I had come to think of Tampa’s ongoing shock jock trial, Todd “MJ” Schnitt suing Bubba the Love Sponge Clem for defamation, pretty much like this: Even at a circus, you can only take so many clowns.
The allegations seemed akin to complaining of getting splattered in a mutual mud fight. And a trial lasting weeks? For a case you could easily call Big Baby vs. Big Bully? With testimony that sounded like two 12-year-old boys trying to out-stupid each other, a pig slaughtered on air and a contest for which listener had the ugliest teeth?
Thanks, no, I thought. And also: That poor jury.
But just as things were getting dull in court and even the oft-repeated “whore” had lost its punch came a plot twist that would have made John Grisham say: Nah, too improbable.
One night after court during the trial, Schnitt’s respected lawyer decides to take the edge off with a few drinks at a downtown bar and gets himself popped for DUI. And that’s not even the twist!
Lawyers representing the aforementioned 64-year-old lawyer allege a raven-haired 30-year-old woman had slid onto the stool next to him, chatted him up, bought him drinks and asked him to move her car, which he was driving when stopped by the cops.
And she turned out to be a legal assistant for the firm representing Bubba! And she drove off with his trial bag containing his potentially super-secret court documents! And a DUI sergeant confirmed someone from Bubba’s firm made the call to police that got the lawyer arrested!
Conspiracy! Schnitt’s side said! Sleazy setup! Mistrial, they said!
How I love Tampa.
By the way, if there was one empathetic character in this whole mess, it has to be Schnitt’s wife Michelle (the one Bubba described on air as a “whore.” Really, it’s one classy genre.) You felt for her when she testified about her family being harassed by fans who call themselves Bubba’s Army.
But all in fun, right? I figured for a shock jock spouse, getting called ugly names must be like having your dermatologist-husband constantly pulled aside at parties to assess yet another oozing rash.
So in this little big town, can I imagine two legal types from firms on opposite sides of a case by happenstance bellying up to the same bar? And at first, yes, I could. But all that taking of the Fifth, all that lack of remembering what happened sure had you wondering about conspiracies.
Judge James Arnold showed the patience of a pre-school teacher in a roomful of over-sugared toddlers trying to untangle this mess. Stay tuned.
Sue Carlton is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.