Hulk Hogan Back in WWE, But Legal Issues Remain

(CN) – World Wrestling Entertainment reinstated Hulk Hogan in its hall of fame this week, three years after removing the professional wrestler following the release of a tape recording him using racial slurs.

In a statement, the WWE said the “second chance follows Hogan’s numerous public apologies and volunteering to work with young people, where he is helping them learn from his mistake.”

The reinstatement may give Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, a more prominent role in the organization and ends an embarrassing part of the wrestler’s career. Yet that tape, a secretly recorded sex video filmed in his former best friend’s bedroom, is still mired in legal issues.

Bollea famously sued Gawker in 2012 over their publication of an edited version of the tape showing Bollea having sex with Heather Cole, the former wife of shock jock and the wrestler’s then-best friend Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem. After a jury trial, Bollea won a $115 million judgment that effectively destroyed the gossip news site.

But months after winning that lawsuit, Bollea quietly filed another complaint in Pinellas County Circuit Court. His new opponents: A radio company, a California-based attorney with ties to porn star Stormy Daniels, a talent agency and two Tampa talk show hosts.

The suit stems from unpublished portions of the sex tape obtained by Gawker. In post-coitus conversations between Bollea and Cole, the wrestler goes on a racially-charged rant against the former wrestler’s daughter’s boyfriend, who is black.

Although Gawker did not publish those parts of the conversation, Bollea claims the website released a court-sealed transcript of the tape to the National Enquirer, which wrote a story about Bollea’s racist remarks in 2015. That story prompted the WWE to fire Bollea and wipe all traces of his name from their website and remove him from the hall of fame.

Bollea alleges the defendants either facilitated the publishing of the sex tape contents on Gawker or used the tape as extortion.

“Mr. Bollea said from the beginning that he would seek to hold all persons and entities fully responsible for their wrongful actions,” Bollea’s legal team said in a statement at the time. “This lawsuit seeks to do just that.”

Much of the information in the 2016 lawsuit came after discovery ended in the Gawker litigation, Bollea’s attorneys said.

According to the complaint, two radio personalities — Michael “Cowhead” Calta and Matt “Spice Boy” Loyd — conspired together with a talent agent and Keith M. Davidson of Beverly Hills to cause “substantial economic harm to plaintiff, among others … while also furthering their own radio broadcasting careers.”

(Davidson has made headlines recently as the attorney who allegedly negotiated the confidentiality agreement between Stormy Daniels and President Donald Trump.)

Testimony from Bollea’s earlier lawsuit against Gawker showed Tony Burton, Calta’s talent agent, sent the 30-minute sex tape to the website, which created a 100-second highlight reel using the footage.

Afterward, the lawsuit claims, those involved had Davidson approach Bollea’s lawyers and threaten to release the tape if the wrestler did not pay $1 million.

Tampa Police Department investigated the alleged extortion but did not press charges. During a sting by the FBI, Davidson was arrested and the recordings seized. He was never prosecuted.

Later, Gawker filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI. Bollea claims this was to gain access to the tape transcripts. When a judge sealed those documents, the complaint states, Gawker leaked them to the National Enquirer. Minutes after the Enquirer posted the racially-charged transcript, Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio tweeted Bollea: “XOXOXO” and a link to the Enquirer’s post, Bollea claims.

“Based upon the timing and content of Daulerio’s tweet,” the complaint states, “Daulerio was aware, in advance, of the Enquirer’s plans to publish the court-protected confidential transcript, and the harm that such publication would cause to plaintiff.”

The lawsuit has moved slowly through the court with the defendants filing several motions to restrict discovery or dismiss the complaint entirely.

Burton and his agency repeatedly tried to dismiss the complaint or propose a settlement. The judge granted them a dismissal last year over jurisdiction issues, but Bollea’s attorneys appealed.

Calta, the talk show host, successfully petitioned to remove Judge Pamela Campbell from the lawsuit last year.  (Campbell presided over the Gawker case.) But Calta lost a petition to block a subpoena of his phone records.

The defendants’ attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Interspersed with all the legal wrangling is a petition by the National Enquirer, who is not a party to the case, to refuse a subpoena based on journalistic privilege.

The lawsuit isn’t Bollea’s only ongoing legal issue. His former wife, Linda Bollea, recently re-opened their divorce case last month, alleging the wrestler has not paid the stipulated 40 percent of his earnings.

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