Fake Online Love Affair Becomes Legal Battle | Lawsuit | Litigation

'Fake' Online Love Affair Becomes Legal Battle

By KI MAE HEUSSNER Paula Bonhomme already had soft spot for firefighters, so when she met the life-saving, animal-loving volunteer firefighter Jesse Jubilee James on an online message board in 2005, it didn't take long for sparks to fly. Within a couple of months, the pair was exchanging "love" letters via email and handwritten notes, including personal photos and sentimental gifts. She developed relationships with his family and friends, speaking to them by phone and showering them with presents. By April 2006, though they had yet to meet face-to-face, the couple agreed that Bonhomme should move from Los Angeles to James' home in Colorado. But just three months later tragedy struck, when James died without warning from liver cancer. Bonhomme mourned the man she called "the one" with a trip to the Southwest to visit his favorite places, accompanied by one of James' close friends. A few months after she returned home, Bonhomme learned the shocking reality: James and all of the family members and friends she had met online through him had never been real. They were all fictitious characters in what Bonhomme says is an epic online charade concocted by a woman in suburban Illinois -- the same woman who accompanied her on the Southwest trip after his death. Now, the bogus Internet romance has become an ongoing legal battle. In 2008, Bonhomme, 48, filed a lawsuit against Janna St. James, a 58-year-old woman in Batavia, Ill., alleging that St. James fraudulently misrepresented herself as Bonhomme's online lover and more than a dozen other characters. Illinois courts have twice dismissed the suit, which previously included several counts. But last month, a divided Appellate Court of Illinois reinstated the case, saying that the trial court erred in dismissing the count of fraudulent misrepresentation. Through her attorney Phyllis Perko in Chicago, St. James declined to comment. But Perko said they are still considering the next step and may petition the Illinois Supreme Court to review the Appellate Court's decision. Online Relationship Starts on HBO's 'Deadwood' Message Board When she looks back at her relationship with "James," Bonhomme now says she can spot a few red flags that might have revealed that he didn't exist. "I know it sounds like a soap opera, but people have crazy soap opera lives sometimes," Bonhomme said. "When it builds up slow, I just don't think you see the forest for the trees." At the time, she was not only exhausted from 100-hour work weeks and a struggling marriage, she just never believed someone would create such an elaborate hoax. "A couple of my friends were iffy about it," she said. But "why would anyone go through the effort of inventing a person and a dozen of their friends and family? It was too ludicrous. Who has time for that?" Bonhomme says St. James first contacted her in April 2005, on an online chat room for the HBO show "Deadwood." St. James allegedly said that though she currently lived in Chicago, she had been "James'" editor at the Associated Press in Aspen, Colo., and urged "James" to join the message board because of Bonhomme.

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He loved animals. At the same time.it was St. James managed with the help of voice-altering technology. which Bonhomme claims St. More Paula. a rubber duck with a firefighter's hat. "Whether they LIKE it or not. wine and other nicknacks. James in Video When Bonhomme learned of "James'" sudden death -. Bonhomme's Friends Confront St. Paula." an ex-wife named "Krista" and a sister named "Alice." While there. I'm hooked up to everyone he [Jesse] know[s] somehow" and "he wants you. because he had been llama rancher and played the instrument for the animals. But as each potential meeting approached. and Oh This about Paula for 45 minutes and it was all so good. and a piece of wood in which he had carved their initials. "Rhys. Bonhomme said their relationship quickly moved from the message board to emails and letters to the telephone.000.Someone who had a sense of humor and enjoyed life despite all its slings and arrows. . she said she gave him an iPod. Plans to meet over Easter fell through when James learned about his long-lost father and wanted to fly to Pakistan to see him. Bonhomme said that among the "little trinkets" she received from "James" were a kazoo. "He was a very kind person. James also took on their personas in emails and sent her packages and letters appearing to be from them.often elaborate -." Bonhomme said." Not only did "James" talk about his friends and family.would befall him." she said. St. Paula. James (as herself) were becoming friends online. she said some misfortune -. Immediately drawn to the Colorado man with whom she seemed to share so many interests. they traveled together to Colorado to visit what the lawsuit calls "Jesse-related sites. James produced a letter apparently written by "James" that detailed his "dying wishes" and professed his love for her.through a "blunt" email from his sister Alice. like a fire truck quilt for his son and a silver necklace for his ex-wife. James sent her an email saying. Bonhomme said she and St. He was an EMT and saved people's lives. James wrote in other messages. cost Bonhomme a total of $10. Bonhomme alleged that St. sent her drawings.The fictitious James then allegedly reached out to Bonhomme through the show's message board in June 2005. -2- . soon after. "It seemed like we had a lot of things in common.. Bonhomme learned that "James" had a 6-year-old son named "Rhys. Bonhomme said that she and "James" tried to meet face-to-face." During regular phone calls. bath products. In an email included in Bonhomme's lawsuit she says that in August 2005. Bonhomme said St. "I hooked up with Jesse [James] this afternoon.. They also traded several gifts which. He seemed to be pretty self-aware of his problems.) The day after his supposed death was the first time the two women spoke on the phone and. Paula. and "Alice" sent her several emails. …He talked Paula." The lawsuit claims St. picked out by his son. assorted DVDs and CDs. according to her suit. Paula. …He looks FABulous. In return." Over the course of their relationship. and that she purchased plane tickets to visit him. (Although "James'" son "Rhys" sent her a condolence letter and his sister "Alice" sent her emails. James who was there to console her. frequently exchanging messages about James. she said -. Bonhomme said. She also sent his "family" gifts too.

It wasn't until February 2007 -. When St. Bonhomme." the document said.. "I'm not destroying anyone's life. James said Bonhomme's complaint lacked specificity.. who claimed to be a former roommate of St. whom Bonhomme met online and has never met face-to-face. said she was "in shock for probably the first hour. James says "it wouldn't be taken the right way. Once I had time to think about it. "The court struggled to even recognize the set of facts to be traditional causes of action. I got really freaked out because I didn't know what would happen. she says.Bonhomme said she's been contacted by at least five other women who claim to have fallen victim to St. James' lawyer Perko said she does "not think it's appropriate to try the case in the press. a woman identified as St. the defense attorneys argued that Bonhomme didn't sufficiently show "material misrepresentation of fact. just before it being such a hot topic. said the case has been especially frustrating to litigate because the laws and awareness surrounding online relationships and behavior are so embryonic. the Plaintiff's allegations amount to nothing more than stating that she saw darkness because she refused to open her eyes and see the light." St." "[Bonhomme] wants justice. the video appears to show St. Suspicious of her all-consuming online relationships. Bonhmomme's attorney. -3- . And. But Daliah Saper. "I was suspicious of everyone." she said. Lawyer for St. she said she hopes the ongoing legal dispute eventually brings her the resolution she's looking for. James never directly admits to creating a hoax on the video. James. James responding to the friends' accusations. the friends confronted St. said she was similarly tricked into a romantic relationship with fake lover through letters in the 1980s. James' alleged deception. After seeing the videotaped confrontation. James about the alleged Internet ruse on video camera. James flew to California on a separate trip to visit Bonhomme's home.both on a blog and through her lawsuit -." she emphasized that the suit was initially dismissed at the earliest possible step." Since sharing her experience -. . Bonhomme's offline friends did some digging. even my new puppy. "This was before the wave of cyberbullying laws that were passed. Documents filed by previous attorneys hired by St.nearly two years after they connected on the "Deadwood" message board -that Bonhomme said she learned the truth." While St.Nothing appeared to be what it was.000. pointing out that the relationships were born in an Internet chat room where people with fictional screen names talked about fictional characters. . When asked if she'd apologize to Bonhomme. But Bonhomme said she wonders if even the law can can put a stop to the alleged deception that she thinks stems from a need for "attention" and "love." said Saper." "Basically. James from "conducting similar future schemes.. Now posted to YouTube. Bonhomme said one woman." Later. as well as punitive damages significant enough to stop St." Still." "I couldn't understand it.. She doesn't want Janna doing this to other people. James: 'Case Was Not Well Pleaded Bonhomme's lawsuit seeks compensatory damages above $100. who was not present in the video." she said." But she said they continue to persevere because this kind of online harassment "is more common than people think.

" -4- . "I'm hoping at some point this will all go away. …It brings it back like an old war wound when it's raining." she said."Every time there's a court decision. I get a lot of blog action.

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