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Jurors say Bubba the Love Sponge Clem did not defame Todd 'MJ' Schnitt

TAMPA — The trial had two loud-mouth radio stars, lawyers accusing other lawyers of a DUI set-up and a price tag of likely more than $1 million, accrued during a five-year crawl through the legal system.

The only thing it didn't have, according to jurors: evidence that Bubba the Love Sponge Clem defamed his radio rival, Todd "MJ Kelli" Schnitt.

Six jurors who sat through two weeks of testimony rejected each one of Schnitt's accusations. They found nothing Clem said defamatory.

Not when he called Todd "MJ" Schnitt's wife a "whore."

Not when he insinuated on his radio show that Schnitt rigged ratings and took bribes.

Clem and his attorneys embraced Wednesday, thumping each others' backs. They posed for photos.

During a packed elevator ride from the sixth-floor courtroom, attorney Greg Hearing held up his pointer finger.

"One! For First Amendment," he said.

Circuit Judge James Arnold did not announce a decision in the motion for a mistrial, filed last week by Schnitt's lawyers after police arrested one of them on a DUI charge. The lawyer said it was a set up by opposing counsel.

With a green light provided by the jury Wednesday, Clem was back to his antics.

"I will have the biggest MJ funeral in the streets," he declared as news cameras recorded him outside the courthouse. A group of his fans, some of whom call themselves the Bubba Army, cheered.

"And I'm going to have my good friend Howard Stern preside over it," he continued. "I'm going to do it right in the streets of St. Petersburg. We're going to have a big-a-- party.

"Were going to hang MJ in effigy. I've only just begun. Listen to the show tomorrow morning."

Clem's fans unleashed a wave of anti-MJ posts on Twitter after the verdict.

"Hahaha midget! You lose again!"

"Give it up cry babies . . . "

"Winner winner, chicken dinner!!!!" wrote Brent Hatley, producer of Clem's show.

Schnitt walked quickly out of the courtroom with his wife, Michelle, making no comments. Later, he tweeted:

"I feel good that we took the high road and will always be comfortable with the fact that we did the right thing.

"My wife & I were protecting our reputations & also standing up for so many others who have been defamed, but didn't have the means to fight."

The jurors, who deliberated for nearly three hours, did not talk to reporters. One alternate juror, Alana Wilshire, said earlier in that day that Schnitt needed to "put on his big-girl panties and get over it."

Wilshire said the trial was a waste of time and money.

"I think anybody that runs and cries and hides in their house needs to grow up, you know? Develop a thicker skin," she said, "especially if you're in the public eye."

Schnitts' grim-faced attorneys also left the courthouse quickly.

"We believe in the juror system, and we're disappointed," said Jonathon Ellis, one of Schnitt's attorneys.

The day started with closing statements. Schnitt's attorney painted a picture of a couple who suffered because of a bully's hateful statements. Clem's made it a case in defense of the First Amendment.

The trial drew national attention for happenings both inside and outside of the courtroom. On Wednesday, the judge did not address last week's dramatic side show, which cropped up Friday amid accusations that Clem's attorneys set up Schnitt's attorney, C. Philip Campbell Jr., for a DUI arrest.

Campbell was arrested Jan. 23 after spending time at Malio's Prime Steakhouse with a young woman he did not know was a paralegal from the law firm of Adams & Diaco.

He was arrested after getting into her car and driving down the street. Tampa police waited nearby thanks to a tip from a lawyer with Adams & Diaco.

Ellis had filed a motion for mistrial because Campbell left his trial bag in the paralegal's car after his arrest. The judge indicated he would not address those accusations until after the trial.

Another issue left unresolved: the amount Clem's attorneys will claim in attorney's fees.

Clem's lawyers say they had offered to settle. Schnitt had a few opportunities to walk away, they said. Now, Clem's attorneys say they need to tabulate the amount.

Thousands? someone asked. Millions?

"It's about the First Amendment," attorney Greg Hearing said, interrupting the questions. "That's more important than dollars and cents."

Then, Clem addressed his fans with the gusto of a wrestler in the ring.

"I'm not going to change what I do," he said. "I'm the people's hammer."

Times staff writers Will Hobson and Jimmy Geurts and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

courtroom video: Watch Clem and his lawyers begin to celebrate as the verdict is read at links.tampabay.com.

Jurors say Bubba the Love Sponge Clem did not defame Todd 'MJ' Schnitt 01/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 4, 2013 12:56pm]
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