Three Florida lawyers suspended or disbarred for setting up opposing counsel’s DUI arrest

Two years ago, I wrote on this blog about Florida attorney Phil Campbell, who was arrested for a DUI one night while he was in the midst of a locally high profile jury trial between two Tampa shock jocks (M.J. Schnitts and “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem).  Almost immediately, questions were raised about whether Campbell had been set up by the attorneys who were opposing him in the trial.  (Campbell had been drinking with a woman who turned out to be a paralegal in the opposing firm’s office, the attorneys contacted the police as soon as Campbell left the establishment, and there arresting officer was a friend of one of attorneys.  Ultimately, the DUI case against Campbell was dropped.

Now comes news that three attorneys who were involved in the set up have been either suspended or disbarred.  From the Tampa Bay Times (story by Anna Phillips):

Three lawyers accused of orchestrating the DUI arrest of an opposing attorney have agreed to a plea deal that would cost one of them his license.

Under the agreement, the details of which were discussed at a Tuesday hearing, Stephen Diaco, 46, will surrender his law license, an offer designed to protect the firm of Adams & Diaco, where he is a partner. The other lawyers, Robert Adams, 45, and Adam Filthaut, 40, will receive 91-day suspensions, during which they cannot practice law.

Although the details of the bargain have been worked out, authority to approve it rests with Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird. He gave no indication Tuesday whether he will accept the deal. If he does, it moves to the Florida Supreme Court, where the justices will have ultimate say…

The deal, which was negotiated about a month ago but signed Monday, may disappoint some members of Tampa Bay’s legal community looking for closure to a case they consider profoundly embarrassing to their profession.

Nowhere in the agreements do Diaco, Adams, or Filthaut accept responsibility for the roles the Florida Bar accused them of playing in arranging the arrest of a rival lawyer. They admit only to poorly supervising one of their employees, Melissa Personius, a paralegal who was alleged to be one of the main actors in the incident…

The lawyers’ alleged target was Philip C. Campbell who, in January 2013, was representing radio shock jock Todd Schnitt in a defamation case against Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Clem had retained Adams & Diaco as his counsel.

According to the Bar, which filed a complaint against Diaco, Adams and Filthaut last June, the three lawyers stopped at nothing to ensure Clem prevailed.

One evening after trial, Campbell found himself seated next to a pretty young woman at Malio’s, a steak house bar downtown. According to witnesses, she flirted with him and told him she worked at Trenam Kemker, a Tampa law firm.

In fact, the woman who charmed Campbell that night from a neighboring bar stool was Personius, the Adams & Diaco paralegal. Phone records would later show that over the next few hours, she texted and called her bosses multiple times. They, in turn, texted and called each other.

Ultimately, she persuaded Campbell to drive her home. He had offered to get her a cab. He had tried to call a car service. And finally, he insisted that she leave her car there overnight. But according to the Bar’s complaint, Personius persuaded him to get behind the wheel.

Once he did, Campbell was arrested by Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez. A good friend of Filthaut’s, Fernandez had exchanged multiple texts and calls with Filthaut that evening.

“Got it,” he messaged a colleague when he was told Campbell and Personius were on their way out.

Allegations of a DUI setup surfaced soon thereafter, when Campbell realized he had left his trial briefcase in the car of his opponents’ paralegal.

Fernandez was eventually fired and the DUI charge against Campbell was dropped. The Florida Bar charged the three lawyers with misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court. Their penalty could have ranged from an admonishment to suspension to disbarment.

One thought on “Three Florida lawyers suspended or disbarred for setting up opposing counsel’s DUI arrest

  1. Pingback: FL Judge rejects plea deal for attorneys who set up opposing counsel for DUI arrest | illinoisduilawyer

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