O'Neal himself is not here. He has avoided showing up for trial. His deposition, taken in January, has been closely guarded by both sides. The craggy Judge Marc Schumacher rules Darling cannot publicize the emails. "The court must think of the public interest," he declares before adding with a knowing chuckle: "The public interest would not at all be served by the release of these emails."

This case is destined for an ugly finish. If it's dismissed, Darling believes he will no longer be constrained from sharing the thousands of emails with the world. He has even considered launching a website to broadcast them.

Despite Darling's prediction of a horde of television crews bombarding the hearing, only one broadcaster — WPLG Channel 10's ubiquitous Glenna Milberg — and her burly cameraman are here. There will be no defiant courthouse statement after all: While the crew attempts to negotiate an interview through his attorney, the plaintiff quietly slips into an elevator going down.

Darling is sporting Matrix-style black sunglasses. A New Times reporter in the elevator asks if he's disappointed with the judge's ruling.

"Not at all," he shoots back with his jackal's grin. "I just got off the phone with Shaq's people. They're running scared."


Phoenix New Times senior staff writer Paul Rubin contributed to this story.

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