Hulk Hogan’s astonishing victory over Gawker Media—in which a Florida jury awarded the pro wrestling legend $140 million in damages over a 1 minute, 40 second bedroom video, only nine seconds of which showed actual sex—came down to who was the more accomplished liar.
That, anyhow, is the view of former Gawker.com editor in chief A.J. Daulerio—who became a whipping boy for Hogan’s attorneys during the two-week trial that ended on Monday.
“There was a lot of wickedness that was revealed on both sides, but they’re the better liars, and we’re bad actors,” the 41-year-old Daulerio told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening, the day after the six-member jury slapped him with a $100,000 personal fine for posting the grainy video snippet from a 30-minute recording; they exacted their punishment hours after hearing in court that Daulerio has zero material assets and $27,000 in unpaid college loans.
“Not that Hulk Hogan is going to win an Academy Award anytime soon. But he’s an actor,” Daulerio added. “This was unsettling in so many different ways.”
The jury’s verdict against the gossip site—which Gawker’s legal team predicts will be overturned on appeal—is the latest step in litigation that has dragged on for more than three years since October 2012, when Daulerio published the video and mocking commentary regarding the amatory antics of Terry Gene Bollea (Hogan’s real name) with Heather Clem, the then-wife of his former best friend, a radio shock jock named Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem.
“Coming into this trial, I knew what this was going to be about,” Daulerio said. “You can’t have a First Amendment-type argument in front of a jury trial, and then have it come down to decency. For better or worse, I don’t have most of that going for me—at least in public. But I know I’m a helluva lot more decent than those people on the other side, I’ll tell you that much.”
Pennsylvania native Daulerio—a defendant in the case along with Gawker Media’s Nick Denton and the privately held online company Denton launched in 2004—spoke by phone after watching his favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, lose to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Phillies’ spring training venue in Clearwater, Florida. It was arguably his third defeat in less than a week.
On Friday, the jurors in St. Petersburg’s Pinellas County Circuit Court—before a trial judge, Jeb Bush appointee Pamela A.M. Campbell, who seemed to have only passing familiarity with First Amendment legal precedent and consistently ruled in Hogan’s favor—gave the 62-year-old pop culture icon a gasp-inducing $115 million. It was $15 million more than he’d demanded in the first place.
On Monday, they added $25,100,000 in punitive damages to the pot—including a $15 million charge against Gawker Media, a personal assessment of $10 million against Denton, and that relatively small if impossible-to-pay fine leveled against Daulerio.
Apparently referring to the pauper-ish Daulerio, one of the jurors asked Judge Campbell on Monday if they could impose a penalty of community service—not in a civil trial, the judge answered—evoking the image of the former Gawker editor trudging up and down Florida’s I-4 Corridor, picking up road kill.
The judge, whose pre-trial rulings were reversed on a regular basis by both the state appeals and federal courts, suppressed evidence that would have been harmful, and possibly fatal, to Hogan’s case—especially material from an FBI investigation of an alleged extortion scheme, in which video of the wrestler showed him uttering ugly racial slurs about his daughter Brooke’s African-American boyfriend.
Hogan’s attempt to suppress that racially charged video, Team Gawker says, was the real reason he filed the lawsuit, not supposed embarrassment over video of a sex romp, which Hogan happily promoted on the Howard Stern Show and TMZ, among other venues; indeed when the National Enquirer published a leak of Hogan’s racist rant, he was immediately dropped as a featured performer by World Wrestling Entertainment.
Hogan’s team had placed into evidence—via a video deposition of Daulerio—an incident in which, as editor of Gawker Media’s Deadspin site, he posted a video of a young woman having sex in the bathroom of an Indianapolis sports bar, and initially refused to take it down when the distraught woman begged him, relenting only when he decided that the video “wasn’t funny” and might have depicted rape.
Did it bother Daulerio to be the object of so much loathing by a jury of his peers?
“No, not at all,” he told The Daily Beast. “I expected it. I’ve never really been a media darling. I know what my role is. I don’t often feel bad about answering honestly what were ludicrous questions and being a smart ass. I was not that way in court”—when a somewhat chastened Daulerio tried to rehabilitate himself in the trial’s second week during in-person testimony—“but the damage was already done.”
Indeed, Team Hogan’s best moment was a devastating exchange between Daulerio and Hogan attorney Douglas Mirell in a deposition videotaped in 2013.
In contrast to his jacket-and-tie and sober-seeming appearance in the courtroom, Daulerio looked scruffy, sleep-deprived and bored, and occasionally came across as arrogant and supercilious, as he fielded Mirell’s questions.
Daulerio told Hogan’s lawyer that he “enjoyed watching the video... because I found it very amusing,” and was “proud” to have published it.
“Can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?” Mirell pressed.
“If they were a child,” Daulerio replied.
“Under what age?” Mirell asked.
“Four,” Daulerio answered.
“No 4-year-old sex tapes, OK,” Mirell said.
The jurors, four of whom were spotted furiously taking notes, clearly weren’t amused.
“When you’re being peppered with stupidly precise questions for eight hours, over what I considered basically a nonsense and completely ludicrous formal fucking deposition over something we had already won, I reacted,” Daulerio said about his ill-judged quip.
At the time the deposition was taken, the federal and state appeals had already ruled that Gawker’s posting of the Hogan video had met the legal standard of newsworthiness.
“So for 95 percent of the deposition, I gave them nothing,” Daulerio continued. “And then I gave them something which, under normal circumstances, every person on the planet would understand where I was coming from on that. And for whatever reason that won it for them. That’s a scary thought.”
The lesson: “Sarcasm does not play well in front of a jury.”
Daulerio acknowledged that the trial was “stressful and actually emotionally distressing, but there are worse things.”
On the bright side, he said it made him feel nostalgic for his stint leading Gawker.com from 2012 to 2013, a happy time in his professional life.
“I’m definitely going to take some time off,” he said, adding that he isn’t sure how quickly he’ll return to running his own site, Ratter.com, dedicated to “The Underbelly of Everything.”
He continues to believe in Gawker.
“If anything,” Daulerio said, “this whole trial has made me more loyal and faithful to Nick and to that company.”