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Judge bars media from viewing Hulk Hogan sex tape in Gawker trial

Terry Bollea, known as Hulk Hogan, stands between attorneys David Houston, left, and Charles Harder after a 2012 press conference addressing the lawsuits he filed against Heather Cole, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Gawker. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
Terry Bollea, known as Hulk Hogan, stands between attorneys David Houston, left, and Charles Harder after a 2012 press conference addressing the lawsuits he filed against Heather Cole, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Gawker. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — The 1-minute, 41-second sex tape at the center of a high-stakes case between Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, and Gawker, will be hidden from the public during the trial.

A Pinellas circuit judge Wednesday ordered that jurors in the trial, which is set to begin Monday, will be permitted to view the video on a TV monitor angled away from the rest of the courtroom.

Members of the press and the public will not be allowed to see it, over the objections of Gawker's attorneys and two lawyers representing a variety of media organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times.

The video is an excerpt of the roughly 30-minute sex tape mailed to Gawker in 2012 and edited down to a series of clips. It shows Bollea having sex with Heather Cole, the former wife of Bollea's then-best friend, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

It was the excerpt that Gawker's editors posted online along with a written narrative, incurring Bollea's wrath and swiftly filed violation of privacy lawsuit. He is asking for $100 million in damages from Gawker, a figure the website's founder has said could cripple the company.

During the hearing, Bollea's attorney Charles Harder called the video "hard-core pornography."

Harder said it took months to persuade Gawker to take down the video and years to get it wiped from much of the Internet. Showing it to the public and the press would violate Bollea's privacy rights all over again, he said.

"The courts do belong to the people, we agree with that," he said. "But my client's naked body does not belong to the people. My client's image having sexual intercourse does not belong to the people."

Attorneys for Gawker, the Times and other media outlets countered that Bollea's legal team was attempting to bar the press from viewing critical evidence in the case. The video is the case, they argued, and no amount of embarrassment on the part of its subject overrides the public's right to view the evidence.

Gawker attorney Rachel Fugate said Bollea's legal team had "grossly misrepresented" the video excerpt, which shows approximately 9 seconds of sexual intercourse. The rest is mostly bedroom chitchat between Bollea and Cole.

"If these video excerpts cannot be played in open court … that sends a very clear and unmistakable message to the jury that they are not fit for public disclosure," she said, which is the central issue in the case.

Although she had the choice of showing the public the video and barring the pool camera from filming it, Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell chose to keep the video entirely secret.

"It's important for the jury to decide this issue, not necessarily the public," she said.

Earlier during the hearing, Bollea's attorney said his client has settled his lawsuit against Cole, the former wife of radio shock jock Clem.

That leaves New York media outlet Gawker as Bollea's sole adversary in his lawsuit over the publication of his sex tape in 2012.

It was widely expected that Hogan's team would settle with Cole, who they had accused of the same invasion of privacy violations they say Gawker committed. His attorneys say Clem and Cole arranged to film Bollea without his knowledge.

Two weeks after filing the suit, Bollea settled with Clem.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at (813) 226-3354 or aphillips@tampabay.com. Follow @annamphillips.

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