- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

When Robert Steinbuch discovered his girlfriend had discussed intimate details about their sex life in her online diary, the Capitol Hill staffer didn’t just get mad. He got a lawyer.

Soon, though, the racy tidbits about the sex lives of the two Senate aides faded from the front pages and the gossip pages. Mr. Steinbuch accepted a teaching job in Arkansas, leaving Washington and Jessica Cutler’s “Washingtonienne” Web log behind.

Although sex scandals turn over quickly in this city, lawsuits do not. Mr. Steinbuch’s case over the embarrassing, sexually charged blog appears headed for an embarrassing, sexually charged trial.

Lurid testimony aside, the Washingtonienne case could help establish whether people who keep online diaries are obligated to protect the privacy of the people with whom they interact offline.

Miss Cutler, a former aide to Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, said she created the blog in 2004 to keep a few friends up-to-date on her social life. Like a digital version of the sex-themed banter from a “Sex and the City” episode, Miss Cutler described the thrill and tribulations of juggling sexual relationships with six men.

One of those men was Mr. Steinbuch, a counsel to Mr. DeWine on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Miss Cutler called him the “current favorite” and said he resembled actor George Clooney.

When Ana Marie Cox, who was the editor of the popular gossip Web site Wonkette.com at the time, discovered and linked to Miss Cutler’s blog, the story spun out of control. Miss Cutler was fired, and Mr. Steinbuch said he was publicly humiliated. He went to court seeking more than $20 million in damages.

The case is embroiled in thorny pretrial issues, with each side demanding personal information from the other. Mr. Steinbuch wants to know how much money Miss Cutler received from the man she called her “sugar daddy.” Miss Cutler has demanded Mr. Steinbuch’s student evaluations from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school, where he teaches.

A trial date has not been set, but Matthew Billips, Miss Cutler’s attorney, said there are no settlement talks that might head off a trial.

“I have no idea what he wants,” Mr. Billips said.

Neither Mr. Steinbuch nor his attorney returned phone calls seeking comment. In court, attorney Jonathan Rosen said Mr. Steinbuch wants to restore his good name. Students in his legal ethics class search the Internet and learn about the blog, Mr. Rosen said.

“It’s not funny, and it’s damaging,” Mr. Rosen told a judge. “It’s horrible, absolutely horrible.”

If the case goes to trial, its outcome will be important both to bloggers and to people who chronicle their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he may teach the Washingtonienne case in the spring during his class at Georgetown University Law Center.

“Anybody who wants to reveal their own private life has a right to do that. It’s a different question when you reveal someone else’s private life,” he said, adding that simply calling something a diary doesn’t make it one. “It’s not sitting in a nice, leather-bound book under a pillow. It’s online, where a million people can find it.”

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