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Judge in Hulk Hogan case keeps many confidential files sealed

ST. PETERSBURG — A Pinellas County circuit judge ruled Thursday that several pieces of evidence related to the Hulk Hogan sex tape case will remain confidential despite a request from media outlets that they be made public.

Of the 17 items at issue in the hearing, Judge Pamela Campbell determined that 15 will remain sealed, one will be unsealed and one pushed to a later discussion.

The rulings add to a long list of proceedings related to a lawsuit that Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, filed against Gawker claiming that the media company violated his privacy by publishing an excerpt from a sex tape. The video involves Bollea and Heather Cole, the ex-wife of radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Bollea is seeking $100 million in damages.

The document that Campbell unsealed contained orders from court documents as well as two letters touching on the sex tape, said Stephen Thompson, spokesman for the court.

The FBI looked into the leak, which plays a large part in the argument from media companies for disclosure. A federal judge determined that the records from the FBI investigation are available under the Freedom of Information Act and ordered the agency to release them to Gawker. But when they were brought into Bollea's lawsuit, Campbell sealed them.

"It's in the interest of the public to be able to understand those issues," said Robert Rogers, a lawyer representing a group of media companies, including the Tampa Bay Times. "These documents have already been determined by the (federal) court to be public records."

But Bollea's team argued that his right to privacy outweighs the public's right to the information.

The parties also discussed a potential investigation into how reporters from the National Enquirer and RadarOnLine.com got a transcript from the sex tape that quotes Bollea making racist and homophobic comments.

At a previous hearing, Bollea's lawyers asked Campbell to authorize an investigation to find the source of the leak. Bollea's team suggested that Gawker was responsible. The media company has denied involvement.

Bollea occasionally checked his phone during Thursday's hearing and didn't speak until he emerged from the courthouse.

"It's a beautiful day," he said.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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