School district attorney rejects unofficial offer in seminude photos case

CALIFORNIA — Anewspaper reported last week that an attorney for a girl whose seminude photoswere published in a high school literary magazine approached the school districtwith a settlement offer.

But the offer reported by theNorth County Times, which asked for apublic apology and $18,000 in attorney’s fees, was never officially madeto the school district, said Peggy Lynch, superintendent for the San DieguitoUnion High School District.

“Their attorney has apparentlytalked with people in the media about it,” said Lynch of the newsettlement offer. “He made the offer through themedia.”

She said she could not comment on the settlement offeruntil the attorney for the girl, Daniel Gilleon, officially approached theschool district.

Gilleon has represented the girl, Monterey Salka,and her family since the Torrey Pines High School literary magazine,First Flight, published photographsfrom a photo shoot where Salka and two other students posed in their underwearor wore flesh covered tank tops. No genitals or breasts appear in the images. Intwo images, Salka appears to be topless, but her hair is covering herbreasts.

The settlement offer comes after the school districtrejected a $1.5 million claim in December, which sought damages for defamationand invasion of privacy, among other allegations, in the wake of themagazine’s publication.

Gilleon said he had not communicatedthe new offer to the school district because he knows they will not accept theoffer.

“Her parents have a right to ask the school toacknowledge that they violated Monterey’s rights, but at the same time,they don’t want to file a lawsuit if [the school] would just apologize andpay attorney’s fees,” Gilleon said. “The idea is thatit’s an apology.”

Dan Shinoff, an attorney representingthe school district, said the school will not apologize, and “under nocircumstances will they pay attorney’s fees.”

“Wedon’t believe this is a case of liability,” he said. “I trulybelieve that we have a terrific group of people that haven’t done anythingwrong. There’s a lot of principle involved. What’s at stake ispeople’s good names, reputations, integrity and the sanctity of freespeech.”

Gilleon said that Matt Franks, the former editor ofFirst Flight who took the photographsof Salka, had a First Amendment right to publish the photographs, but that Salkahad a right to privacy.

“Those First Amendment rights did notpermit [the editors] to violate privacy rights,” Gilleon said.“That’s fairly fundamental. You can’t hide behind FirstAmendment rights. You can’t go in and say it trumps anyone else’srights.”

Gilleon also said one of the photographs, which showsSalka holding a painting below her bare midriff but does not show her face, wasaltered after the photo shoot. He said the canvas at the photo shoot was blank,but that the editors superimposed a grey and blue “phallic” imageover the canvas before publication.

“Altering photographs is aclassic journalism no-no,” Gilleon said. “You don’t dothat.”

The faculty adviser forFirst Flight, Mia Boardman Smith,declined to comment.

Shinoff said the allegation of photoalterations was “interesting speculation,” but could not be provedwithout evidence.

“I don’t know how he can say thatwithout seeing the [original] photos,” Shinoff said.

The Salkashave until May — six months after the school district rejected the claim– to file a lawsuit, both attorneyssaid.

–by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer