Hulk Hogan is asking a Florida jury to slam the website Gawker for publishing a…
Nick Denton (left), founder of Gawker, and Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, are seen in a combination of file photos taken in a court in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The trial lasted two weeks, and the ex-pro wrestler wept as the verdict was read.
A Florida jury sided with ex-pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and awarded him $115 million in his sex tape lawsuit against Gawker Media.
The jurors reached the decision on Friday evening, less than six hours after they began deliberations. The trial lasted two weeks, and Mr. Hogan wept as the verdict was read.
The jury isn’t finished; they will return to court on Monday to award punitive damages beyond Friday’s sum. Just moments after the verdict, Gawker founder Nick Denton said he will appeal, based on evidence that wasn’t introduced in court.
“Given the key evidence and the most important witness in this case were withheld from the jury, we all knew the appeals court would need to resolve this case,” Mr. Denton said.
First Amendment experts, media lawyers and privacy advocates watched the case closely.
“It’s a huge damage award, and just the idea that a celebrity has a right to privacy that outweighs freedom of the press and the public’s right to know, that’s a huge shift in American free press law,” said Samantha Barbas, a law professor at the University at Buffalo and the author of The Laws of Image, which focuses on the history of libel and privacy. “It could potentially be a turning point in law.”
The verdict and the unsealing of hundreds of pages of documents late in the day capped a three week judicial circus in the sleepy St. Petersburg courtroom. Jurors, media and thousands who followed the case on Twitter and livestream video were treated to days of intimate details of Mr.
The unsealed documents will undoubtedly be key in Gawker’s appeals process. The evidence was unsealed because a group of media companies, including The Associated Press, sued for access and won. The civil court judge in the case had ruled that the documents be sealed, but an appellate court sided with the media companies, saying they were of legitimate public interest.
The documents outline allegations, facts and conflicting testimony. Among them — assertions that Mr. Hogan filed the lawsuit to hide racist comments made on video and that Mr. Hogan participated in an FBI investigation and sting because he was being extorted.
Earlier on Friday, in spirited closing arguments, lawyers for Mr. Hogan and Mr. Gawker discussed themes of personal life versus celebrity and freedom of speech versus the right to privacy.
They said Mr. Hogan didn’t consent to the video, that Gawker didn’t follow usual journalism procedures before posting it and that the video wasn’t newsworthy. Gawker did not try to contact Mr. Hogan or the woman in the video; nor did the website contact the woman’s husband, DJ Bubba The Love Sponge Clem, who recorded the video.
It was never conclusively determined during the trial who leaked the video to the media. Mr. Clem invoked his right to not incriminate himself and wasn’t called as a witness. Mr. Hogan sued Mr. Clem and settled for $5,000.
“I want you to imagine the fact that for 35-plus years he is essentially an actor, an entertainer, who has played the same role,” Mr. Turkel said.
Gawker’s attorneys told the jury that the video is “not like a real celebrity sex tape” and urged them to watch the video, which contains nine seconds of sexual content.
“He has consistently chosen to put his private life out there, for public consumption,” attorney Michael Sullivan said.
In the video, Mr. Bollea can reportedly be heard asking Mr. Clem: “You’re not filming this, are you?”
“Why does that he ask that?” Mr. Sullivan said. “Because it’s Bubba’s bedroom. If anyone knows the dark and twisted things that Bubba is into, you can bet it is Mr. Bollea you can bet it’s Hulk Hogan.”
A jury’s monetary award isn’t the last word. Such awards are usually appealed and are often reduced by appeals courts.
The 62-year-old Mr. Hogan was clad all in black and wearing sunglasses in the twilight. He didn’t speak to the media, and declined to sign an autograph request from a fan.