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Gawker nabs legal win in advance of Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit

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The media company Gawker has won a lawsuit stemming back to 2013 related to the 2012 sex tape it released of Florida wrestling star Hulk Hogan.

The judge’s decision to force the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to turn over evidence related to an investigation into the tape’s leak means Gawker will likely uncover evidence it can use in its defense against a separate lawsuit filed by Hogan.

Hogan (Terry Bollea) sued Gawker in 2012 after it released portions of the tape recorded in 2006 by Tampa Bay area shock jock and Hogan’s friend Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. The tape shows Hogan having sex with Clem’s then-wife, Heather Clem, with Clem encouraging it.

Gawker immediately began defending itself against the lawsuit by issuing a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI to turn over documents related to the sex tape and Hogan.

Hogan had asked that an investigation be launched in 2012 around the same time Gawker released the edited sex tape because a lawyer in California reportedly was trying to sell the raw tape.

Gawker had received the tape anonymously.

The FBI denied Gawker’s request citing Hogan and Heather Clem’s privacy rights. The media group attempted to get waivers from Hogan and Clem, but their request was denied.

Gawker then filed another lawsuit asking a judge to compel the two to waive their privacy rights. They won that case and a judge ordered the pair to sign privacy waivers.

Gawker then filed another FOIA request with the FBI for documents, but this time added they wanted video evidence as well. An agreement between Gawker and Hogan said the documents could be released, but the video evidence had to be sealed and handled by a special magistrate to ensure its proper use.

The FBI responded that the more than 1,000 documents and video evidence could not be released because they were part of an ongoing investigation.

Gawker also expanded its request, at that time, to the U.S. Attorney’s office. That request was also denied.

The two denials led up to the most recent court battle in which Gawker emerged victorious. The judge ruled the FBI documents must be turned over to Gawker by Friday, but with some stipulations.

The FBI can withhold documents they believe are exempt, but they have to categorically document which documents are being withheld and why. Those reasons are due back in court Tuesday. The judge in that case will determine whether or not the exemptions apply and determine which documents can be withheld and which cannot next Thursday.

This is all leading up to the upcoming trial in Pinellas County between Hogan and Gawker. Hogan is suing the gossip blog for $100 million for emotional distress and blocking him from his publicity rights.

That trial is set for July 6. It’s expected to last two weeks. Todd “Bubba the Love Sponge Clem” was originally named in the suit, but was dropped after the shock jock radio star apologized for originally claiming Hogan had something to do with the tape’s release.

Information from the Capital New York was used in this report

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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