Friday, August 17, 2018
Business

Adams & Diaco firm rebrands amid scandal

TAMPA — Battered by a seamy scandal and a legal battle that has dragged on for more than two years, the Tampa law firm of Adams & Diaco is attempting to remake itself.

The firm is distancing itself from its name and two of its partners accused of participating in a drunken driving setup. It is rebuilding around Joseph "Jay" Diaco Jr., 44, the only one of the firm's three partners who has not been accused by the Florida Bar of misconduct and other professional violations.

The disciplinary trial of the other two partners — Robert Adams, 45, and Stephen Diaco, 46 — and associate Adam Filthaut, 40, is under way in Clearwater.

Public records show that in February, Joseph Diaco (the younger brother of Stephen Diaco) registered a new business called the Insurance Defense Firm.

On its website, the company features him prominently and advertises its selling points — offices in Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Lakewood Ranch, and roughly 100 employees. It does not mention that each of these office locations and all of the employees working there are part of the Adams & Diaco firm.

According to the Insurance Defense Firm's website, Joseph Diaco is one of six partners. Until a few days ago, the website also listed Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut as partners, but their names have since been removed.

The Bar has accused all three of conspiring to have attorney C. Philip Campbell arrested for driving under the influence and removed from a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit against one of their clients, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. When the case went to trial in 2013, Campbell was representing Clem's broadcast rival, Todd "MJ" Schnitt.

If Stephen Diaco, Adams and Filthaut are found responsible, they could lose their licenses to practice law.

They could also lose the right to have their names on a law firm.

Attorney Scott Tozian, who frequently represents lawyers in disciplinary cases, said it's common for the Bar to insist that a disgraced attorney pull down his shingle, even if his license has been suspended rather than revoked.

"Any indication of you practicing law has to be removed," Tozian said.

In an email exchange with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, Joseph Diaco wrote that the Insurance Defense Firm was not meant to replace Adams & Diaco.

Rather, the name "was implemented in anticipation of the approval of a fully negotiated settlement that was reached with the Florida Bar," he wrote. "The name will remain in place for now."

That settlement never came to fruition because, in March, a judge rejected its terms, suggesting that he thought the proposed sanctions were too light.

Told of the firm's rebranding, some said it came as little surprise after more than two years of negative publicity.

"Their reputation is destroyed," said Tampa defense lawyer Joseph Registrato. "They can change the name of the firm; I don't think it's going to matter much. People know who they are."

Although it remains unclear exactly how much damage the Bar's allegations have done to the firm — it has held on to its major client, Progressive Insurance — there is no disputing that it has been losing lawyers.

In 2013, when accusations of a DUI setup first surfaced, Adams & Diaco employed 47 lawyers and was growing rapidly, Adams said in testimony last week. Currently, it has 22 lawyers on staff, he said. But even that figure may be too high — the Insurance Defense Firm's website says it employs 20 lawyers.

Asked how many lawyers had been laid off versus left the firm of their own accord, Joseph Diaco declined to answer, citing concern for their privacy.

In an email, Diaco wrote that the firm owes its halving to a change in Florida law regarding personal injury protection, which affected its caseload. The firm maintains it has not lost a single client because of the Florida Bar charges pending against three of its lawyers.

"It's hard to quantify how the negative press has impacted our business," Diaco wrote, "but it has certainly not been the primary reason for our downsizing."

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

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Published: 08/17/18