Gawker's sole purpose for publishing the personal footage "was salacious greed," says David Houston

By Chris Harris
March 04, 2016 02:00 PM
Scott Keeler/The Tampa Bay Times via AP, Pool

brightcove.createExperiences(); The lawyer representing Hulk Hogan in his $100 million civil suit against Gawker, which posted leaked video footage of the wrestler having sex with his former friend’s ex-wife, tells PEOPLE the “First Amendment is being prostituted” by the site’s free speech defense.

“Gawker is exploiting the First Amendment so that they can do whatever they want to whomever they desire,” Nevada attorney David Houston tells PEOPLE. “This lawsuit was filed to draw a line in the sand – a line that had to be drawn.”

Houston says that he expects a jury will be in place by the end of the day Friday, following three days of intense questioning. Opening arguments in the trial are scheduled to begin on Monday morning, and the proceedings are anticipated to last three weeks.

“Gawker’s First Amendment defense has no legs – it’s bogus,” Houston tells PEOPLE. “We know it, they know it, and at the end of this trial, the jury will know it.”

Gawker Media attorney Seth Berlin countered, telling PEOPLE that “both a federal judge and a unanimous appeals court have already ruled that this very story – including Gawker’s choice to include very brief video footage with its story – is protected by the First Amendment.”

The sex tape clip runs less than 2 minutes, and was posted to the Gawker site in 2012. It shows the 62-year-old Hogan (born Terry Bollea) having sex with 41-year-old Heather Clem, the former wife of Florida radio talk show host Bubba the Love Sponge.

Hogan claims in his suit that he did not know the encounter was being filmed, and that Gawker violated his privacy by publishing the sex tape. But the site’s lawyers have invoked the First Amendment, noting Hogan often spoke openly about his sex life with other media outlets.

Terry Bollea, known as professional wrestler Hulk Hogan
Scott Keeler/The Tampa Bay Times via AP, Pool
David R. Houston
Chris O'Meara/AP

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Houston tells PEOPLE: “Very simply stated, this is not and has never been a case about the First Amendment. This case is not about words, and it isn’t about Gawker reporting a story. It has always centered on the inclusion of a video that wasn’t necessary.”

He adds, “This story never required the inclusion of pornographic video. The First Amendment was never designed to protect this kind of conduct. This was a significant violation of Terry’s privacy.”

Gawker’s sole purpose for publishing the personal footage “was salacious greed,” Houston tells PEOPLE, adding “this is not a situation where it is appropriate for Gawker to wrap itself in the protections of the First Amendment. This video was criminal in its inception.”

But Berlin claims “Gawker posted no advertisements on this story – at all” when it ran.

“It takes some nerve to come to court seeking $100 million and then say that Gawker, who made no money from this story, is the greedy one,” Berlin says to PEOPLE. “Hulk Hogan decided years ago that promoting his celebrity by talking endlessly about his sex life – in autobiographies, on TV, on Howard Stern’s radio show in graphic detail – was more important than his privacy. So it takes a special kind of nerve to demand $100 million by claiming the very privacy he purposefully abandoned somehow entitles him to a payout.”

Houston says that the outcome of the case could have far-reaching impacts.

“Gawker is putting the First Amendment in jeopardy by their actions,” Houston tells PEOPLE. “This supposed claim that Gawker’s First Amendment rights were somehow infringed upon is a pathetic Hail Mary. No jury would be so na ve as to believe that type of claim, especially in light of the fact that Gawker knew Terry did not know that this video was recorded. He did not authorize the dissemination of the video. It was disseminated without his consent. The invocation of the First Amendment in this case is pathetic.”

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