TAMPA — The news of the day should have been about Michelle Schnitt taking the witness stand in a defamation trial, where she would testify about life as the wife of a shock jock at war.
Instead Thursday, the spotlight turned to her attorney, released from jail that morning, charged with driving under the influence.
Charles Philip Campbell Jr., 64, was pulled over near Cass and Tampa streets just before 10 p.m. Wednesday after Tampa police said he violated another driver's right of way. His eyes were glassy, police said, and he smelled of alcohol. He refused to perform field sobriety exercises or have his blood alcohol level taken.
He was booked at the Hillsborough County jail and released on $500 bail at 6 a.m.
"This is going to be a rough day," he said at 8:30 a.m., as he walked into the courtroom. Cameras had followed him down the sidewalk outside.
Lawyers huddled with each other, then with the judge.
Circuit Judge James D. Arnold announced there would be no testimony, and that attorneys would work on jury instructions instead. Jurors were sent home. If they obey the judge's order not to take in trial publicity, they will not learn about the arrest.
But even without this sideshow, the trial that started last week has been a spectacle. Jurors have learned about Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and the fans of his radio show who call themselves his "army."
They've met his on-air rival Todd "MJ Kelli" Schnitt, a shock jock himself who sued Clem for making "false, highly offensive and defamatory statements" about him and his wife.
They've heard witnesses ponder the many meanings of the word "whore" and the many intentions behind an expressed death wish. And they've watched the top prosecutor in the county testify about the for-entertainment slaughter of a wild boar.
Campbell asked a lot of questions in previous days. But as he left the courtroom Thursday, he declined a reporter's request for comment.
His law firm, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, later released this statement:
"The DUI charge against attorney Phil Campbell is certainly a serious matter. We have a high level of respect for law enforcement and the legal process. However, this development has nothing to do with Mr. and Mrs. Schnitt or their current defamation trial. We will continue to advocate for Mr. and Mrs. Schnitt's rights and have the utmost confidence in Mr. Campbell and our entire legal team as they continue to provide high-level legal counsel in this case."
His opposing counsel had no problem chiming in about Campbell's arrest.
"The whole thing makes me ashamed to be an attorney," said Stephen Diaco, representing Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Diaco said Clem's lawyers were preparing for testimony all night, "and now, we're delayed because Phil Campbell was getting his drink on and decided to drink and drive again."
Campbell was, in fact, arrested on a DUI charge in 2008, records show. His blood alcohol level taken at the scene was nearly double the state limit of .08.Records show he pleaded no contest and was found guilty.
As Schnitt left the courtroom, Diaco called out to him.
"MJ!" he said. "Happy birthday!"
Yes, it really was his birthday.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.