The Florida judge overseeing Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit over Gawker publishing an excerpt of his sex tape is allowing Hogan to see whether the news site purposely leaked confidential information.
Hogan now is set to face off against Gawker at trial in March in his $100 million lawsuit alleging privacy violations. Meanwhile, the former professional wrestler and reality TV star is upset over articles published in The National Enquirer and Radar Online that say he used the N-word and made racist comments about his daughter Brooke’s boyfriend in an extended transcript of the sex-tape footage. After those articles came to light, Hogan was fired from the WWE.
At the time, Gawker was facing backlash over a story about a Conde Nast executive who allegedly was involved with a male escort. Hogan asserted in court papers that Gawker “had very few options remaining to save their way of life” and may have leaked materials obtained in the legal war for its own benefit. Hogan also nodded to how Gawker founder Nick Denton had hinted in a blog post about more to the Hogan story coming out.
Gawker denied it had anything to do with the leak.
On Wednesday, Florida Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell granted a motion for discovery for purpose of determining whether Gawker violated a protective order.
Hogan’s experts are being allowed to conduct a forensic inspection of computers, servers, smartphones and other equipment belonging to Gawker and its employees, including Denton, A.J. Daulerio and general counsel Heather Dietrick. They are being allowed to search for material demonstrating that Gawker communicated with the Enquirer, Radar Online and any other member of the media or third party with regards to what was under seal.
The results will be given both to Gawker and the judge and are designated as confidential.
Furthermore, the judge is permitting depositions of Denton, Daulerio and Dietrick and any current or former Gawker employee revealed to be in contact with the Enquirer and Radar Online about the Hogan case.
The discovery also has the possibility of spreading. According to the order, “Bollea may also subpoena documents/records and take depositions of third-parties” concerning the relevant topics.
The judge noted the extraordinary nature of the relief and said it won’t be effective until Nov. 18, in order to give Gawker the opportunity to seek relief by appeal.
“The judge’s order is literally unprecedented,” responded a Gawker attorney Michael Berry. “It has no basis in law or fact. We intend to appeal. This order should send a shiver down the spine of all media companies and anyone who believes in the free press. It says that a court can confiscate all data in a media company’s computer system based on nothing more than a baseless hunch and accusation. It then gives a litigant all reporters’ and editors’ data that mentions his name and a long list of other names. This order is an affront to the First Amendment.”