Bubba 'Love Sponge' Trial In Confused State
TAMPA, FL. -- The defamation jury trial of Todd "MJ" Schnitt vs. Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem has taken more of a turn into the circus tent today, as plaintiff's attorney ask for a mistrial, jurors sent home early, and an afternoon hearing to delve into the circumstances of the arrest of Schnitt's attorney and his missing trial briefcase later found at opposing counsel's office.
Jurors were sent home today early, and testimony proceeded from witnesses to the events surrounding Schnitt's attorney Charles Philip Campbell's arrest Wednesday night for driving under the influence and his missing briefcase.
The judge had announced proceedings on a Motion for Mistrial and a Motion for Disqualification were to start at 2 p.m. but were delayed for an emergency hearing on another matter the Judge said. The hearing this afternoon began with another of frequent "sidebars" with microphones turned off even as jurors were not present as seven attorneys talked 'secretly' with the Judge.
All witnesses were asked to step outside, and one witness at a time would be called.
Attorney Steven Diaco had been subpoenaed for an appearance, but an objection was placed by his attorney who had advised Diaco to plead his 5th Amendment rights to not answer certain questions.
Melissa Personius, (shown above with counsel) a paralegal for Bubba Clem's lawyer Joseph Diaco's firm for five years was part of the drama Wednesday night, allegedly with Phil Campbell in a bit of drinking. She invoked her 5th Amendment right against self incrimination and chose to not answer questions about that evening.
She would not answer any questions about her cell phone which she said she did not bring to court.
She did admit she found a briefcase belonging to opposing counsel Joseph Campbell in her car and told her boss about it. She said she had possession of it except for one hour, when it was returned to her home, and she took a cab, instead of her own car, and returned it to the front desk of Campbell's office Thursday afternoon.
When called back to testify at 4:15 for a second time, she took the 5th on whether she knew if Campbell was Schnitt's attorney and said she didn't tell where she really worked (at Diaco's office) to protect herself from stalkers.
Campbell's team is trying to accuse Clem's lawyers of setting Campbell up for the Wednesday DUI arrest.
Jon Ellis, one of Schnitt's attorney takes the stand. He was drinking with Philip Campbell at Malio's in Tampa Wednesday night and talked with two females there, one named "Melissa." He later discovered Campbell's trial briefcase was missing and later discovered it was at the Diaco law firm office.
He said he didn't have any evidence of if the briefcase had been opened by anyone at the defense's law firm or how it got there. The briefcase was eventually returned to the Campbell office.
Attorney Steve Diaco testified about his cell phone which he did not bring to court and the events to get the Campbell briefcase back to the owner saying he didn't want to touch the bag so returned it to Personius' home and had her return it.
Diaco said, under oath, he didn't recall whether he had instructed anyone to call the Tampa Police Department regarding Campbell's drinking and driving Wednesday night, for which Campbell was put in jail.
Attorney Michael Trentalinge testified he was at the bar Wednesday night with Campbell and talked with Melissa Personius together with Campbell. He said she didn't mention she worked with Diaco law firm but mentioned an entirely different firm.
Motion For Mistrial And Disqualification
At 4:30 the Judge ordered a 30 minute recess. At 5 p.m., plaintiff Schnitt's attorney argued to the court that attorney Campbell did not have a car at the bar, he lived from four to six blocks away and because of a previous DIU conviction did not wish to drive to or from the bar location.
Allegedly he was asked to "move" Personius' vehicle which led to his arrest. Personious "plead the 5th" regarding whether she went to the bar to get Campbell to drink and to be arrested driving. It was argued further that one of Diaco's attorneys called a friend at the police department to "stalk" Campbell for the DUI arrest.
Plaintiff's asked the court for permission to obtain records of the various defendant law firm's cell phones regarding the issues addressed today.
Defense, for Bubba Clem argued that the trial has not been affected as the jury doesn't know anything about the missing briefcase and DUI arrest and said there's nothing wrong with a citizen notifying the police of a possible impaired driver, and denied anyone was "set up." No one forced Campbell to drive after drinking it was argued. It was claimed that the briefcase was returned within three hours of it's discovery and never opened.
Court will resume at 9 a.m. Monday.
Photo credit: 13th Judicial Circuit / Fox 13 Tampa Bay