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Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker Trial Aftermath – May 2016
Friday, May 27
The “Battle of the Billionaires” now features eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar offering his support for Gawker in the ongoing legal battle between Hulk Hogan and the website.
After billionaire Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel was revealed as Hulk Hogan’s financial contributor, the New York Post reports that eBay’s co-founder Omidyar has pledged “amicus support for Gawker in its legal fight and appeal against Hulk Hogna.”
Omidyar and his First Look Media company are turning the legal battle into a “freedom of press” issue, taking a position opposite Thiel for helping fund Hogan’s case.
According to the Post, First Look expressed support for Gawker prior to the revelation of Thiel’s involvement. Now, they are even more interested.
In the Silicon Valley turf wars, there is history between Thiel and Omidyar that has included battles over politics, the media, and now Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker.
Thursday, May 26
– Gawker’s management team is considering selling the company, reports the Associated Press.
Gawker has hired an investment banker to explore options following the $140 million verdict against the company, which was upheld on Wednesday. (Gawker can still file a formal appeals.)
Gawker issued a statement believing they will “prevail in an appeal” of the verdict and have recently been “exploring contingency plans.”
The next hearing is in June to determine whether Gawker needs to post $50 million bond to proceed with the appeals and whether Hulk Hogan’s camp can conduct discovery to determine Gawker’s financial worth to determine if they can pay the judgment.
– The New York Times talked to billionaire Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel about his contribution to Hulk Hogan’s legal bills against Gawker.
Thiel acknowledged that he has helped bankroll Hogan to the tune of approximately $10 million. In his first public comments since being revealed as a third party in the case, Thiel explained why he got involved.
“I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest,” Thiel said. “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves. Even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”
Thiel said he hired a legal team several years ago to look into cases that he could support. Hogan’s case met his criteria. Thiel said there are “at least two others” against Gawker that he’s involved in.
“Without going into all the details, we would get in touch with the plaintiffs who otherwise would have accepted a pittance for a settlement, and they were obviously quite happy to have this sort of support,” Thiel said. “In a way very similar to how a plaintiff’s lawyer on contingency would do it.”
Thiel explained that his roughly $10 million spent on Hogan’s expenses is not part of an investment strategy to make money from a high-profile case. “I would underscore that I don’t expect to make any money from this. This is not a business venture,” he said, sticking to his cause-based objective.
Wednesday, May 25
Judge Pamela Campbell ruled Wednesday that Gawker cannot pursue a new trial and the $140 million judgment for damages to Hulk Hogan will stand.
The Hollywood Reporter published a detailed report on Wednesday’s proceedings in Florida court:
– The hearing was to address Gawker’s motion for a new trial, claiming fraud in the court. Or, at the very least, to have the damages reduced. Leading up to Wednesday, Hogan’s side filed their own set of motions seeking final judgment from the court.
Judge Campbell made a judgment that the jury’s initial verdict stands. Gawker may now proceed to a formal appeal in the Florida appeals court.
– The next hearing is set for June 9. Judge Campbell will decide whether Gawker needs to post $50 million bond to stay in the game for the appeals process.
The other matter on June 9 is deciding whether Hogan’s camp can conduct discovery to determine Gawker’s financial position they motioned for last week to determine whether Gawker is capable of paying the judgment.
– During Wednesday’s hearing, reports of Hogan’s legal battle being funded by billionaire Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel came up. Gawker’s side asked for their own leave for discovery to determine Hogan’s financial position.
“In last 24 hours hours, news reports have come out about Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel,” said Gawker attorney Seth Berlin. “We believe this potentially relates to our efforts to get relief. We would like a limited amount of leave to get to the bottom of it.”
Hogan’s attorney Shane Vogt argued that the funding “happens all the time” and there is oversight from the Florida Code of Ethics.
Judge Campbell said she won’t rule on the matter unless Gawker files a formal motion. Vogt predicted that any motion from Gawker in the matter will be quickly shot down.
“Whatever they file, knowing what I know about litigation funding, we are going to look at this with an eye towards sanctions,” said Vogt.
Tuesday, May 24
Just before Wednesday’s latest court hearing, Gawker founder Nick Denton attempted to paint the company as an underdog against deep-pockets Hulk Hogan by telling the New York Times that he heard about Hogan having third party financing.
Mainstream news outlets dug deeper, reporting that billionaire Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has been helping fund Hogan’s legal battle against Gawker, who Thiel once called the equivalent of terrorists in 2009.
Forbes initially reported the details, noting that a spokesperson for Thiel declined to comment on the matter. The financial arrangement is not illegal, but details are being “protected by a confidentiality agreement.”
CNBC, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications picked up on the new angle to the Hogan vs. Gawker battle. The Times also followed up on their initial report by questioning whether Hogan has been entirely forthright about his legal battle against Gawker.
The Times reported: “Questions about the independence of Mr. Bollea, who never mentioned a third-party backer, first emerged when his lawyer removed a claim from his complaint that had the effect of eliminating Gawker’s insurance company from the case. That struck many legal observers as odd, given that most lawyers seeking large payouts want to include claims that are insured against because doing so increases the chances of a settlement.”
Week of May 23
– Regarding the original lawsuit, Gawker filed a motion on Monday (May 23) opposing Hulk Hogan’s motion for final judgment in the case.
Gawker is appealing the $140 million judgment and hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to address the back-and-forth motions filed from both parties.
– The New York Post reported Monday that Hogan’s camp is asking Gawker to put up $150 million in order to appeal the suit.
The motion is for Gawker, founder Nick Denton, and reporter A.J. Daulerio to each put $50 million in escrow accounts in order to continue the legal process. Gawker scoffed at the motion in a statement issued to the Post. This will likely be one of the items on Wednesday’s agenda.
– Also on Monday, the New York Times published an editorial sympathetic to Denton that was framed as wondering if Hogan is getting third-party financial backing for his legal battle against Gawker.
The editorial dove into the under-belly of investors who provide credit lines to help fund cases that rack up big lawyer fees. The speculation was based on Denton telling the Times that he he has a “hunch” individuals in Silicon Valley are linked to Hogan’s defense.
Friday, May 20
– Regarding Hulk Hogan’s original lawsuit against Gawker, the back-and-forth continued in legal documents filed Thursday and Friday.
The result was a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, May 25 at 9:00 a.m. EST to determine the next course of action.
In the back-and-forth, Hogan’s camp maintained their position of wanting a leave to conduct “post-trial financial worth discovery” to determine Gawker’s financial status. Gawker, which is on the hook for a $140 million judgment pending appeal, filed a motion opposing the leave for discovery.
Hogan’s camp also filed a statement opposing Gawker’s motion for a new trial. This was in response to Gawker attempting to dismiss the case for “fraud on the court” or at minimum seeking a new trial.
Week of May 16
– Regarding Hulk Hogan’s second lawsuit filed against Gawker on May 2, Gawker responded on Monday with several court filings.
Notably, Gawker filed a motion seeking to disqualify court judge Pamela Campbell from presiding over the second lawsuit.
Gawker was displeased by Judge Campbell’s handling of the first lawsuit that resulted in Hogan receiving a $140 million judgment against Gawker.
Hogan’s second lawsuit seeking damages for Gawker allegedly leaking sealed information in July 2015 was also assigned to Judge Campbell in Pinnelas County Circuit Court.
– Regarding the original lawsuit, Hogan and Gawker have gone back and forth this week.
Hogan’s side proposed a “final judgment” in the case to finalize the $140 million judgment. On Wednesday, Gawker responded with a motion to dismiss the case “for fraud on the court.” Or, alternatively, they are continuing to seek a new trial.
Week of May 9
– There was not significant activity this week in the new lawsuit filed by Hulk Hogan against Gawker related to Hogan’s allegation that Gawker leaked confidential information to the National Enquirer in 2015.
– Hogan’s attorneys were busy on Monday as it relates to the original 2012 lawsuit against Gawker.
Hogan’s camp filed a motion for an “extension of time” for an expedited post-trial discovery to look into the financial backgrounds of Gawker and founder Nick Denton. This was to address (a) Gawker’s motion seeking a new trial and (b) whether Gawker can pay the $140+ million judgment against the company.
Attorneys for Hogan filed 27 exhibits on Monday related to Gawker’s tax returns, previous hearings, public statements from Denton in TV interviews, family trust agreements, stock interest, Gawker’s interest in selling a stake in the company, and other items related to Gawker’s financial position.
And, so, the case continues.
– The overall Hogan vs. Gawker legal battle will also be a topic of discussion in Florida law circles.
The Florida Bar’s Media Law Conference released their list of topics for a gathering on June 17 in Orlando. Included will be a discussion of Hogan vs. Gawker, with the case built into the title of the conference – “The Privacy Machine vs. the Press: Surveillance, Drones, Body Cams, and Hulkamania.” (Orlando Sentinel)
Part II – Monday, May 2 & Tuesday, May 3
Tuesday’s updated court records show a busy Monday for Hulk Hogan’s legal team.
– Concerning the original lawsuit against Gawker, Hogan’s camp filed a motion to strike Gawker’s motion for a new trial.
The claimed reasons were “bad faith” and “judicial estoppel,” which means they believe Gawker cannot claim foul because of statements or claims made earlier in the legal proceedings. Hogan’s camp attached six exhibits they believe backs up their argument.
The next step will be Judge Pamela Campbell ruling on Gawker’s motion for a new trial vs. Hogan’s side motioning to block a new trial.
– Also on Monday, Hogan filed a fresh lawsuit against Gawker in the same Pinellas County circuit court, as reported by the New York Post. Recurring character Judge Pamela Campbell is also the judge for the second suit.
In the new lawsuit filed Monday, Hogan is suing Gawker, Cox Radio, several individuals associated with Florida radio stations accused of leaking the tape to Gawker, California law firm Keith M. Davidson & Associates, and New York law firm Don Buchwald & Associates. The defendants were served on Tuesday.
The Post reports that Hogan is alleging that Gawker leaked the sealed contents from the original lawsuit to the National Enquirer in July 2015 that led to Hogan being fired by WWE.
Hogan alleges that Gawker “slipped the transcript” of Hogan’s racially-driven conversation with Heather Clem following their sexual encounter from a decade ago to the Enquirer.
Hogan also alleges that Gawker “had been threatening to release the transcript publicly for months” despite it being sealed by the court. Hogan alleges that Gawker CEO Nick Denton bragged about the information going public just before the Enquirer published the inflammatory comments.
The lawsuit argues that Hogan’s “income was cut off, his legacy in entertainment was severely damaged (if not completely destroyed), and his global brand was forever tarnished.”
Gawker is currently appealing the original $140 million ruling in favor of Hogan and has denied leaking the transcript.