The civil trial between two outrageous Tampa radio personalities began today with the most staid and compulsory of court proceedings: jury selection.
Circuit Judge James D. Arnold screened 140 jurors for the trial that pits Todd Schnitt, also known as "MJ," against fellow shock jock Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem.
The lawsuit alleges that Clem made defamatory remarks on air about Schnitt and Schnitt's wife Michelle. Schnitt is also suing Cox Radio, the company that produces the "Bubba the Love Sponge Show" on WHPT-FM 102.5.
Arnold said he wants to seat a jury Tuesday, but set aside a few hours Wednesday morning to wrap up jury selection if needed.
Attorneys are expected to make opening statements as soon as a jury is seated.
The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.
Arnold dismissed 43 jurors out of an initial pool of 70 who indicated a three-week trial would be a financial or medical hardship on them or their families.
Six of the 43 jurors from the morning session were excused after they told him they were familiar with the plaintiffs and defendant through news reports about the trial.
Arnold and attorneys for both parties screened another pool of 70 jurors in the afternoon and whittled the afternoon panel to 22.
The 49 remaining potential jurors will return Tuesday morning for more interviews, court officials said.
The circuit court summoned 3,000 jurors by mail for three separate trials; one was Schnitt's case, the other two were criminal trials.
Of that number, about a third of the 3,000 potential jurors showed up for duty, court officials said.
The large influx of visitors snarled traffic this morning around the courthouse complex on Twiggs and Jefferson streets.
The beef between the rival DJs started in 2008, when Clem talked about the Schnitts during the "Bubba the Love Sponge Show."
Clem called Michelle Schnitt a "whore" on air and said Todd Schnitt was a "midget," according to court documents.
Clem is also accused of inciting his fans, known collectively as "Bubba's Army," to threaten the Schnitts, the lawsuit said.
One listener who responded to Clem sent an email to the show, which Clem read on air, saying that Schnitt should be "thrown into a burlap sack and tossed into the river" and that someone should "drive that little midget to drink a bottle of bleach," according to the lawsuit.
Clem's remarks are "egregious and highly offensive, malicious false statements" that have damaged the Schnitts "both professionally and in their personal, private lives," the lawsuit said.
Schnitt is the former host of the "MJ Morning Show," which ran on WLFZ-FM 93.3 at the same time slot as Clem's show. Schnitt now hosts the syndicated "Schnitt Show" on weekday afternoons.