Tampa shock jocks fight moves from airwaves to court
TAMPA - A flap that played out on the airwaves years ago between two rival Tampa shock jocks will now be settled in court. Jury selection begins Monday in the civil trial that pits Todd Schnitt — better known as MJ, the host of the now-defunct "MJ Morning Show" — against Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem. Circuit Court Judge James D. Arnold could screen as many as 160 prospective jurors. The trial is expected to last three weeks. Schnitt's lawyers submitted a list of 71 witnesses; Clem's lawyers filed a list of 95 witnesses.Clem is accused of making defamatory remarks about Schnitt and his wife, former Assistant State Attorney Michelle Schnitt. The "ill will and open hostility" Clem had for the couple includes calling Todd Schnitt a "midget" and Michelle Schnitt a "whore," according to court documents. The beef between the two outrageous radio personalities started in 2008, when Clem took a dig at Schnitt's wife during the "Bubba the Love Sponge Show" on WHPT-FM 102.5. "I'm calling your wife a whore," Clem said, according to court documents. "I mean that's the most disrespectful thing you can do." Schnitt, who now hosts the syndicated "Schnitt Show" on weekday afternoons, fired back with the lawsuit. Richard A. Harrison, a Tampa attorney not involved with the case, said public figures such as Schnitt have a higher burden to prove defamation. "You have to show actual malice," said Harrison, who is also an adjunct professor at Stetson University's College of Law. Harrison said Schnitt's attorneys must prove that the talk radio host's reputation was damaged by Clem's remarks. "But given who these folks are, is anybody really going to take these people seriously?" Harrison said. "Did Bubba's listeners really sit back and go, 'Oh, my gosh, MJ's wife is a whore?' In order to be defamed, you have to show your reputation has been damaged. And your reputation can be so bad that it can't be damaged." In the lawsuit, Schnitt said Clem made "false, highly offensive, insulting or fighting words and defamatory statements" against the couple on air. According to the lawsuit, Clem called Schnitt "a lying piece of crap" and said he had a desire for "kicking MJ's ass" and "to kill the midget." Clem said he wanted to "turn the heat up" on Michelle Schnitt, then called her a whore. Clem told Schnitt's attorneys in a recorded deposition that he didn't think Michelle Schnitt was a whore in the sense that she "is a prostitute or sleeps with men for money," court records show. "It was spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous, off-the-cuff and it happened one time and I never went there again," Clem said in the deposition. "I think that MJ has used his wife a lot to better his ratings and try to better his stance on his radio show by having her appear numerous times. "So I think that he — that he whores his wife out in that manner, with regards to, you know, driving her on the radio all the time." Harrison said the merits of Schnitt's allegations could be weighed against the reputations and well-known antics of the two radio hosts. "If I was defending this case,'' Harrison said, "my first line of defense would be, given these two, is, 'Who's really going to take this seriously?'" Schnitt and his attorneys have, if the sheer volume of paperwork filed over the years is any indication. The documents in the case fill six boxes. The first complaint was filed in March 2008 and since then has grown to 38 volumes. The paperwork includes thousands of pages of motions, appeals, audio recordings and transcribed interviews with employees of Cox Radio, which broadcasts Clem's show locally, and Clear Channel, which used to be the home of the "MJ Morning Show" on WFLZ-FM 93.3. Harrison said it's not uncommon for a civil lawsuit such as Schnitt's to drag on for more than four years. Harrison said a flood of foreclosure cases, which are tied to the same court that handle civil disputes, could have slowed Schnitt's defamation case. Harrison said he was surprised Schnitt's lawsuit is going to trial and that it's not being settled out of court. "But what better publicity for two shock jocks to go to trial that's going to last three weeks?" he said. "It certainly has the potential to turn into a circus, and I won't be surprised if it does."
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