Press can't see Hulk Hogan sex tape at trial, judge orders
Hulk Hogan is used to performing for a crowd. In his decades-long career as a professional wrestler, his matches drew thousands of spectators. But thanks to a ruling from a Florida judge, the raciest part of his latest contest will receive less public scrutiny.
Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell decided today that reporters and members of the public will not be allowed to view a sex video at the center of a multi-million dollar invasion-of-privacy lawsuit between Hogan and Gawker Media.
The courtroom will not be closed while the evidence is shown, Campbell ruled. Instead, monitors showing the tape will be pointed away from the gallery where the press sits, restricting the tape's viewability.
The ruling came after a legal back-and-forth between lawyers for Hogan — real name Terry Bollea — and Gawker Media, which alternatively presented cases for Hogan's right to privacy and the public's right to an open court. Last week, Hogan's attorney filed a motion asking the court to prevent the press and public from seeing the tape; that motion was swiftly countered by Gawker Media, which argued that Hogan's team was attempting to present a narrowly tailored narrative at court.
Gawker Media was joined by several news organizations, including First Look Media, BuzzFeed, CNN, The Associated Press and Vox Media, which filed a motion Tuesday in favor of allowing the press to see the video. They were represented in court by attorney Timothy Conner, who argued that the tape should be public in part because of its centrality to the case. The Tampa Bay Times, which is owned by Poynter, also argued in favor of allowing the press to see the tape.
Charles Harder, who represents Hogan, said in his arguments that the public's right to an open court does not supersede Hogan's right to privacy.
"The courts do belong to the people, we agree with that," Harder said during his arguments. "But my client’s naked body does not belong to the people.”
Whether the public had a right to see the tape wasn't the only issue at hand. Both sides expressed concern that the court's decision might affect juror perceptions of whether the tape is actually private — one of the central issues of the case. A ruling from the court preventing the press from seeing the tape might send a message to the jury that Hogan's right to privacy trumps Gawker Media's right to publish. Alternatively, a ruling that the tape should remain open to the press could signal that Gawker Media's right to publish is more important than Hogan's right to privacy.
At the center of the case is whether Gawker Media was justified in publishing the tape, an edited video showing Hogan having sex with Heather Clem, the ex-wife of his former friend, radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Hogan's lawsuit claims that the publication of the video constitutes an invasion of privacy, entitling him to $100 million in damages; Gawker Media says its decision to show the video is protected by the First Amendment on the grounds that Hogan is a public figure who voluntarily made his sex life a matter of public concern.
Heather Dietrick, president and general counsel of Gawker Media, voiced her opposition to the order in a brief recess after the ruling.
"This is not how our court system is supposed to work," Dietrick said. "This is the central piece of evidence in the case, and she has now ruled that the public can't view it and judge for themselves."
Harder said he did not have anything to add to his arguments.