Judge opens door for probe into Peter Thiel's funding of Gawker case

After the Silicon Valley billionaire said he helped fund Hulk Hogan's case against Gawker, the site wants answers

Published June 28, 2017 1:28PM (EDT)

Peter Thiel   (AP/Ben Margot)
Peter Thiel (AP/Ben Margot)

A judge ruled Wednesday that the administrator of Gawker Media's estate showed "good cause" to probe billionaire investor Peter Thiel's relationship with lawyer Charles J. Harder over the role played in the media company's bankruptcy, according to multiple news reports.

"The decision is a win for the now-defunct Gawker, which was forced into bankruptcy last summer in the wake of an invasion of privacy lawsuit brought by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and funded by Thiel," according to Forbes. Thiel also told the New York Times his funding of the case was "one of my greater philanthropic things".

The Times noted that a Gawker post which claimed the tech billionaire is gay and "a series of articles about his friends and others that he said 'ruined people’s lives for no reason' drove Mr. Thiel to mount a clandestine war against Nick Denton's media enterprise.

After being faced with a $140 million judgment, Gawker sold itself to Univision for $135 million and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Last November, Gawker and Hogan settled for $31 million. Gawker no longer exists as a media organization or a distinct site. Many of its titles — Jezebel, Deadspin, etc. — now fall under the Gizmodo Media banner.

Gawker's estate is also considering a lawsuit against Thiel for his behind-the-scenes behavior of a case he was not involved with, Forbes reported. A possible subject of the probe could be "litigation financing agreement(s) relating to the lawsuit or claims in the lawsuit, and any non-privileged retainer agreements with Charles J. Harder, Esq. or the law firm of Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein said on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.

Those running the estate are seeking answers as to how much Thiel funded the litigation and at what point he began doing so, Forbes reported. "Wednesday's decision by bankruptcy judge Stuart Bernstein did not allow for discovery immediately, but rather directs lawyers for both sides to agree on a narrowed scope of the inquiry in advance. If that doesn't happen, Bernstein will likely have to issue another ruling on the matter this summer," according to Forbes.

A documentary titled "Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press" was recently made available on Netflix. It examines the entirety of the Gawker lawsuit and takes a broader look at how big money can influence the media.


By Charlie May

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