Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Days of swine and poses

What might we call this titanic courtroom standoff? Hillsborough County's version of the Scopes Dancing Monkey Trial?

It was probably a hint that this legal spit-take would not be confused with Marbury vs. Madison when the witness list included Hulk Hogan, Jabberjaw and someone called 25 Cent.

This, of course, is the case of plaintiff Todd Schnitt and defendant Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, two DJs who have been attacking each other over the airwaves for years.

Mr. Schnitt is of the opinion that Mr. Sponge went too far after he accused him on the air of being a fraud and less than manly and suggested that his wife was little more than a painted woman. He sued for defamation of character, which makes you wonder why this thing wasn't tossed in about 30 seconds since one would have to actually have some character to begin with before someone could defame it.

Or perhaps even serious, staid courts need a little comic relief from time to time.

The case has lingered on the docket for five years. Volumes of depositions have been filed. Evidence has piled up, and so have attorneys' fees. Galileo's heresy trial didn't take this long.

But perhaps the proceedings have stretched on and on because the stakes are so low.

The predicate for Mr. Sponge's ire with Mr. Schnitt, who sometimes goes by the name MJ Kelli, stems from Mr. Sponge's 2001 arrest on animal cruelty charges (he was subsequently acquitted) after some of his associates castrated and slit the throat of a wild boar during his radio show.

Not exactly a Terry Gross Fresh Air moment.

Because Mr. Schnitt/MJ's wife, Michelle, was an assistant Hillsborough state attorney at the time, Mr. Sponge convinced himself the spouse of his radio competitor was the dark hand of oppression behind his arrest.

We pause here for two questions. First, why can't these radio bloviators agree on a single name? And second, didn't anyone among Mr. Sponge's sycophant apparatchiks bother to check that killing an animal on the air for the dancing and dining pleasure of his audience might be a stupid thing to do?

Of course, Mr. Schnitt is hardly without his own history of ditziness passing for entertainment. Channelling his inner WKRP in Cincinnati, the DJ once inadvertently set fire to a van in a parking lot when a deep-fry turkey stunt went awry. Too much oil. Not enough brains.

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober found himself testifying in what had to feel like tiff between two Sasquatches of slander law.

Ober pointed out that since Mrs. Schnitt had only been out of law school for about 20 minutes and was assigned to handle more modest misdemeanor cases, she was hardly going to be consulted on whether to file felony charges against anyone. Score one for Schnitt/Kelli or whatever the heck his name is.

On the other hand, Mr. Schnitt is pretending his wife didn't deserve to be called a tart by Mr. Sponge because she is not a public person and therefore immune from public ridicule and scorn. But she was a public person at the time of the boar gore and she made frequent appearances on her hubby's radio program. Mrs. Schnitt was not quite Garbo-esque in protecting her privacy. Score one for the other guy with identity issues.

Who knows how the jury members will decide this once they stop laughing. But we've learned this much. Under oath, Mr. Sponge admitted that all his mouth-foaming invective was nothing more than phony, contrived hayseed theater.

Mr. Sponge confessed that he doesn't mean what he says on the radio. Regardless of how insane or illiterate or just plain wrong a radio personality might be, listeners have a right to expect the talk show host is intellectually honest enough to actually believe in what he's pontificating about. This is so hard? To attempt an original thought?

So if you are a member of Bubba's Army, you've been played for a chump. And the absurdity of Schnitt vs. Sponge notwithstanding, pulling the curtain back on schlock radio has performed a public service neither party intended.

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