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Hulk Hogan & Peter Thiel: The legal Mega Powers?


The following originally appeared in this week's Figure Four Weekly

By David Bixenspan for

If it wasn't clear before that the Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker lawsuit is a whole lot bigger than Hulk Hogan or even Gawker, the events of the last few weeks have made it more obvious than ever before.

Of course, the revelation two months ago that billionaire Peter Thiel had been funding Hogan's lawsuit (and others against Gawker) was a game changer, but the effects of Thiel's influence weren't as obvious. Before, it was about Hogan dropping the count that would force Gawker's insurance company to pay and his constant refusal to settle a risky, legally complicated case.

Now? There's a lot more to it.

The $140+ million judgment in Hogan's favor and the peculiarities of Florida law, which make it so that a bond in the amount of the judgment (capped at $50 million) is needed to appeal, led to Gawker Media itself filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An asset auction, with publisher Ziff Davis as the "stalking horse" bidder, is coming in a few weeks.

As for Denton and Daulerio, while they are theoretically indemnified by Gawker, the bankruptcy effectively makes it so that they're not. As a result, Denton filed personal Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 1st, and Daulerio is expected to follow soon.

The full extent of how Thiel's involvement is impacting the case became apparent in bankruptcy court. Hogan, as the owner of the largest debt, wields quite a bit of influence on the creditor committee.

As I first reported on LawNewz a few weeks back, the committee has already expressed its intention enter discussions with potential buyers "to make sure that any defamatory, tortious content that's currently on the web pages today is taken down, in connection with the sale."

Gawker has not lost any defamation cases, and in fact, one of their outstanding defamation cases is over an article where it's impossible to read the article as having defamed the subject.

That set the stage for what Hogan had planned next. Denton and Daulerio got brief injunctions against the judgment as part of Gawker's bankruptcy filing. When they expired, Denton and Gawker went back to bankruptcy court on July 19th to get a six week extension.

The idea was simple: Denton was acknowledging that bankruptcy was inevitable, but it benefited everyone involved, including Hogan, to put it off until after the sale. He's the point man, the one who has the connections and knows how the maximize Gawker's value. Personal bankruptcy would take too much time and energy away from the sale, possibly lowering the sale price at auction.

So why not wait a few weeks?

For no real reason, Hogan fought this, making the case that Gawker can run fine without Denton. In the end, while the judge seemed less than happy with Hogan's counsel wasting his time with largely fabricated allegations of deception against Gawker, he felt that Gawker wouldn't suffer irreparable harm in the sale so he found for Hogan, who was now artificially limiting how much of the judgment he could collect.

Wait, what?

You see, Hogan's not actually acting like a creditor. A creditor placing a priority on getting all of his money would not have done what he did. Someone with the goal of getting straight up revenge would. Your mileage may vary as to if that applies to Hogan, but it certainly applies to Peter Thiel.

It's bad enough that you have to wonder if, at this point, Hogan is also being paid by Thiel to keep this going.

What's going on in bankruptcy court is not the only reason to think that, though: When Hogan brought his latest lawsuit against Gawker (which is frozen by the bankruptcy), alleging that they leaked his racist comments without any actual evidence, he brought those comments back into the news and public discourse at a point where they had largely evaporated.

By pursuing a lawsuit centered around them, he virtually assured that WWE wouldn't bring him back any time soon because he was putting the revelation of his racism (not to mention how two-faced he was in talking that way about Cecile Barker, who thought he was Hogan's best friend) was going to be at the center of his life for, potentially, the next few years.

Does limiting his opportunities to make money like that sound like something Hulk Hogan would do? Remember, this is a guy whose WCW contract paid him $20,000 a month just to wear NWO shirts away from work as a brand ambassador.

Launching a lawsuit with an incredibly slim likelihood of succeeding that would keep him out of WWE and other mainstream gigs is not a Hulk Hogan thing to do unless he has a benefactor of some kind. And to some degree, we know he already does.

Is it really a leap to think that Thiel is also supporting Hogan's day to day life? Even the $30 million or so that Hogan would need to get his old lifestyle back isn't a big expenditure for Thiel at all.

If you had already made the decision to treat Hogan as a former pro wrestling personality, then the implications of his pact with Thiel could very well be proving you right.