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Gawker president expects to lose Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit

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Gawker Media’s president is anticipating a loss against former wrestling star Hulk Hogan over the 2012 leak of a sex tape.

“It’s probably difficult to win the case entirely, outright, knowing the jury that we’re facing, but it’s possible. More likely than not, we end up with a really small judgment that we can easily carry and we appeal that,” said Heather Dietrick said during a Gawker staff meeting held on Thursday according to Capital New York.

Gawker is facing a $100 million lawsuit filed by Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan, after the media excerpt released a portion of a sex tape involving him and the ex-wife of shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

A $100 million settlement would likely put Gawker out of business. Even if the media company appealed the decision Florida law requires a bond be posted in the settlement amount until the appeals process is complete. That alone could bankrupt the company.

But Dietrick, who also serves as general counsel for Gawker, thinks it is far more likely the settlement will be very small – so small she said it may not even be worth appealing the jury decision.

“It’s quite possible that Hogan just gets a very small judgment against us, and then we have to make the decision: do we appeal that and incur further fees to vindicate the First Amendment rights that we know we’re on the right side of, or do we simply say, OK this very small judgment is a win and makes it very difficult for Hulk Hogan [to continue litigating,]” Dietrick said.

If the media company does make the decision to appeal a verdict in favor of Bollea, they anticipate a win. That appeal would go to Florida’s Second Distict Court of Appeal where the court has already heard eight orders related to the sex tape lawsuit and ruled in favor of Gawker in eight of them.

Should Gawker be forced to appeal a large settlement, Dietrick anticipates the court would allow the company to post a reduced bond because of the case’s significance on First Amendment rights.

In the meantime, Capital New York reports the company is taking steps to minimize its possible negative exposure by asking employees and editors to get approval by Gawker’s legal department over any posts that may put the company at risk of being sued.

So far there has only been one decision from legal that prohibited a post from going up. A staff member discovered what appeared to be a photo of Justin Bieber’s genitals. Dietrick told the employee the photo could likely lead to an indefensible lawsuit and informed him not to put it up.

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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