Public opinion has started to turn against Hulk Hogan and his lawyers with regards to his lawsuits against Gawker Media. When the jury in the first case awarded him $140.1 million to punish the blog xpmpire for publishing brief excerpts of a sex tape shot without his knowledge, he had largely regained his standing in the public. Before long, that changed.
First, Hogan filed a new lawsuit with unproven allegations that Gawker leaked a transcript of racist comments he made (during a different sex tape, no less) to the National Enquirer, ensuring his racism would stay in the public eye. That was followed by the revelation that billionaire Peter Thiel was funding the lawsuits in a scheme to get revenge against Gawker, a story first hinted at by LawNewz founder Dan Abrams back in March. Slowly, but surely, resentment is building against Hogan, Thiel, and the lawyers involved, especially Charles Harder, Hogan’s lead litigator who is behind a number of cases against Gawker.
So we at LawNewz decided to do some digging to see if everything Hogan’s lawyers did was on the up and up. Buried beneath motions and courtroom transcripts, what we found is a pattern of arguably questionable legal maneuvering by the Hogan side throughout much of Hogan-Gawker saga.
Let’s begin with this past Tuesday, when Hogan filed new papers in Gawker’s bankruptcy proceedings. On page 13 of Hogan’s new filing, there’s one sentence that jumps off the page: “[Gawker] never advised the Florida court that the bankruptcy filing was imminent.” As proof, Hogan’s lawyers attached a transcript of a June 10th hearing. Indeed, in the transcript, no variation of the word “bankrupt” ever appears. Except that’s not the whole truth. Gawker did, in fact, acknowledge to the Florida court that the judgement would cause “immediate financial ruin.” From Gawker’s own written motion asking the court to stop the execution of $140 million verdict (also known as a stay):
If Plaintiff were subsequently to proceed to attempt to execute on the judgment in the absence of a stay, each one of the Defendants would face immediate financial ruin, and all of them would have no option but to file for bankruptcy protection.
It appears as if Gawker made their intentions quite clear to the Florida court: That the huge judgement would prompt them to file for bankruptcy. Seemingly, Hogan’s lawyers’ were playing a word game and their motion might not entirely be based on reality.
There’s more: Some interesting details also came out when Gawker moved to have the case dismissed “on grounds of fraud on the court.” The motion and the exhibits attached thereto give more credence to the theory that Hogan’s counsel may have exercised some sketchy lawyering. Gawker discovered much of the information contained in the fraud motion after obtaining an FBI case file about the investigation into an alleged extortion scheme where a “sex tape broker” tried to sell all of the sex DVDs, including the one with Hogan’s racist comments, “back” to Hogan. This culminated in a sting operation, recorded by the FBI, with Hogan, his personal attorney, David Houston, and the broker, Keith Davidson, all present. Some of what was recorded by the FBI contradicts what Hogan and his lawyer said under sworn oath.
With detailed evidence attached to back up their allegations, Gawker discovered the following:
- When Hogan testified under oath during his first pre-trial deposition, he answered the question “Do you know whether the other encounters in the bedroom were filmed?” with “I have no idea.” In actuality, during the FBI sting (which happened before his sworn statement), parts of two distinct DVDs were played back, with the audio recording including a discussion of how they should just jump to the most damaging DVD, the one in which Hogan made some racist statements. Unless he somehow forgot about the specifics of the blackmail material, Hogan sure seemed to know there was more than one recording.
- Hogan’s counsel told one judge that Hogan had difficulty retrieving certain text messages, eventually needing an “IT specialist” to get them. In reality, they had preserved copies of the texts that they sent to the FBI as part of the extortion investigation almost two years earlier.
- Hogan’s attorney, Houston, when testifying under oath at his deposition, claimed that when he and Hogan watched portions of the sex tapes as part of the sting operation, he didn’t think the sound was turned up loud enough, before adding “Now that you mention it. I don ’t remember hearing the audio.” He followed that up by outright saying “No, I didn’t hear any voices.” The audio recording of the sting, which was produced to me several months ago after being unsealed by a Florida appellate court, calls this statement into question. In the recording, which itself picked up the voices on the sex tape playback, Houston can be heard reacting to the footage of Hogan’s racist comments, as well as Bubba Clem, who shot the video, saying that “If we ever did want to retire, all we have to do is use that… footage of him talking about black people.” When the video is turned off, Houston clearly says “Wow, that’s bad.” It certainly sounds like Hogan’s attorney must have heard something.
- When Gawker initially attempted to procure the FBI case file in 2014, Hogan’s counsel falsely claimed in written motions that Gawker was a target of the investigation and that it was still ongoing. The actual targets were the broker and his clients, and the case had been closed months earlier. Hogan’s attorney Houston had been notified that the case was ending without a prosecution.
The weirdness from Hogan’s team doesn’t end there, though. Sometimes it’s little things: For example, former Gawker Editor in Chief and Hogan sex tape article writer A.J. Daulerio testified that the decision not to blur anything when editing down the sex tape was inspired in large part by the poor picture quality. However, in the last several months, Hogan’s motions have attempted to differentiate what other sites (like The Dirty) did as just publishing “grainy” stills, even though they all came from the same exact low quality hidden camera.
These tactics also extended to statements made in court to the jury during the trial. At one point, on the stand, Hogan’s attorney Houston made a comment that Hogan and his counsel were never concerned about Daulerio’s written article, just the video excerpts. While the article was not part of the case by the time of the trial, when Hogan first sued, he actually put the narrative at issue and tried to get it removed. Judge Campbell even granted an injunction demanding Gawker pull the article, but it was quickly overturned. When Gawker’s counsel attempted to counter Houston’s testimony with the actual history of the case, Harder balked, and Campbell ruled in Hogan’s favor.
We’ve reached out to both Harder and the lawyers representing Hogan in the bankruptcy proceedings, and will update this article if we hear back from any of them.