Hulk Hogan made his first public appearance in a St. Petersburg courtroom Thursday since the WWE dropped the famous wrestler last week for making homophobic and racist comments on a sex tape.
Hogan blames Gawker for leaking the damaging information and in an emergency motion asked Judge Pamela Campbell to allow a forensic expert to look at the gossip websites electronic records to prove it.
“What our motion is based on, judge, is Gawker’s inadvertent attempts … to get sealed court documents leaked into the media,” said Hogan’s attorney, Kenneth Turkel. “Ruining my client’s career and potentially ruining his right to a fair trial.”
The attorney for Gawker, Seth Berlin, adamantly denied that his client or law firm leaked any information that’s under court seal and called the motion the last refuge of a desperate litigant.
“I understand why they are upset about the circumstances to which they find themselves but it is not on us,” Berlin said. “Gawker and its lawyers were not responsible for this leak.”
Hogan has been locked in a bitter $100 million lawsuit against Gawker for publishing a portion of a 2007 sex tape involving Bubba The Love Sponge’s former wife, Heather Clem, that appeared on the website in 2012. The Enquirer and RadarOnLine.com published racist comments from that sex tape last Friday, where Hogan repeatedly uses the “n” word. Hogan apologized for the offensive language.
Both media outlets claimed to have five independent sources for that transcript. Berlin said many people are aware of Hogan’s comments and those are the likely sources of the leak.
“There are, your honor, a long list, a long list of people who knew about Mr. Bollea’s use of racist language,” he said. “Long before Gawker knew about it, long before Gawker published its story … There is no basis to go forward with a motion that seeks extraordinarily intrusive electronic discovery.”
Turkel said the Enquirer quotes matched closely to one of the highly confidential transcripts and asked the judge for help.
“My client’s got literally nowhere else to go right now other than you to control what they’ve done,” he said. “You are literally his only hope for justice. Just to get this case tried.”
Judge Campbell said she would have to read through the motion and will make a decision on the discovery matter later. The judge also set March 7, 2016, as the new trial date for the lawsuit.
Hogan’s court appearance has the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office apologizing for giving the wrestler special treatment as he left the building. Instead of being forced to walk out the front doors of the courthouse to face reporters and cameras, a bailiff escorted Hogan out a back exit in a restricted area. The bailiff also asked a photojournalist in that area to move back and walked Hogan to his attorney’s pickup truck.
“There was an error on the part of deputies allowing him (Hogan) to exit the side door,” said spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda. “It was preferential treatment and shouldn’t have happened.”