Todd "M.J." Schnitt (left) and Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem (right) appear in a Hillsborough Co., Fla., courtroom. Schnitt has filed a defamation lawsuit, saying Clem made offensive comments about him and his wife. (WTSP)
TAMPA (WTSP) -- Opening statements in the Tampa Bay shock jock defamation lawsuit are underway Wednesday morning in a Hillsborough County courtroom.
Radio talk show host Todd "M.J." Schnitt is suing Bubba "the Love Sponge" Clem, saying Bubba made offensive and defamatory comments about him and his wife.
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During his opening statement, Schnitt's attorney worked to paint the conflict as much more than a war of words between shock jocks.
Attorney Phil Campbell ran through a list of encounters between the Schnitts and Bubba's fans, which Bubba calls the "Bubba Army."
Among the confrontations, the Schnitts' home was egged by people who left a note saying "Bubba Army" and their car was pelted with ice thrown from another car, Campbell said.
That created a lifestyle of fear for the Schnitt family, including their young children, which never existed before Bubba launched his radio assault on the Schnitts, he said.
Bubba's false attacks also hurt Schnitt's reputation, Campbell said -- specifically allegations made on Bubba's show that Schnitt rigged a national radio contest and that Mr. and Mrs. Schnitt worked to get Bubba prosecuted after a tasteless radio stunt.
Campbell argued that in the entertainment biz, reputations are worth money, and that by damaging Schnitt's reputation, Bubba damaged Schnitt's paycheck; and that's something you can sue to try to get back.
However, Campbell told the jury he will stop short of arguing that Bubba's attacks resulted in the M.J. Morning Show being canceled a year ago.
No one argues that Bubba and others said some crude and hostile things about M.J. and his wife on the radio. Bubba and his show cast said M.J. was a liar and a thief and called his wife Michelle "a whore."
Bubba's lawyer answered back that reasonable listeners would not take comments from Bubba's cast seriously, seeing them only as entertainment instead of reputation-damaging defamation.
Attorney Greg Hearing quoted Schnitt himself from the MJ Morning Show, when Schnitt called Bubba's radio show a "clown show."
Hearing said that remark indicates Schnitt knew all along that Bubba's show was full of jokes and exaggerated comments, and even Schnitt knew not to take him seriously.
Schnitt himself played a parody song on the MJ Morning Show jokingly suggesting his own wife "fooled around" and was unfaithful, Hearing said.
After Schnitt's attorney repeatedly said "reputation" was a key to this case, Bubba's attorney said no one will testify during the trial that Schnitt's reputation was damaged in any measurable way by comments on Bubba's show.
In fact, Hearing said the evidence will show that Schnitt's reputation in the radio business increased, as did his ratings.
Hearing also argued that M.J. and his wife made themselves public figures by both appearing often on the M.J. Morning Show.
Choosing to be a public figure instead of just a private citizen actually changes how some laws apply to you. If you're legally a public figure, other people are legally allowed to be more critical of you and those critics face fewer consequences.