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Gawker Staffer Fights Hulk Hogan Subpoena

MANHATTAN (CN) - Hulk Hogan subpoenaed a Gawker staffer who had nothing to do with disseminating the wrestler's embarrassing sex tape, John Cook claims in court.

Cook, who returned to Gawker in late 2014 after a brief stint with newsmagazine The Intercept, filed the complaint Wednesday against the wrestler, using his real name Terry Gene Bollea.

Gawker and Hogan have been tangled in litigation for years over the website's October 2012 publication of scenes from the wrestler's videotaped extramarital dalliance with Heather Clem.

Hogan claims that Clem and her former husband, disc jockey Todd "Bubba the Love Sponge" Clem, secretly recorded the video in 2006 and released it without Hogan's knowledge.

A Florida judge ordered Gawker to remove the video and the article by A.J. Daulerio, but the Second District Court of Appeal reversed last year.

The lawsuit filed against Hogan in Manhattan Supreme Court says Cook was subpoenaed in connection with the Florida litigation last month.

Cook concedes that he was a contributor to Gawker when Hogan's sex-tape was its hottest item, but maintains that "he had no involvement with the Gawker story."

"Prior testimony in the Florida action by the author of the post at issue confirms that fact," the complaint states.

Cook says his involvement with the Hogan case begins and ends with an article he wrote and published for Gawker on April 25, 2013: "A Judge Told Us To Take Down Our Hulk Hogan Sex Tape Post. We Won't."

"The Cook story commented on and criticized the Florida court decision enjoining the continued publication of the Gawker story, an injunction that was immediately stayed and later reversed on appeal," the complaint states.

"To the extent that the subpoena seeks information about the Cook story, that information is protected from disclosure by the New York State Shield Law, New York Civil Rights Law § 79-h(c), because it constitutes unpublished information related to a story other than the one at issue in the Florida lawsuit."

Though Hogan is preparing to depose Cook on March 4, Cook wants the court to quash the subpoena and issue a protective order for him "on two grounds: 1) the subpoena was not served properly, and 2) the subject of the requested testimony, a different article that is not at issue in the Florid action, is protected by the New York State Shield Law."

Manhattan-based Cook has been running investigations at Gawker for the last few months.

He notes that "Hogan has already taken three full-day depositions of Gawker witnesses, and Gawker is producing five additional witnesses for deposition during the week of March 2, 2015."

"In addition to the author of the Gawker story, these witnesses include Gawker's CEO, its chief operating officer, its chief technology officer, its chief strategy officer, and its president of advertising and partnerships," the complaint states. "It cannot seriously be maintained that Hogan also needs Cook's deposition to make his claims, much less that his testimony is critical to those claims, as required."

Cook says his attorney alerted Hogan's counsel to a deficiency with the initial subpoena, but that Hogan merely issued a new subpoena on Feb. 9, "purporting to require his testimony on 'because of its material importance to the underlying claims and defenses in the originating case and due to your employment in various positions of control and influence at Gawker Media LLC, as well as your authorship of various articles concerning the subject matter of this litigation.'"

Disputing this, Cook says he needs the court's help.

"Absent court intervention, Cook, who had nothing to do with the story that gives rise to Hogan's claims against Gawker in the Florida lawsuit, will be forced to appear to testify about privileged information protected from disclosure by the New York State Shield law," the complaint states. Such a result would violate the strong public policy of the State of New York as codified in the Shield Law."

Cook is represented by Katherine Bolger with Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.

The appellate reversal for Gawker last year chided Hogan for stoking the story's flames by telling TMZ in 2012 that he did not know who was in the sex tape with him since he had made so many "conquests" during the relevant time period.

On "The Howard Stern Show" later that year, Hogan also revealed that Todd Clem had allowed him to have sex with his wife, the court found.

The court emphasized the absence of profit-seeking motives in Gawker's report on the story.

"Gawker Media has not attempted to sell the sex tape or any of the material creating the instant controversy, for that matter," the Florida court wrote. "Rather, Gawker Media reported on Mr. Bollea's extramarital affair and complementary thereto posted excerpts from the video."

Hogan's star rose in the 1980s when he appeared as Thunderlips in "Rocky III" and when he won his first WWE title from The Iron Sheik in 1984. Hogan has won 12 world titles and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

The wrestler and his family later starred in a reality show called "Hogan Knows Best."

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