Controversy over seminude photos ends; lawsuit deadline passes

CARLSBAD — The parents of the Torrey Pines High School girl whose seminude photographs in a school literary magazine drew national attention and sparked a First Amendment debate on privacy rights vs. free speech have let the deadline pass for filing a lawsuit against the school district.

The deadline for filing a suit passed on June 9, six months after the school district rejected the family’s $1.5 million defamation claim —- a required precursor to any suit against a governmental body.

The decision by Scott and Diane Salka not to file a lawsuit ends the school district’s exposure to litigation, according to Dan Shinoff, attorney for the school district. No suit may be filed by the Salkas against the school district or its employees.

However, Monterey Salka, now a senior at Torrey Pines High School and a internationally known model, has until she turns 20 to file suit against others involved in the case, Gilleon said Monday. Gilleon said Matt Franks, then the editor of the literary magazine called First Flight, and CBS News, which ran a news segment that included the photographs, are potential litigants.

Dan Gilleon, the Salkas’ attorney, filed the claim in late October alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, negligence, sexual harassment and related damages resulting from "unauthorized nude photographs" of Monterey Salka, then a high school sophomore, published in May, 2005, in a Torrey Pines literary magazine called "Dialogue Spring 2005 First Flight." No breasts or genitals showed in any photograph and the photographs did not depict sex acts, although one showed a topless Monterey Salka from behind.

The school district argued that the magazine’s teacher-advisor and the high school principal followed school district policies that allow free speech while protecting individual rights.

Diane Salka said Monday that she let the deadline pass for several reasons. She said, for example, that she wanted to end the embarrassment for her daughter, whom she said was subjected to ridicule each time a news story appeared on some aspect of the case.

"The environment was unbearable for our daughter," Salka said. "People love gossip and drama — the students, the teachers —- we didn’t want to fuel the fire anymore."

Salka said she also got at least part of what she wanted.

"My goal was to see that things were changed, not to land a bunch of money," Diane Salka said Monday. "I wanted adults keep closer tabs on this, and I think that happened —- even without (the school district) admitting anything."

Salka noted that this year’s literary magazine is much improved over last year’s volume, which included 15 photographs of her daughter and two other students —- a boy and a girl —- dressed only in their underwear.

The new magazine, Salka said, does not include the expletives, sexual comments and suggestive photos that drew the nation’s attention to last year’s magazine.

"The new litmag is beautiful so we have to balance the good with what it cost," Salka said. "I think maybe if we hadn’t said and done what we did, (the new magazine) may have been the same, or maybe worse."

Diane Salka said she was disappointed that the school district would not admit that it had erred in allowing the school-sponsored publication to publish "sexually suggestive" photographs of her daughter, but said she and her family want to "let the issue die."

The family offered to settle the case in February for a public apology, a single dollar in damages, and about $18,000 in attorney’s fees. The school district declined the offer.

The magazine itself, and then Monterey Salka’s status as a professional model whose photographs have been published in Vogue, Seventeen and other fashion magazines, drew attention from the national media last June. The magazine won top honors in a student journalism competition in Chicago last November.

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