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Rules to limit access to Hogan car crash suit depositions

CLEARWATER — Call it a small victory for Hulk and Linda Hogan.

The estranged couple in the midst of a highly contentious divorce found themselves on the same side of a court battle today.

A judge ruled that media can only access depositions that are required to be filed with the court in regard to Nick Bollea's highly publicized car crash.

But not all depositions are required to be filed, which means that some material may not be made public.

The ruling comes in response to a motion filed by attorneys for Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, his estranged wife, Linda Hogan aka Bollea, their son, Nick, and Daniel Jacobs, who allegedly was racing with Nick before the August 2007 crash that injured John Graziano.

Today's one-hour hearing was part of the multi-million dollar auto negligence lawsuit filed on behalf of Graziano, who was riding with Nick Hogan when his car crashed.

The motion requested that neither the media nor the public be able to sit in on the depositions. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird agreed, saying civil rules of procedure already prohibit attendance during depositions.

Attorneys for the Hogans and Jacobs had also asked Baird to require all of the attorneys involved in the suit to get approval from the court before filing the materials.

"I think it's perfectly apparent that the whole goal is to ensure the case isn't tried in the press," said attorney Stuart Freeman, who represents Nick Bollea.

Attorney George Tragos, who represents John Graziano, argued that restriction would further delay the case, which has been ongoing for more than a year. A tentative trial date has been set for March, 2010.

Baird said attorneys on both sides should follow rules of procedure, which state that depositions should not be filed with the court unless they are pertinent to pending motions or other court actions.

Should Tragos or attorney Kimberly Kohn, who represents John Graziano's court-appointed guardian, find that additional depositions need to be filed with the court, Baird said he would rule on those on a case-by-case basis.

Tragos argued the request was "disingenuous," citing the Hogans' track record of discussing the case and their estrangement with various media. Tragos said the ruling meant he would not be able to use information obtained in the depositions to respond to allegations being made by the Hogans, "because the rule doesn't provide for us being able to defend ourselves from their outrageous comments."

John Graziano, 24, suffered severe brain injuries in the crash and remains hospitalized at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. His mother, Debra Graziano, 56, has consistently declined to release information about his medical condition.

But in a recent jailhouse interview, John's father, Ed, said his son was undergoing daily treatments in a hyperbaric chamber.

Ed Graziano, 53, was arrested in February on charges of soliciting a hit man to kill his wife. He is being held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail.

On Wednesday, Baird also heard arguments about whether or not Graziano's attorneys should have access to tapes of phone calls made between Nick and his family members while he was incarcerated. Nick Bollea, now 18, was convicted of felony reckless driving and served about five and a half months in jail. He now lives in California.

Baird said the request was too broad.

"I've got some real issues with scope here," Baird said. "This is fishing ... there may be some fish in there, maybe not, I don't know."

The release of those recorded phone calls are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit that Nick Bollea filed against the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office a year ago.

Three months after Nick's car accident, Linda Hogan filed for divorce, saying the marriage was "irretrievably broken."

The bitter divorce proceedings have prompted allegations of infidelity on Hulk Hogan's part and drug use on Linda Bollea's part. The two have squabbled over the extent of Hulk's financial responsibility and whether or not Linda should be able to allow her boyfriend to drive vehicles that belong to the couple.

Another hearing in the divorce case is scheduled for Monday.

Rules to limit access to Hogan car crash suit depositions 06/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 11:33am]
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