NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Friday, March 18, 2016, 3:07 PM
Hulk Hogan, 62, is suing the gossip website Gawker for $ 100 million after it posted the video of his 2007 sex romp with Heather Cole.
Hulk Hogan was just a lonely and self-conscious family guy in search of a home-cooked meal when he was secretly filmed having sex with his friend’s wife, an attorney for the wrestling icon said in closing arguments Friday.
Hogan, 62, is suing the gossip website Gawker for $ 100 million after it posted the video of his 2007 sex romp with Heather Cole.
Jurors started deliberations around 1 p.m. Friday to decide whether Gawker violated Hogan’s right to privacy or simply chimed in on a public conversation about the wrestler’s sex life that was started by the mustachioed muscleman himself.
“I think that being in a bedroom with your best friend’s wife should be something Terry should expect to be private,” lawyer Kenneth Turkel said, using Hogan’s real name Terry Bollea during his final appeal to jurors in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“He is self-conscious about the size of his head,” Turkel said of his client’s penchant for head-covering bandanas.
“He is a regular family guy,” the lawyer said.
Cole was married to shock jock Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem at the time of the videotaped romp. She said in court this week that her husband urged her to have sex with Hogan.
Hogan sued after Gawker put the video on its website in 2012 without contacting him.
“Nick Denton is proud to be a guy ruining lives,” Turkel said, referring to Gawker’s founder.
“This case is about those areas that even celebrities should have privacy,” Turkel argued.
In his dueling closing argument, Gawker lawyer Michael Sullivan defended the site’s former editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio, arguing that Hogan’s public boasts about his sex life diminished his right to privacy.
Gawker lawyer Michael Sullivan defended the site’s former editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio, saying Hogan’s boasting about his sex life diminished his right to privacy.
“They seek to punish Mr. Daulerio for adding his voice to the others that were already speaking about the Hulk Hogan sex tape — a chorus of voices in which Hulk Hogan is often the loudest,” Sullivan said.
“Things that people are already talking about are fair game and should not be the stuff of lawsuits like this,” he said. “Otherwise, we will become a nation where powerful celebrities, politicians and public figures will use our courts to punish people for saying things that they frankly do not like. And we will all be worse off as a result.”
He suggested Hogan and Bubba may have conspired to make the sex tape for personal gain.
“Ask yourselves, is this just another antic between two best friends, another secret that they’ll take to their graves?” he asked the jury.
“Was it a publicity stunt?” he asked. “Only two people know for certain, Bubba the Love Sponge and Mr. Bollea. But you will not hear from Bubba.”
Gawker released a statement Friday expressing disappointment that Bubba wasn’t forced to testify. The website said Bubba made comments to his radio listeners suggesting Hogan knew he was being taped.
“Bubba should have been required to appear in court and explain what really happened,” the Gawker statement said. “There is still more to the story.”
Gawker said it hoped a planned release of thousands of pages of “improperly sealed documents” in the case would take place as promised Friday afternoon and “begin revealing the true facts that the jury deserved to know about during deliberations.”
In his closing remarks, Sullivan said Daulerio and his team acted legally and without any “malice.”
“He didn’t just post a 30-minute sex tape, unedited without commentary,” the lawyer said. “Instead, he posted nine seconds of blurry sexual activity from a 30-minute sex tape. Nine seconds. The rest of that one-minute and 41 second tape was conversation that directly complemented his commentary, making the point of the ordinariness of celebrity sex tapes. That’s not the sensational prying that would remove it from the realm of protected speech related to a matter of public concern.”
Sullivan pointed out that other websites already had published commentary on the existence of the sex tape, and he again highlighted Hogan’s statements about his sexual prowess.
“If you stop and think about this, this record, you would be hard pressed to think of anyone other than an actual porn star who has made the attributes of his body parts and his prolific sex life more a part of our public discourse. He’s done so on television, on radio, in print, and that is why he cannot establish that Gawker’s publication was highly offensive to him,” the lawyer said.
He said Gawker’s jokes about the tape were the “very same” jokes made by shock jocks close to Hogan.
“If the plaintiff were right, if posting a short truthful video of him to accompany a commentary can be the basis for a claim, then the Internet as we know it will cease to exist,” Sullivan said.
Turkel got the last word and told jurors during a short rebuttal that they shouldn’t be offended by Hogan’s participation in shock jock interviews.
“It’s a demographic that wrestling audiences listen to. You go on the show at your own risk and you have no control. And yes it’s raunchy. (But) it does not open the door to putting a camera in a bedroom and putting that on the Internet,” Turkel said.
Hogan’s legal team has argued that Gawker’s value increased by millions of dollars after it posted the tape.
“It got everyone looking,” Turkel said. “Using Mr. Bollea’s image has value.”
Sullivan said there was no “sustained Hulk effect” when it came to site traffic.
As the jury deliberated Friday, court watchers waited for the 2,000 pages of previously sealed evidence.
Hogan was given until 4 p.m. to redact them. Jurors will not view the documents.