Janna St. James, who seduced a married woman over the internet by pretending to be a hunky firefighter, may face harsher penalties than the awkward confrontation immortalized in this video: An Illinois appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against her.

St. James' adventures as bipolar Colorado firefigher Jesse James were first covered in a now-classic L.A. Weekly article. She'd introduced her victim (anonymous in the Weekly story, but now public as Paula Bonhomme, a digital media producer) to "Jesse" on a message board devoted to HBO's Deadwood, and, writing emails in character, quickly developed a long-term, emotionally-involved relationship with the then-married Bonhomme. He sent her gifts, photos, and postcards; she corresponded with his friends and relatives. At some point, Bonhomme got word that James had died of liver cancer. She was devastated. And then:

About seven months later, Bonhomme's friends uncovered the creepy truth. James, his young son and about 20 other friends and family members Bonhomme had been communicating with for months were characters allegedly created by a woman in Chicago's west suburbs.

The depth of the alleged deception stunned Bonhomme. Janna St. James, who lives in Batavia, had allegedly used a voice-altering device to pose as Jesse James on the phone, coordinated numerous storylines with her characters that advanced in emails and instant messages, and sent and received mail - including children's drawings - from all over the world.

At the time, it seemed that there wasn't much to do besides launch an online campaign against St. James, exposing her as a fraud. But Bonhomme soon decided to pursue legal action against St. James, suing her for "defamation" and "fraudulent misrepresentation." In 2009, the case was thrown out—but a decision by an Illinois appeals court has reinstated it:

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But last month, a divided Illinois appeals court reinstated the case, rejecting St. James' argument that she was creating fiction and therefore wasn't liable.

"The concepts of falsity and material fact do not apply in the context of fiction," her attorney had written, "because fiction does not purport to represent reality."

The court allowed Bonhomme's fraudulent misrepresentation claim, which typically applies only in a business situation, to move forward, in part due to St. James' "almost-two-year masquerade of false statements."

Obviously, Bonhomme still has to win the lawsuit. But internet fakers should consider the appeals court's decision a warning: Now might be a good time to come clean to all those people you've e-seduced.

[Chicago Tribune]