A Florida judge set a trial date of March 2016 for a lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan – the biggest name on pro wrestling marquees in the `80s and `90s and later a reality TV star – against the news website Gawker over a sex tape.
The 61-year-old, whose real name is Terry Bollea, appeared in court wearing all black, including a bandanna and sunglasses – a far cry from his usually flashy gear in the ring and on TV. Judge Pamela Campbell quickly set the trial date. She said she had to schedule it so far in the future because her docket is clogged with mortgage foreclosures.
Gawker and its owner, Nick Denton, maintain that the New York-based company had the right to publish the sex video of Hogan because the wrestler, by his sexually explicit banter during media appearances, had lost any expectation of privacy. Hogan is suing for $100 million.
It’s unclear how the video became known to the media; it was delivered to Gawker anonymously in 2012.
Other celebrity gossip sites had mentioned the 2007 video of Hogan having sex with Heather Clem, the then-wife of radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. At least one published still photos.
But Gawker was the first to post a portion of the full 30-minute video.
Also during Thursday’s court hearing, attorneys for Hogan accused Gawker’s lawyers of releasing confidential information to the media from the video. Some of that information included Hogan making racist remarks.
Last week, a joint report from RadarOnline.com and The National Enquirer said that Hogan had used the racial slurs in a conversation caught on the sex video.
Hogan has suffered backlash; World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. severed ties with him. In a statement, Hogan apologized for using “offensive language.”
Hogan’s lawyer, Kenneth Turkel, said Gawker was trying to ruin the wrestler’s career and was “potentially ruining his chances for a fair trial.”
Gawker denies that its lawyers leaked the information and said that many people had copies of the video, along with the audio and the transcript.
“Hulk Hogan has only one person to blame for what he said and no one from Gawker had any role in leaking that information,” the company said in a statement.
Judge Campbell has yet to rule on Hogan’s request for using a forensics expert to comb through Gawker’s computers.
Hogan, perhaps the biggest star in WWE’s five-decade history, was the main draw for the first WrestleMania in 1985 and was a fixture for years in its signature event, facing everyone from Andre The Giant and Randy Savage to The Rock and even company chairman Vince McMahon.
He won six WWE championships and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005 by Sylvester Stallone. But he was able to transcend his “Hulkamania” fan base to become a celebrity outside the wrestling world, appearing in numerous movies and television shows, including a reality show about his life on VH1, “Hogan Knows Best.”
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