I’m not sure if I should be flattered or offended that my friends and family were so shocked when I turned up in the news this week, as an expert witness in the Hulk Hogan versus Gawker sex-tape trial.
The implied question is always, “How does a nice boy like you wind up in a courtroom with Hulk Hogan talking about sex tapes?”
It’s a fair question.
I am otherwise a pretty boring guy. Husband, father of four and grandfather of three, with more on the way. A SoulCycle habit is about as wild as I get. And even then the choreography occasionally ties me in knots.
So it was more than a little surreal on Wednesday when I walked into the Pinellas County courtroom in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Hogan was wearing his trademark black bandana. My friends had the same reaction when they saw images of me and Hogan popping up in their Facebook feed.
Then they had lots of questions:
“How did you get involved in this?”
“Why did you get involved?”
And, “What’s it like?”
I’ll answer those three, but will stay away from any questions about the trial itself. As of today, it’s still a live case — with closing arguments this morning. Not only would it not be appropriate for me to comment but — more importantly — my comments would be worthless.
My road to the courtroom started in January 2015. Someone in Gawker’s management reached out to my wife, Pam Horan, who at the time was the president of the Online Publishers Association, to ask for a referral for someone who could calculate the revenue that Gawker might have received by running the Hogan sex tape.
Pam suggested that I talk to Gawker. And that started me down the slippery slope.
It was more than a little surreal on Wednesday when I walked into the Pinellas County courtroom in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Hulk Hogan was wearing his trademark black bandana.
What I quickly discovered is that being an expert witness is serious business, and hard work. In this particular case, the stakes could reach $100 million. So people treat every detail with deadly seriousness.
Was it fun? No — not really.
There has been, at times, a carnival atmosphere. But beneath all of that, this is a case with life-changing implications for the people involved, and perhaps beyond.
For me, the “oh shit” moment was when I had finished my direct testimony and I was sitting in the witness chair waiting to be cross-examined.
I had told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But in daily life, we are never put in a position where someone has pretty much free rein to attack you with the objective of making you look stupid.
So I gulped deeply when the cross-examination started. It turned out fine. But it wasn’t fun.
Was it worthwhile? Yes, but for reasons that I would have never imagined.
I was well compensated for my testimony, which is a matter of public record. So I’ll save you the trouble of Googling it: I made $400 an hour. But that was actually the least of it.
And, although it wasn’t my area of expertise, this is really an important case about the balance between freedom of the press versus the right of privacy. Even though the canvas is splashed in gaudy colors, that’s really the core issue.
In the end, two things stood out: First, the quality and dedication of the attorneys that I was working with. Second, the dedication of the jury in Saint Petersburg.
Being an expert witness is serious business, and hard work. In this particular case, the stakes could reach $100 million.
Early on in the process, I was negotiating my hourly rate for the case. Some attorneys I know told me to ask for really high fees. I mentioned that Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz, the firm representing Gawker in the case, was pushing back on rates.
Suddenly, their tone changed, because LSKS is well-known for fighting the good fight when it comes to First Amendment and other media cases. “Oh, it’s those guys. Yeah, give them a deal. They’re always fighting on the side of the angels.”
Now that I’ve worked for them, I agree. These guys work really hard: The legal team spent each evening of the trial closeted in a war room until late at night, drinking 5-hour Energy drinks and eating lukewarm takeout food.
I was also blown away by the jury. The people in that box came from all walks of life, but they take their responsibility seriously and are transformed by it.
In Florida, the jury can ask witnesses questions directly. After I finished two hours of testimony, they asked me 10 thoughtful questions and even asked for a “dialog” with me. They really wanted to know how the Web media business works.
And — not that I’m keeping score — they only asked Hulk Hogan two questions.
Okay. I am keeping score. Horan 10. Hogan 2.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the city where the trial took place.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.