Hulk Hogan triumphed over Gawker Media in a Florida courtroom last week.
But was it a fair fight? Gawker doesn’t think so because the jurors who awarded Hogan $115 million in damages didn’t have an opportunity to review nearly a thousand pages of documents that had been previously sealed.
Those records were released to the public on Friday night hours before the six-person jury returned its verdict. They raise serious questions about statements Hogan and other key witnesses made throughout the case, and are key to the appeal Gawker says it will file.
They also question Hogan’s motive for filing the lawsuit.
Many of the unsealed documents pertain to the FBI’s investigation into an alleged extortion attempt against Hogan by Los Angeles attorney Keith Davidson.
A federal sting operation in December 2012 that targeted Davidson led to the recovery of three DVDs showing Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, having sex with Heather Cole, then the wife of the ex-wrestler’s former best friend Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem.
Gawker had posted excerpts from a 30-minute Hogan sex tape, which formed the basis of Hogan’s invasion of privacy lawsuit against the online media company.
Details from a second sex tape emerged last summer when the National Enquirer reported that Hogan had been recorded making a series of racist remarks about his daughter’s African-American boyfriend.
One of the documents released Friday states that Hogan’s long-time attorney David Houston told the FBI that he and Hogan watched all three DVDs and fast-forwarded to the section containing the racial epithets. In sworn depositions, however, Hogan said he was unaware of the existence of other recordings.
In a lengthy conversation with CNNMoney shortly before Friday night’s verdict, Houston said it was a “myth” that Hogan watched all three DVDs.
During the sting operation at the Sand Pearl Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, Houston said Hogan primarily sought confirmation that Clem had been recorded telling his wife that they could retire off the sale of the sex tape.
When Davidson cued up this portion of the recording, Houston said that an “emotionally distraught” Hogan walked across the hotel room and turned his back to the television screen showing the DVDs. Houston said he was concerned that Hogan might turn his anger toward Davidson, and only passively paid attention to what was being shown.
“At this point, Davidson is swapping DVDs. I don’t know whether it’s the same DVD, whether they’re different DVDs, whether it’s two or three or one. What I did know is, I didn’t care,” Houston said. “So this story about, ‘Well, you guys probably knew there were three full DVDs’ — bulls**t… My concern was to make sure my client was okay because his emotional reaction was very close to what I would classify as a meltdown.”
“I’m not going to sit there and gratuitously watch sex tapes of my client and laugh and joke with Davidson,” Houston added. “That would be probably as crass you could get. My goal was just to pretend that I was authenticating, pretend that I was looking at it.”
(Davidson declined to comment to CNNMoney.)
According to the unsealed documents, Clem told the FBI that Hogan was aware he was being recorded before backpedaling on that claim in subsequent depositions.
“Hulk knew,” Clem told federal agents, saying there was “an obvious camera in play.”
The unsealed records also suggest that Heather Cole was aware she was being recorded, contradicting her sworn testimony.
“I tried to get past the pain and enjoy it,” she is quoted telling Clem in one of the DVDs. “You’ll probably see my face squirming.”
Hogan settled out of court with both Cole and Clem. Clem did not have to testify in the trial because the presiding judge, Pamela Campbell, quashed Gawker’s subpoena.
The newly released documents detail on October 2012 text exchange — days after the Gawker post was published — in which Hogan expressed concern to Clem that the racist remarks could go public.
“We know there’s more than one tape out there and one that has several racial slurs were [sic] told,” Hogan texted Clem. “I have a PPV [pay-per-view] and I am not waiting for anymore surprises because we know there is a lot more coming.”
In one document an attorney for Gawker said the purpose of the FBI sting was to prevent the other tapes with racial slurs becoming public.
The lawyer also said that Gawker “has come to believe that the Florida Litigation against it was filed for the same purpose, including to send a message to Gawker and anyone else that might receive that footage (it was not part of what Gawker received) not to publish it.”
Gawker claims the text exchange casts doubt on the Hogan’s claim that he suffered emotional distress.
“The Publisher Defendants should be permitted to challenge this unsubstantiated claim by using his own text message, which shows that he was distressed not by the depiction of him engaged in sexual activity, but by the possibility that someone might release a sex tape(s) depicting him making ‘several racial slurs,'” the document reads.
Jurors awarded Hogan $60 million for emotional distress over Gawker’s publication, and $55 million for economic harm. They will return to court Monday to consider imposing punitive damages on Gawker.