ST. PETERSBURG, Florida –The jury in Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy suit against Gawker Media awarded the ex-wrestler $115 million Friday.
The six person jury — four women and two men — deliberated for nearly six hours.
Hogan, dressed all in black including a black bandana, cried when the verdict was announced.
Attorneys delivered closing arguments on Friday in Hogan’s lawsuit against the online news organization.
When the arguments were finished, the six person jury — four women and two men — began deliberations to decide whether the former professional wrestler’s privacy was violated when Gawker Media’s flagship site published portions of his sex tape in 2012.
Gawker appeared to brace itself for being found liable and signaled it would appeal, based in part on the jury’s inability to consider a trove of recently unsealed documents related to the case.
“It may be necessary for the Appeals Court to resolve this case,” the statement said.
Hogan attorney Kenneth Turkel used his closing argument to paint the defendants — Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, former Gawker.com editor A.J. Daulerio and the parent company — as indecent gossip-mongers who make a mockery of journalism.
Turkel told the jury that Daulerio “didn’t have the common decency” to reach out to any of the parties involved before he posted the video excerpts and the commentary, which “probably tells you all you need to know about Gawker.”
Turkel invoked a 2013 interview in which Denton said “invasion of privacy has incredibly positive effects on society.”
“Who thinks like that?” the attorney asked incredulously.
Turkel said that Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, rarely enjoys a private moment when he doesn’t have to portray the wrestling character who’s been known to the public for decades.
But Turkel told jurors that one such moment was depicted in the video, which showed Hogan having sex with Heather Cole, then the wife of radio host Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem.
Clem, once Hogan’s close friend, recorded the sexual encounter with a surveillance camera in his bedroom.
On two occasions, Turkel seemed to suggest that Denton and his company don’t share the Florida jury’s values.
“This guy is up there in New York sitting behind a computer playing god with other people’s lives,” Turkel said of Denton. Turkel also scoffed that Daulerio wrote in his 2012 commentary that
“the internet has made it easier for all of us to be shameless voyeurs and deviants.”
“I’m not so sure all of us are shameless voyeurs and deviants,” Turkel said. “They may be up there on Fifth Avenue at Gawker.”
Hogan’s team is asking for $50 million in compensatory damages from Gawker. Punitive damages could be tacked on top of that.
If the jury finds Gawker liable, it will then have to determine how much it will cost Gawker.
“Let’s get to the punitive stage, and let’s get some justice done,” Turkel told the jury.
Gawker attorney Michael Sullivan restated the company’s free speech argument that’s been the bedrock of the defense’s case. The First Amendment, he told jurors, protects unpopular speech.
“What the plaintiff asks you to do is easy: to feel sympathy for Mr. Bollea, to muster your dislike and disdain for Gawker,” Sullivan said. “What we ask you to do is harder, very hard, but ultimately it is right.”
Sullivan warned that Hogan’s lawsuit could have a chilling effect on free press if “powerful celebrities, politicians and public figures would use our courts to punish people.”
“We will all be worse off as a result,” he said.
Sullivan also questioned the plaintiff’s claim that he endured emotional suffering as a result of Gawker’s publication.
Why then, Sullivan wondered, did Hogan make light of the sex tape after news of its existence broke on TMZ in March 2012. Hogan never sought counseling or therapy for his purported suffering, Sullivan said.
“Ask yourself: does this sound like severe emotional distress?” Sullivan said.
Sullivan downplayed the raunchiness of the nearly two-minute video package that was posted on Gawker, which only included nine seconds of sex. He ridiculed Hogan’s lawyers for opting against showing the excerpts in court.
“I say to you members of the jury when you retire, please watch the video excerpts,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan also sought to raise doubts that Hogan was unaware he was being recorded inside Clem’s bedroom. The attorney noted that Hogan could be heard on the tape asking about cameras, and that the plaintiff was surely aware that Clem was in an open marriage and had a propensity for recording his wife in the act.
Hogan settled with both Clem and Cole outside of court.
Earlier this week,an Appeals Court ordered that a number of documents in the lawsuit must be unsealed, overturning a previous ruling to keep them confidential. Gawker said those records, which are expected to be released Friday afternoon, represent “important evidence that the jury should have been able to see.”
Hogan’s counsel tried to delay the release of those documents. On Friday, his longtime personal attorney David Houston said the “materials being released are a separate matter and not part of this case.” Houston said that the appeals court is “releasing FBI documents which have been previously leaked to the media through an unknown source.”