Thoughts on the death of Gawker

When I teach maritime law to naval architects, the second and third classes are about the First Amendment, because it is a fun and interesting (at least to me) jumping-off point for judicial interpretation. Though the Gawker / Hulk Hogan case is First Amendment-heavy, this post is about a different topic: funding lawsuits. 

Terry Bollea (nee Hogan) was bankrolled by Peter Thiel, because, Mr. Thiel tells us, a single-digit millionaire just can't get effective justice. 

Well, perhaps a single-digit millionaire maybe can't bankroll a frivolous lawsuit to Thiel's standards, but a broke plaintiff who's been actually, significantly hurt through the fault of another - where the other has assets - will have a line of lawyers around the block if she or he so desires. 

Who pays for the medical treatment? The Jones Act employer or the comp. carrier, or if none, the plaintiff lawyer or a third party. Who pays for the experts? The plaintiff attorney. What's different about having Thiel bankroll it instead of the lawyer? Nothing, as far as I can see, except that a bank would presumably be a little careful with its money outlays. But it is common for firms to have a line of credit, and for that credit to be spent on cases. There's just not a major, principled difference between a bank investing in a firm and a bank investing in a case, or between a private benefactor with whatever his or her motivations may be investing in a firm or case. If that's stopped, then it becomes harder for a plaintiff attorney to hang out a shingle: unless she has a war chest and she can fund lawsuits by herself, she won't be able to take bigger cases. 

But why should that information be kept from the jury or judge? Is there a risk of prejudice if the jury knows Thiel is angry at Gawker? Absolutely. But is it unfair prejudice? Juries have to consider motivation and reasons for prejudice. Letting the jury know funding hardly seems an unfair prejudice. Allowing testimony about motivation would run the risk of turning one trial (Bollea v. Gawker) into two (Thiel v. Gawker), but that would rarely be the case - these deals are rare - and there are already plenty good evidentiary rules (FRE 401 - 403) to fight through that thicket.