By Leslie Hamilton, Features Writer
For those of you who do not keep up on vitally important, current events that really showcase the faults in American society, I am deeply sorry because the the Hulk Hogan versus Gawker lawsuit media coverage is possibly the most entertaining legal case coverage that has ever happened and you are absolutely missing out. To start, here is a little background information for the unfortunately ill-informed. The lawsuit was filed by Terry Bollea, more famously known as Wrestle Mania veteran Hulk Hogan, against Gawker Media, a popular celebrity gossip blog, for $115 million dollars for the “emotional distress” he endured and loss of privacy upon releasing a sex tape starring Hogan in 2012. The main argument being that of if protection of the First Amendment applies to this case. The sex tape featured Hogan having private relations with his best friend’s (Bubba the Love Sponge) wife, Heather Clem, in her private residence in 2007. There are three reported tapes, the one of the tapes having been anonymously sent to Gawker. Hogan’s relations with Heather Clem were reported to be encouraged and under the blessing of Bubba during an interview with Howard Stern after the tape was released. Ever since 2012, Hogan has been trying to bring his case to various courts, which initially included Bubba and Heather Clem on the lawsuit under the pretense that he was not aware he was being filmed; however, Bubba and Clem were later removed from the lawsuit after Bubba revised his statement, saying that Hogan knew he was being filmed, and formally transferred the legal rights of the tape to Hogan. It only took Hogan four years for to find someone to feel sympathy for his case only for it to turn into a hilarious media spectacle.
Two words, jury selection. In most cases, it seems as though people selected to sit in as a jury in a case are either incredibly ignorant or are incredibly unfortunate in that they somehow did not get dismissed for declaring how opinionated they were on topics and people related to the case – somehow creating a juridical balance; however, something must have gone wrong, or entirely too well, in jury selection for the Hulk versus Gawk case. Typically, the recorded dialogue of jurors is not amusing and the reported coverage with regard to individual statements of jurors in this case was notably the most amusing thing that I have ever diligently followed on Twitter. For example, according to journalists live tweeting the event and online followers, Juror #27 was dismissed after an attorney asked the jury if anyone was unsettled after Hogan slammed Andre the Giant or when he was dubbed “Hollywood Hogan.” Juror #27’s responded that he felt “betrayed by his heel turn… “ and continued in utter confusion of Hogan’s actions by posing the question “Why’d he have to go Savage like that? They were buds.” a fellow follower of the case, finding humor in some of the ridiculous questions that were asked. While that response has not been confirmed, here are other amusing and verified juror responses (by actual reporters, Tom Kludt and Anna Phillips) include: a male juror that wrote, “I’m on Terry Bollea’s side. I like Hulk Hogan,” on his questionnaire; a female juror’s statement of dedication to justice in watching Hogan’s sex tape saying, “Do I want to look at it? No. Am I willing to, as a citizen? Yes.”; and juror #80 saying that one of their main sources of news is the 700 club. It is evident in some of these responses that some subtle effort was made to get out of jury duty, such as the juror that openly said, “unfortunately, I have no excuse to not be here,” and then there was odd few that most likely did not mind being involved. When mentioning the jury that was actually selected to sit in on the case, it is important to note that the jury passed a note to the judge not just once, but twice, as if they were somehow transported back middle or high school where passing notes was a valid form of communication between two people. At one point, a juror even asked the judge for dialogue with a witness, even though there is no legal procedure for such. In the end, it is obvious that the integrity of the jury is highly questionable, although undoubtedly hilarious for uninvolved parties.
Beyond the jury, Hogan’s behavior and attire in court was also notably questionable and silly. Even though in the courtrooms, headgear is normally banned, Hogan somehow managed to have Pinellas County court to make an exception for him, no doubt using his celebrity in the process. The condition being that he could not don his traditional yellow and red bandana, etched with “Hulkamania” all over it, Hogan opted for a plain black bandana to match his all black suit. Another of the oddest parts about the trial was that Hogan’s legal team trying to define a difference between Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea. On numerous occasions, Hogan has been crudely open about his intimate details of personal life, only to now say that he thought it was just a skit or a joke and that he was just playing the part of Hulk hogan, the character. At some point or another, he has also said that Terry Bollea would never lie, but Hulk Hogan…maybe. During this case, Hogan was reported to have used his character’s signature voice and catch-phrase “hey brother” in greeting the jury. It seems as though Hogan also tried to take advantage of the fact that he is not allowed to sport a yellow bandana in court, by saying that Hulk Hogan wears the yellow bandana, but Terry Bollea wears it out of insecurity about the size of his head. The fact that time was spent in the case trying to define a difference between the two characters, even though Hogan – Bollea, whatever you want to call him- constantly perpetuates the assumption that they are one and the same, is ridiculous, hilarious and overreaching. Despite this weak argument, Hogan won the case and the jury declared he is to be awarded $115 million in compensatory damages, $55 million for economic injuries and $60 million for emotional distress, the jury also seeks to award remuneration for punitive damages as well.
All in all, the manner in which this case was conducted was subpar and comical at the expense of the jury and the reputation of the lawyers involved, Hulk Hogan and Gawker. While I can say that I enjoyed following this trial and probably got way too invested in it, I cannot say that the Gawker did was morally right and in spite of my own sick amusement (search #hulkvsgawk along with the word “jury” or “juror” on Twitter for a giggle), they deserve a fair trial with a capable jury and it does not appear as though they received one. The Gawker has already released statement about their intent to file for an appeal and intent to win the case, perhaps this time they will have better luck with jury selection.