Nick Hogan files suit over release of prison conversations and videos
By Christopher Rocchio, 06/03/2008
Nick Hogan apparently feels it's unfair that his private phone conversations and meetings with family members have become public fodder while he sits in solitary confinement.
After several salacious phone conversations between the imprisoned 17-year-old and his family were obtained by the media last month via Florida's public records law, Hogan's lawyers filed a civil lawsuit Monday asking a judge rule that recorded telephone conversations of inmates are not public records.
According to the lawsuit -- which was filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court against the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department and obtained by E! News -- Hogan's lawyers claim that between May 10 and May 21 the sheriff's department released approximately 26 hours of the recorded telephone calls to the media.
In one of the conversations between Hogan and his dad -- Terrence "Hulk Hogan" Boella -- the two discuss John Graziano, the front-seat passenger in Hulk's 1998 Toyota Supra when Nick was behind the wheel last August and crashed, leaving Graziano in need of lifelong care.
"For some reason, God laid some heavy s**t on that kid," said Hulk to Nick. "I don't know what he was into..."
"John was a negative person," replied Nick.
In addition, Nick and Hulk also discuss the teenager's reality television career after his current eight-month sentence expires.
While the sheriff's office claims the calls are public records subject to disclosure upon a public records request, the lawsuit contends the calls are exempt since Nick is a minor and Florida law governing juvenile justice specifically classifies most information related to juvenile defendants as confidential.
"Just because you have a conversation recorded, it doesn't necessarily make it a public record," Kevin Hayslett -- one of Nick's attorneys -- toldThe St. Petersburg Times in a Tuesday report.
But Pinellas County Sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha claims the family received both fair and frequent warnings their calls were being recorded.
"During the phone calls, there is a recording that comes on reminding callers that their call is being recorded," she told E! News. "All calls from the jail are collect calls and all persons involved in the calls are advised that the call is being taped."
Due to the lawsuit, the release of additional phone calls between Nick and his family will stop for the time being.
"We will not be able to release any more calls while this litigation is pending," Pasha told E! News.
The lawsuit is also seeking an order stopping the sheriff's office from allowing news crews to film and air Nick's visits with his parents.
"[The coverage has caused Nick] extreme emotional distress," lawyer Sandy Weinberg wrote in the lawsuit. "As a minor forced to endure solitary confinement, he feels further isolated by the inability to communicate with his own family without his conversations being aired on national media outlets."
In addition to their "emotional distress" claim, Nick's lawyers also argue the release of the phone conversations and video meetings could hinder their defense of a civil lawsuit recently filed by Graziano's lawyers, which alleged three counts of negligence on the part of Hulk and one count each on Nick and his mom Linda.
The lawsuit contends that television crews should have been disallowed to cover the family visit because Florida's Administrative Code states "private rights of inmates shall be observed by the media. No photographs, movie films, television tapes or recordings may be made without the consent of the inmate involved."
"Numerous local and national media outlets are playing the video footage and telephone recordings, causing irreparable harm by, among other things, impeding Bollea's ability to defend himself in a civil lawsuit," wrote Weinberg in the lawsuit.
Hogan lawyer David Houston said there was no other choice but to file the lawsuit.
"It's unfortunate that we are required to file a lawsuit against the sheriff's office to compel them to follow the law and respect the privacy rights of a juvenile and his family," he told E! News. "A judge's order should not be required to stop the sheriff's office from putting Nick, his family and their most intimate thoughts on public display."
On Tuesday, a judge denied a motion that Nick be released from solitary confinement to instead serve the remainder of his sentence in minimum security or on house arrest.