Million Dollar Verdicts Reputation and Privacy Trial

CVN Florida Plaintiff’s Attorneys of 2016: Lawyers Whose $140M Verdict Broke Media Giant

Posted by Courtroom View Network on Dec 22, 2016 10:56:49 AM | Read Original Article

Billions of dollars were at stake in CVN-covered trials throughout Florida in 2016. However, the two lawyers who earn this year’s title as CVN Florida Plaintiff’s Attorneys of the Year spearheaded a win in a landmark trial over celebrity privacy that ultimately toppled a media giant.

CVN Florida Plaintiff’s Attorneys of 2016

Kenneth Turkel and Shane Vogt

The trial: Bollea v. Gawker Media

The verdict: Jurors awarded Terry Bollea $140.1 million, including $25 million in punitives, in his invasion of privacy suit against Gawker Media, its founder, and its former editor.

The details: Terry Bollea, better known as wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan, sued online media empire Gawker Media, claiming the company invaded his privacy and damaged his reputation when it published a clip of a sex video taken without Bollea’s knowledge by a friend of the wrestler’s. Gawker, which received the tape from an anonymous source and which it published with commentary by editor A.J. Daulerio, claimed the video was newsworthy based on Bollea’s celebrity status and his public discussion of his sex life.

The trial focused on standards of journalism and Gawker’s own business goals, with Vogt portraying Gawker founder Nick Denton as a mogul obsessed with driving viewers to his sites at any cost. “They knew it was wrong, they knew it was an invasion of privacy, they told other people and they did it anyway,” Vogt said. “We will prove they crossed the line.”

In closing statements of the punitive phase, Turkel told jurors the trial would serve as notice to other media sites regarding the limits of their coverage. “You send a message, you make a statement; that statement is ‘We’re going to draw the line,’” Turkel said. “Literally, you draw the line at the publication, without consent, of a private act accorded in a private bedroom.”

The trial and its stunning verdict made headlines nationwide and ultimately forced Gawker into bankruptcy. The case launched discussions on journalistic ethics, celebrity rights to privacy, and, when it was discovered PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel bankrolled the suit after Gawker allegedly outed him in a publication, the role the wealthy play in shaping media coverage.

But the landmark verdict itself was driven by the courtroom work of Turkel and Vogt. Their win in one of the country’s biggest trials of 2016 earns them Florida Plaintiff’s Attorney of the Year honors.

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Million Dollar Verdicts Reputation and Privacy Trial

Hulk Hogan, Gawker Brace for Jury Verdict at Sex Tape Trial

“Do you think the media can do whatever they want?” asked Hogan’s attorney in closing arguments.

The time has nearly come for a verdict in the first-ever trial pitting a celebrity against a media organization for the posting of a sex tape. The proceedings represent a probing of newsworthiness and whether the press can be held to maintain a standard of decency. More than three and a half years since Gawker published a post titled, “Even For A Minute, Watching Hulk Hogan Have Sex In A Canopy Bed Is Not Safe For Work But Watch It Anyway,” jury deliberations began after Hogan and Gawker gave a six-member jury in a Florida courtroom their closing arguments. These jurors began deliberations without having yet seen the sex tape in question.

Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) contends that a less-than-two-minute excerpt of a 30-minute video, showing the famous wrestler sleeping with Heather Cole, then the wife of his best friend Bubba the Love Sponge (a radio host born Todd Clem), was an invasion of privacy, illegal wiretapping, a violation of the right of publicity and inflicted emotional distress. In weighing Hogan’s claims, the jury has been instructed to consider whether the video was highly offensive and was outside the bounds of human decency, causing (purposely or by reckless disregard) Hogan to experience shame and embarrassment. The jury will also consider whether Hogan had a reasonable expectation of privacy and whether Hogan’s name and likeness was used in a commercial purpose. If Hogan has proven the elements of his claims, the jury will also take up Gawker‘s defense — that the publishing of the video is protected by the First Amendment because it related to a public concern, meaning it was “newsworthy.”

Before closing arguments began, Pinellas County Judge Pamela Campbell noted the line between free speech and unfair intrusion, telling the jury they’d have to consider what “ceases to be the giving of legitimate information to which the public is entitled and becomes a morbid and sensational prying into private lives for its own sake.”

Ken Turkel gave Hogan’s summary of the case.