Gawker founder Nick Denton said the $140 million verdict awarded to Hulk Hogan in his sex tape lawsuit hinged upon crucial evidence that was hidden from the jury throughout the trial.
In a post published Tuesday on Gawker, Denton rebuked the pretense of Hogan’s suit: that he had a reasonable expectation to privacy during his sexual encounters with Heather Cole.
The pro wrestler knew the encounter was being filmed, according to documents that were sealed until last Friday, Denton wrote.
Statements from witness Bubba Clem describe how Hogan knew he was being filmed, that the camera was in obvious view and how it was “not unusual for Heather to tape herself having sex.”
Hogan’s lawsuit was a “sham from the start” and was brought against Gawker to prevent the release of footage of Hogan using a racial slur, rather than to compensate for emotional distress, Denton alleged.
“The real, and actually embarrassing, reason Hogan sued Gawker to begin with was hidden from the jury, from the public, and from me, while he put on a show about being violated by the publication of nine seconds of his sex life, after years of boasts about his prowess on talk radio and shows like Howard Stern,” he wrote.
Denton said Gawker was also barred from revealing to the jury that a federal judge and three members of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal have already deemed the story and video excerpt Gawker published to be protected under the First Amendment as a matter of general interest and public concern.
Celebrities like Hogan have a “narrower zone of privacy” than most people and should not be allowed to publicly make attention-seeking claims regarding their sex lives, then claim they have a reasonable expectation to privacy once they lose control of the narrative, Denton wrote.
“The absence of essential testimony and evidence explains why Gawker Media was found liable in this first round in the courts,” he wrote “It is harder to explain the immense sums awarded to compensate Hogan for his emotional distress and economic loss.”
Gawker is appealing to overturn the verdict.
The jury awarded Hogan $115 million last Friday — $55 million for economic injuries and $60 million for emotional injuries — and assessed $25 million in additional punitive damages Monday.
Until the appeal takes place, Gawker will likely need to pay a $50 million bond in the meantime.
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