TAMPA — The Florida Bar said Monday it has opened an investigation into three attorneys accused of participating in a DUI setup during last month's shock jock defamation trial.
The inquiry comes one week after a jury ruled in favor of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, awarding no damages to his radio rival, Todd "MJ" Schnitt.
In a dramatic sideshow to the trial, Schnitt attorney C. Philip Campbell was arrested Jan. 23 and faces a DUI charge after drinking and chatting at Malio's Prime Steakhouse with a 30-year-old woman who didn't disclose she was a paralegal for Adams & Diaco, the law firm representing Clem.
Tampa police pulled over Campbell about 10 p.m. that night, as he drove the paralegal's car near Malio's. Police say they had been sitting on the location for a couple of hours after being tipped off by a lawyer at Adams & Diaco.
The Florida Bar is investigating that lawyer, Adam Filthaut, as well as Stephen Diaco and Robert Adams, both partners at the firm.
The Bar would not disclose who filed the complaint. Discipline for lawyers found guilty ranges from an admonishment to disbarment.
The two attorneys who most visibly represented Clem during the trial — Joseph Diaco and Greg Hearing — are not being investigated.
An attorney representing the three lawyers under investigation said Monday that his clients will cooperate with the Bar's investigation, as well as any law enforcement investigation.
That attorney, Lee Gunn, said the Adams & Diaco lawyers deny any responsibility for "Mr. Campbell's own decision to drink and then drive."
"We are confident that when the facts are fully vetted that any responsibility for the decision to drink and drive will be laid at the person who took the direction to get behind the wheel," Gunn said.
Unrelated to the Bar's investigation, Circuit Judge James Arnold said during a Monday hearing that Schnitt's attorneys can proceed with their own investigation into the supposed setup.
After explaining their suspicions to the judge in court Jan. 25, Schnitt's attorneys filed a motion for mistrial and tried serving subpoenas for phone records and depositions of Adams & Diaco lawyers.
The judge put a halt to that at the time.
Arnold questioned the jurors to ensure they had not been exposed to the publicity. Then he granted a protective order to all the lawyers, declaring that no one could be subpoenaed, at least during the trial.
On Wednesday, the six-member jury decided that Clem did not defame Schnitt. Jurors rejected every one of Schnitt's claims and awarded him nothing.
Arnold did not address the outstanding motion until Monday's hearing, when he converted the "motion for mistrial" that Schnitt's attorneys had filed to a "motion for new trial," a technicality due to the fact the jury had reached a verdict.
He also lifted the protective order.
Schnitt attorney Jonathan Ellis said Monday that his firm is reviewing its options with clients Todd and Michelle Schnitt.
"We will take those actions that we believe are in their best interest, which may include — but is not limited to — gathering information necessary to proceed with the motion that has been filed," Ellis said.
He declined to elaborate.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.