TAMPA — The multimillion-dollar civil defamation trial pitting two radio shock jocks against each other wrapped up months ago. But the battle over attorney fees is just beginning.
After DJ Todd "MJ" Schnitt and his wife lost a lawsuit against Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, the couple fired their attorneys and said they were done handing over cash — especially after their lead attorney, C. Philip Campbell, was arrested on a DUI charge during the January trial.
The Schnitts already had paid Campbell's firm — Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick — about $1 million. They refused to pay a bill for an additional million.
First the law firm came after the Schnitts in an attempt to get the rest of the money. Then the Schnitts asserted legal malpractice and sued to get back the money they already paid.
Now it is up to a judge to determine how the disagreement will proceed. Quibbling over procedure at a hearing Monday gave the impression this could be as long and acrimonious as the original defamation suit.
The Schnitts want a public case, heard in front of a jury. Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick want it to go to arbitration, which would be private. There, a panel of lawyers would decide if the Schnitts owe the firm.
According to the law firm, the Schnitts don't have a choice. The couple reviewed an "arbitration clause," which said any disagreements with the law firm would go directly to arbitration. The Schnitts' attorney, Wil Florin, said the couple never received such a clause.
Circuit Judge Charles Bergmann will make the final decision, scheduled for September.
Also heating up Monday was a public relations battle.
Clem's attorneys at Adams & Diaco issued a news release saying there is no evidence that Adams & Diaco had set up Campbell for the DUI arrest.
State prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Adams & Diaco sent a female paralegal to Malio's Prime Steakhouse during the January trial to buy drinks for Campbell. They left together, with Campbell driving her car. He was pulled over blocks away by a Tampa police sergeant who had been tipped off by a lawyer at Adams & Diaco.
In Monday's statement, firm partner Stephen Diaco said information provided by a Malio's valet and the paralegal, Melissa Personius, shows there was no setup. The firm released a transcript of valet Joshua Moore's statement, given in February.
Moore states that he saw a young brunette with Campbell at Malio's on Jan. 23. The woman — Personius — arrived alone in a car (even though her license had been suspended). A few hours later, the pair walked out together.
Campbell asked the valet if Personius' car could be left overnight, Moore said.
It could, the valet replied.
Moore says he heard Campbell explain that to Personius, but she said she needed "access" to her car.
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The valet did not hear anything else until later, when he told the pair that he needed to at least move the vehicle.
Campbell told the valet that it was fine to leave the car overnight, but according to the valet, Personius once again said she needed her car.
Campbell paid the valet and opened the passenger side door for Personius. The valet says he never heard the paralegal ask Campbell to drive.
Times staff writer Sue Carlton and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.