Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A year later, high-profile case involving Tampa lawyers drags on

TAMPA — A year ago this week, scandal rocked Tampa's legal scene.

It had everything: A trial so bitter even courtroom veterans noticed. A chance meeting — or was it? — at a swanky bar between a lawyer and an attractive paralegal from the other side who drank with him. The lawyer's DUI arrest later thrown out after prosecutors called it a setup.

Since then, a veteran DUI officer has been fired and Tampa police changed how it handles DUI arrests.

As for the lawyers involved? The ones prosecutors indicated in a scathing report set up opposing counsel in a tableau that's been the talk of the town?

Very little has happened, at least publicly.

The Florida Bar, which disciplines lawyers, is investigating three attorneys at Tampa's Adams & Diaco firm — Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut.

A year later, no decision.

The FBI is also investigating. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said their investigation is "ongoing."

The story so far: On a weekday night last January, Tampa lawyer C. Philip Campbell stopped by Malio's bar at the end of another bruising day in court representing radio host Todd "MJ" Schnitt in a defamation suit against Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

A dark-haired woman half his age settled on the stool next to Campbell. They struck up a conversation. But Melissa Personius lied and said she worked as a paralegal at another law firm — not at Adams & Diaco, the one battling Campbell in court.

She flirted, drank and bought Southern Comfort for the lawyer, then 64. Prosecutors later said it was clear Personius was working "undercover" to get Campbell arrested.

Meanwhile, Adams & Diaco lawyer Filthaut had tipped his buddy on the Tampa Police DUI squad, Sgt. Ray Fernandez, about a drunk man who would be leaving Malio's. Fernandez waited nearby with another officer and kept in touch by phone with his friend — who seemed to know what was going on inside the bar.

About 10 p.m., a drunk-looking Personius insisted she needed her car. Campbell, who had been planning to walk home, drove her. Fernandez pulled him over blocks from the bar and Campbell went to jail.

Months later, prosecutors dropped the DUI and authorities shifted their focus to the Adams & Diaco attorneys. Of interest was the flurry of phone calls and texts that night between the paralegal, Adams & Diaco lawyers and the DUI sergeant.

Agents with search warrants confiscated cellphones. A warrant indicated they were looking into potential civil rights violations. No charges have been filed.

Meanwhile, the Florida Bar has had a grievance committee reviewing Adams, Diaco and Filthaut's actions for more than 10 months. State prosecutors had determined the phone calls indicated a "pattern of communication … that would leave no doubt in any reasonable mind as to their motives and intentions."

A grievance committee, made up of lawyers and non-lawyers, generally works like a grand jury and decides if there is probable cause that a lawyer violated rules.

This committee is scheduled to meet again in March.

If a committee finds probable cause, a formal complaint is filed and details of the investigation are public. Until and unless that happens, clients who check a lawyer on the Bar website will see "no discipline" under a lawyer's name.

The Adams & Diaco lawyers continue to practice, as does Campbell. The Bar ended its investigation into his DUI arrest.

"It is totally out of our hands now," said his attorney John Fitzgibbons. "We are just waiting for the process to reach its conclusion."

Attorney Scott Tozian, who represents lawyers facing potential Bar discipline, said the Bar could be waiting for federal investigators to finish.

"I don't think a year is inordinate, given this case and the amount of information there is to digest with the state investigation and whatever else they've got their hands on," Tozian said.

Tampa police acted more swiftly. The agency stood by Fernandez for months, but Chief Castor changed course after learning Fernandez and his lawyer friend exchanged multiple texts and calls. She empaneled a review committee and announced more changes to the DUI unit Thursday.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's office reviewed dozens of Fernandez's DUI cases. At least a dozen arrestees got a break when their cases were dropped because he was a critical witness.

Attorneys for Adams & Diaco and Filthaut declined this week to say whether their clients had spoken to the FBI, federal prosecutors or the Florida Bar.

"What happens with any investigation is it takes as long as it takes," said attorney Greg Kehoe, representing the firm. "You just let the system run its course."

Todd Foster, who represents the paralegal, declined to say if she had spoken to investigators.

"I'm sure she wished that none of it happened," he said. "But it is what it is, and she's dealing with it."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

A year later, high-profile case involving Tampa lawyers drags on 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 10:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.