Carlton: Hulk Hogan and Bubba — Legal distaste on both sides of the bay

Published March 18 2016
Updated March 19 2016

While a Pinellas jury ruminated this week over whether a wrestler willing to be filmed riding a wrecking ball in a T-back and sitting sans pants on a toilet could have his privacy invaded by a secret sex tape, a jury across the bay was taking up a slightly loftier but somewhat related matter.

The common denominator? Embattled, potty-mouthed shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, who, by the way, is accused in a completely separate matter of desperately trying to influence his own radio ratings.

And yes, things are rarely dull around here.

In the matter of Hulk Hogan's privacy, his then-BFF Clem was the man behind the camera as the unaware wrestler dallied with Clem's then-wife. And you start to understand why everyone involved is now a "then.''

Meanwhile, over in Tampa began the trial in the case of law firm Shumaker Loop & Kendrick vs. Todd Schnitt, another DJ who, if you believe the hype, was Bubba's once-archnemesis. Sadly, in a world of Hulks and Love Sponges, Schnitt had no spicier radio name than "MJ."

A few years ago, Schnitt sued the Sponge for talking smack about him and his wife, Michelle (except isn't talking smack what these guys do for a living?). This was a bombastic, ridiculous, over-the-top and largely ignorable defamation trial — until one night after court, when Bubba's lawyers used a young paralegal at a downtown bar to set up Schnitt's lawyer for a DUI arrest. Told you — not dull.

Notably, in the flurry of behind-the-scene phone calls and texts between lawyers, a cop and the paralegal that night, a call after the DUI arrest of attorney C. Philip Campbell went to none other than the client, Clem.

And should you doubt this tawdry tale, there's the subsequent disbarment of Sponge lawyer Stephen Diaco to prove it.

This week, a jury in Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen's court was seated to hear Campbell's law firm's suit against Schnitt to get paid for legal services in that wild trial. The docket so far reveals pretrial allegations of destroyed documents that proved Clem's net worth and a claim that Campbell had vowed to "run a dry trial" without alcohol.

And this starts to seem like one seriously small town on both sides of the bay.

• • •

A related observation: If Hogan's contention in court was that regular-guy Terry Bollea was embarrassed and wronged by Gawker posting some of that sex tape, and Hulk Hogan was merely a larger-than-life wrestling character and not Bollea himself, how come Bollea wore Hogan's trademark head bandana to court?

• • •

Ick factor aside, at the heart of Hogan's case was one really interesting question.

His attorneys portrayed him as pretty much a nun robbed at gunpoint. Gawker's side implied this was a guy who relinquished privacy with everything from his reality show to his own boasts of his sexual prowess.

To me, it's akin to whether a person of seriously questionable morals can also be raped.

Late Friday, a jury awarded Hogan an astonishing $115 million in damages, and indicated they want to give him even more in punitive damages.

What would my verdict have been? Even a world where privacy is as quaint as an Air Supply cassette tape, yes, Bollea's privacy was invaded. As for his claim for millions in compensation, he would have been awarded exactly zero.

Contact Sue Carlton at carlton@tampabay.com.

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