When it comes to Hulk Hogan’s sex video/invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media, it ain’t over till it’s over.
The motions—filed Monday night and running to 64 densely footnoted pages of argument and precedent—represent a necessary first step in what is expected to be a lengthy appeals process on First Amendment grounds to reverse the judgments returned by the six-member jury on March 18, when the 62-year-old celebrity wrestler (real name: Terry Gene Bollea) won $115 million in compensatory damages, and March 21, when the jury added $25.1 million in punitive damages to Bollea’s stratospheric windfall.
“Gawker is now beginning the process of challenging the jury's verdict in a trial where key evidence was wrongly withheld and the jury was not properly instructed on the Constitutional standards for newsworthiness,” said a spokesperson for the privately held company. “So we expect to be fully vindicated. And even if the verdict were to stand, there is no justification for awarding ten of millions of dollars never seen by victims of death and serious injuries.”
Bollea’s personal attorney, David Houston, fired back in a statement: “Gawker has made no secret of the fact that they were planning to file a motion for a new trial and an appeal based on arguments that are meaningless to the case at hand.
“We emerged victorious once and we plan to do so again. Of note it is apparent Gawker is unable to accept responsibility for their actions or demonstrate any intention of correcting their behavior.”
It’s highly doubtful that Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge Pamela A.M. Campbell, a Jeb Bush appointee who was reelected in 2014, will be impressed by motions that basically accuse her of woefully mishandling the two-week trial.
According to Gawker’s legal team, she suppressed proper evidence and testimony, misinterpreted the law, permitted Bollea’s attorneys to offer impermissible, prejudicial arguments, and allowed the jury to ignore Florida statutes while giving vent to their passionate loathing of the defendants, namely Denton and A.J. Daulerio, editor in chief of the company’s flagship gossip site, Gawker.com, when he posted mocking commentary and a brief excerpt of Bollea’s 30-minute sex video.
After the trial ended, juror Kevin Kennedy opined to ABC’s Good Morning America that Gawker’s editors and writers “have no heart, no soul. It’s all about the almighty dollar to them, and it’s sick.”
While Campbell has scheduled a May 25 hearing on whether Gawker, pending appeal, will be required to post all or part of a $50 million bond—the cap for civil lawsuits in Florida—the case is likely headed for the state appellate court, which, along with the federal court which tossed Bollea’s lawsuit 3½ years ago, has consistently ruled in Gawker’s favor at various stages of the litigation.
One of Gawker’s motions calls for a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict”—that is, for Campbell simply to vacate the jury’s verdict and cash award—and the other demands a new trial or, at minimum, a drastic reduction in the monetary penalties against defendants Gawker Media, Denton, and Daulerio.
The jury slapped Denton personally with a $10 million punishment, and hit Daulerio with $100,000, even though they were instructed that he had zero assets and a negative net worth.
In October 2012, Delaurio had posted a 1 minute 41 second video excerpt of Bollea’s bedroom antics with the wife of a consenting friend—only nine seconds of which depicted actual sex.
Citing judicial precedent, Team Gawker argued in its motion for a new trial that this is a case in which “the trial judge has a duty to grant ... a motion [for new trial] when ... the verdict fails to comport with the manifest weight of the evidence,” and listed more than a dozen supporting factors, including:
* “The publication at issue related to a matter of public concern;”;
* “Plaintiff lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in his sexual encounters with Heather Clem,” the then-wife Bollea’s supposed friend, radio shock jock Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem, who placed a camera in the bedroom to record sex between his wife and others, and had claimed to the FBI that Bollea was aware of the camera.
* “Defendants did not use Plaintiff’s name and/or likeness for a commercial purpose as Florida law defines the term;”
* “Plaintiff did not suffer severe emotional distress;”
* “Defendants did not engage in extreme and outrageous conduct;”
* “None of the Defendants engaged in intentional misconduct because, at worst, they were guilty of having an over-expansive conception of what is newsworthy, not of publishing material that they knew not to be newsworthy.”