The right-wing judicial activism of Judge Pamela Campbell

Judge Pamela Campbell is why everyone in this country needs the First Amendment. She is the judge in the Florida state court who presided over the Hulk Hogan/Gawker Media trial, in which a jury Friday awarded Hogan $115 million in damages for invasion of privacy after the gossip site published the brief excerpt of a sex tape featuring Hogan.

Campbell is an ideologue, who in 2006 was appointed to the bench by another ideologue, then-governor Jeb Bush, after having represented the parents of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo in the politically-motivated case. It was a right-to-vegetation case, if you like — in which Schiavo’s husband Michael had sought to put an end to his wife’s comatose state after 15 years of half-life. But then-attorney Campbell and Schiavo’s parents didn’t like that idea, and the case attracted a lot of attention from fellow conservatives hell-bent on keeping what was left of Terri Schiavo attached to a feeding tube. An autopsy after Schiavo’s death revealed that her brain had shrunk by half. Imagine feeling that you had the authority to put someone’s family through such a thing.

And that’s just when Campbell was a lawyer; she’s a judge now, and far more powerful.

Hogan’s case against Gawker was spectacularly successful — on Friday. But, if the documents in the case unsealed just Friday afternoon by Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals are any guide, Judge Campbell seems to have used the power granted her by the state to suppress critical evidence in her court favoring a defendant, Gawker Media, whom she did not like. These documents contain over 1,000 pages the jury was not allowed to see, because Judge Campbell agreed with Hogan’s lawyers that they were not relevant to the case.

If you happen to be on Campbell’s side of the divide, either through being an arch-conservative or through having some kind of bias against Gawker Media, maybe that doesn’t bother you too much. Maybe you think defendants A.J. Daulerio, Nick Denton, and Gawker Media got what was coming to them, when the six-person jury decided Friday to soak Gawker for $115 million in exchange for posting the one and a half minute snippet of a sex romp featuring the wrestler and Heather Clem, the former wife of Hogan’s best friend, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

Suppose, however, that you were to come up against a judge who just didn’t like you, and who was prepared to use her power to suppress facts that would help your case, should you have the misfortune to be sued by a litigious and unscrupulous foe? Maybe you are a political conservative, so say you came up against a liberal who really hates conservatives, or you are a woman, and the judge hates women. Without absolute fidelity to the First Amendment, that judge will be able to stop you from saying or writing what you want, which is the unpleasant state of affairs to be found in places like Southeast Asia, China, Cuba, and North Korea.

Here are just a few things the jury in the Hogan trial wasn’t allowed to learn today:

  • Hulk Hogan opining that if his daughter were to “fuck a nigger,” he would prefer that said nigger be a very rich one.
  • Hogan’s testimony to the FBI indicating that not only had he seen the sex tape at issue in the Gawker trial (flatly contradicting his sworn testimony in that case), he had seen two other tapes as well.
  • Hogan’s texts with Bubba Clem claiming he didn’t know he was being filmed — but also expressing worry about other videotapes that were “out there,” including the ones with him using racist language.
  • Hogan saying of his daughter Brooke, who had disappointed him in a business matter, “Fuck her.”
  • Heather Clem, who softly denied any knowledge of having been filmed, describing the film she’d claimed no knowledge of: “You’ll probably see my face squirming.”
  • Bubba Clem lying his head off about all sorts of things.
  • A large number of perplexing documents involving a sex tape broker named Davidson, who was caught in an FBI sting offering the tapes to Hogan for money. (Lot of questions there. Why was Davidson never prosecuted, for example?)

On Wednesday afternoon, a few reporters buttonholed David Houston, Hogan’s longtime personal attorney. He gave us a fire-and-brimstone speech about how shameless Gawker is, and how Gawker was trying to “pull the New York wool” over the eyes of the jury. He characterized Gawker as “desperate” and expressed confidence that the trial would be going Hogan’s way. He also admitted the possibility that the order to unseal documents might alter the Hogan team’s strategy. “It’s a work in progress,” he said. In the event, he was right … but again, only for now. The new documents strengthen the likelihood that Gawker is destined to win on appeal in the court that chose to release them, in stark contrast to the apparent efforts of Judge Campbell to prevent people from judging fairly, or rather, to take steps to ensure that they judge her way.

[photo: Tampa Bay Times]