution in this case."
Blake declined further comment, saying any other questions could be answered by perusing the statements posted on the prinniefied.com website.
But American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood hailed the dismissal as a victory for Goddard and her "John Doe" bloggers' First Amendment rights, saying that "when confronted with speech we may not like or agree with, the answer is more speech, not less."
In a statement released minutes after Blake filed the notice of dismissal, the ACLU said in exchange for the Saltsmans dropping the suit, Goddard had published a statement attributed to Cody Saltsman on her website.
That statement said Saltsman "deeply regretted" his actions on Aug. 11.
"While I wasn't at the home where the alleged assault took place, there is no doubt that I was wrong to post that picture from an earlier party and tweet those awful comments," the statement read. "Not a moment goes by that I don't wish I would have never posted that picture or tweeted those comments. I want to sincerely apologize to the victim and her family for these actions. I also want to acknowledge the work of several bloggers, especially Ms. Goddard at Prinniefied.com, in their efforts to make sure the full truth about that terrible night eventually comes out."
Two Big Red students-athletes - Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale, and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville - have been charged with raping the underage girl, said by witnesses to have been intoxicated and unresponsive, on Aug. 11. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
Goddard and the 15 John Doe bloggers singled out in the original suit had posted comments suggesting others who were at the parties could and should have been charged.
Saltsman's statement indicated that the suit was not intended to "stop anyone from expressing themselves online."
"We only wanted to correct what we believed were misstatements that appeared on Ms. Goddard's blog," it read. "I am glad that we have resolved our differences with Ms. Goddard and that she and her contributors can continue their work."
Goddard herself had posted word of the settlement on her blog and said that "no restrictions were placed on future commentary, no statements were retracted and no money changed hands as part of the agreement," and said she was pleased that her blog was able "to provide a forum for locals in Steubenville to engage in important speech protected by the First Amendment."
The ACLU's Greenwood, meanwhile, said the settlement upholds the bloggers' right to free speech, "while the family is able to share its point of view as well."
"Technology may change, but the basic principles of free speech do not," Greenwood said. "Our nation was founded on the belief that people may express their views freely, even anonymously. By using the court to discover these individuals' identities, the family was attempting to pressure them into silence. We must not allow our courts to become a muzzle for constitutionally protected speech."
The ACLU statement indicated the agreement had been reached Dec. 22, "fully executed" on Wednesday and announced Thursday.