ST. PETERSBURG (CBSMiami/AP) — Hulk Hogan’s courtroom cage match with Gawker is being bankrolled by billionaire Peter Thiel.
The PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor tells The New York Times that Hogan’s lawsuit is one of several against Gawker that he has financially backed.
Thiel told the newspaper his plan has been several years in the making. He was publicly outed as gay in a 2007 post on the company’s Valleywag blog. Still, he says his motive is “less about revenge and more about specific deterrence.”
Legal experts say there is nothing illegal — or even unethical — about someone financing a lawsuit. There are entire companies that invest in contingency claims, usually in product liability, personal injury, patent infringement and copyright cases. It is called “litigation financing.”
Two months ago Hogan won a $140 million invasion-of-privacy verdict against Gawker for posting a sex tape of him. On Wednesday a judge denied Gawker a new trial or a reduction in the verdict’s amount. The company plans to appeal.
Hogan’s lawyers accuse Gawker of refusing to accept responsibility for “their reprehensible behavior and method of doing what they call journalism.”
Thiel has never hidden his contempt for Valleywag, a gossip site that Gawker periodically ran during the past decade to expose the secrets of Silicon Valley moguls, sometimes in salacious fashion.
In a 2009 interview, Thiel called Valleywag “the Silicon Valley equivalent of al-Qaida” and said it relies on people who “should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters.”
The attack spurred speculation that Thiel was still angry about a Valleywag report two years earlier about his sexuality. Others believe Thiel may have been far more upset about Valleywag’s stories mocking Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and questioning the social network’s value before it went public in 2012.
Those derogatory stories could have eroded the fortune Thiel was building in Facebook, where he remains a board member.
During Wednesday’s court proceedings, Gawker’s attorneys asked the judge to allow them to seek evidence from the other side regarding Thiel’s supposed involvement. But the judge said no.
Hogan sued Gawker after it posted a 2007 video of him having sex with the wife of his best friend, Tampa radio personality Bubba The Love Sponge Clem. Hogan said Clem betrayed him by secretly videotaping him.
Gawker is counting on the verdict to be overturned on appeal and has not said whether it can afford the full $140 million. During the trial, Gawker’s parent company, a collection of websites called Gawker Media, was estimated to be worth $83 million.
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