Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State attorney Ober testifies in Bubba the Love Sponge trial

TAMPA — Mark Ober spent the week tending to his typical responsibilities as Hillsborough County's top prosecutor — grappling with legislative and budget issues on Monday, contemplating murder charges on Thursday.

Then, on Friday, this:

Taking the witness stand in a legal showdown between dueling shock jocks. Ober joined the parade of witnesses in the trial of a lawsuit filed by Todd "MJ Kelli" Schnitt and his wife, Michelle, who contend that longtime radio rival Bubba the Love Sponge Clem made "false, highly offensive and defamatory statements" about them.

The state attorney's role?

That dates back to the morning of Feb. 27, 2001, when a doomed wild boar was led out of a cage with a rope tied around his neck. His name was Andy, Clem told his radio audience.

"Andy must die."

A show producer gave a play-by-play as the boar was castrated, his throat slit. Clem accentuated the scene with the recorded squeals of pigs.

Ober's office charged him and others involved with the third-degree felony of animal cruelty.

It was a conspiracy, Clem alleged, influenced by a secret meeting between the state attorney and the Schnitts to put him in jail.

Michelle Schnitt was a prosecutor in Ober's office.

Ober was called to testify that he did not, in fact, conspire with the Schnitts to take down their on-air enemy.

He took the witness stand, greeted the judge, raised his hand and swore to tell the truth.

Ober did not appear rushed in his answers. He turned to the jury box as he gave a lesson on the great power and responsibility of his office:

"I can have you arrested," he said. "I can have you held up in a county jail. I can take your liberty away in certain cases, up to life in prison. And I can ask, or my assistants can ask, that you be executed. I do not take that lightly."

He recalled that Mrs. Schnitt was a prosecutor in his office, but fresh out of law school, working misdemeanors under very close supervision. He said she would never have been involved in decisions to pursue felony charges.

But did he know, an attorney asked, that his employee was married to the radio DJ named MJ?

"By title only," Ober said. "I will tell you, I'm a sports radio guy and I have never in my life listened to the morning show that he had. I had no idea what the genre was. I knew nothing about it. Now, I have listened to him more recently during the last election, on 970, on the Schnitt Show."

"You just won him back," the attorney said to Schnitt.

The defense brought up the fact that Clem was acquitted of the animal cruelty charges.

"You said your office deemed it a crime," said attorney Gregory Hearing. "But in fact, the jury determined that it wasn't a crime, correct?"

"Well," Ober responded, "we can get very philosophical if you choose to. The jury verdict says not guilty. It doesn't say innocent. And there's a fine line between what that constitutes . . .

"I accept the jury verdict in this case,'' Ober continued. "But if I was presented the same facts today, I would have tried him again."

On the day Clem was booked into the Orient Road jail more than a decade ago, he shook as he handed in his car keys and gold chain.

He was getting death threats mailed to his home. On his Bubba's Ale House in New Port Richey, someone spray-painted PIG KILLER.

Ober may not have heard from the Schnitts, but he was getting hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters of outrage from animal lovers across the nation. As a thank you for pursuing charges, one woman promised to name a newborn piglet Ober.

On the day he and others were acquitted, Clem vowed revenge — a massive voter-registration drive to oust the state attorney.

"When you take a shot at the king, you better kill him. And they didn't kill me," Clem said as he sailed out of the courthouse that day. "I think they underestimated who they were screwing with. I'm not trying to be cocky, but when election comes around, Mr. Ober will know who he screwed with."

Eleven years later, Ober walked off the witness stand still very much in charge of the state's prosecution, leaving behind Bubba and Schnitt so he could peruse an appellate opinion in a death penalty case.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.

State attorney Ober testifies in Bubba the Love Sponge trial 01/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 11:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Why it's too early to give up on the Bucs

    Bucs

    Don't panic. It's not too late for the Bucs.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) and wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrate after the defense recovered a fumble during the second half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  2. Backlog of immigration cases under Trump stymies immigrants in Florida

    Courts

    It was supposed to be a routine green card renewal for a Thai woman who has called Central Florida home for years.

    Immigration lawyers such as Gerald P. Seipp of Clearwater worry that their clients' circumstances will change with long delays in their immigration court appeals, hurting their chances of staying in the country. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. New York town approves Legoland proposal

    News

    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  4. First lady Melania Trump donates her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — Melania Trump knew her inaugural gown would be part of history and she had a clear vision for her look, asking the designer for something "modern, sleek, light, unique and unexpected."

    First lady Melania Trump donates her inaugural gown, designed by Herve Pierre, left, to the First Ladies' Collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, during a ceremony in Washington, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. [Pablo Martinez Monsivais | Associated Press]
  5. Deandre Gilmore guilty, but not of murder, jury decides

    Criminal

    TAMPA — The actions of Deandre Gilmore caused the death of his girlfriend's 19-month-old daughter in 2014, but a Hillsborough County jury decided Friday it was manslaughter, not murder.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing Myla Presley the 19 month-old daughter of his then girlfriend Nayashia Williams while Gilmore was giving her a bath.