Tuesday, September 18, 2018
News Roundup

Shock jock trial goes on as Tampa police defend lawyer's arrest

TAMPA — The Tampa Police Department says Sgt. Ray Fernandez did nothing wrong last week when he dispatched two officers on a tip from a longtime attorney friend that a man at Malio's Prime Steakhouse drinks and drives.

Officers ended up arresting that man, C. Philip Campbell, who happened to be the opposing counsel in a contentious shock jock defamation trial involving his friend's firm.

The DUI arrest threw the trial into chaos, with cries of a setup and calls for a mistrial.

It also raised a question:

Do officers typically investigate citizen tips that someone might drive after drinking?

Officials from sheriff's offices in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties said no. So did the St. Petersburg Police Department.

"If somebody is drunk at a bar, they've not broken the laws," said Sgt. David DiSano, Pinellas Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Said Hillsborough Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter, "We don't have enough deputies to send to sit out in front of every bar."

But Campbell had a previous DUI arrest. And Fernandez had been called with similar concerns a month before, the sergeant would later testify.

"Getting two calls, coupled with a 2008 DUI arrest, established a pattern of driving under the influence that makes him a more egregious violator and a more serious threat to our citizens," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "These factors would make following up on the second tip a priority."

Campbell had stopped at Malio's Wednesday after a full day in court representing Todd "MJ Kelli" Schnitt in his lawsuit against fellow shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

According to court testimony, Campbell chatted with other lawyers and a woman who never revealed her full name, Melissa Personius, or the fact that she is a paralegal for Adams & Diaco. the firm representing Clem.

Campbell talked about his big case, according to testimony; the woman ordered drinks.

Fernandez testified last week that he got a tip about Campbell some time between 7:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. from Adam Filthaut, an attorney with Adams & Diaco. The sergeant, who is godfather to Filthaut's son, sent two officers to the Malio's area.

Police "sat on that location,'' according to Fernandez's testimony. Campbell was pulled over at 9:57 p.m. Records show it was Fernandez who watched him violate the right of way of another vehicle and then, upon making contact, noted glassy eyes and the smell of alcohol. Another officer confirmed his observations.

"If we had failed to investigate it and his driving resulted in a DUI crash with injury or death," McElroy said, "Sgt. Fernandez and our department would have to live with those results and face the consequence."

Fernandez's personnel file with the Tampa Police Department, which dates to September 1994, is full of accolades for his proactive approach supervising DUI officers the past four years. He deploys them to areas with the highest number of DUI traffic accidents. Each member of his squad averages more than 100 DUI arrests per year.

He has never fallen below expectations, the file shows. He got an "exceeds expectations" mark this past year for his "initiative."

"It is disheartening," McElroy said, "that he was a pawn in this situation."

The department said Fernandez would not be commenting. Attempts to reach Filthaut were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, week three of the trial continued Monday, with Schnitt's attorneys' request for a mistrial still hanging and the judge holding off on a ruling. He quickly denied a motion Monday for a mistrial from Clem's defense, which was based on publicity over the weekend. "I'm sure there will be a lot more intense investigation on those issues," Arnold said. "But that's not for me at this time."

Maybe not for him, but attorneys on both sides have subpoenaed each other, prompting stern words from the judge. "If you want to have a dog fight over this, you can have a dog fight over this," the judge said. "But it's not going to be right now."

All attorneys are protected from being called to testify while the defamation trial goes on, Arnold said.

"Right now, we are going to finish this trial," the judge said. "Don't even try to bog us down with any other issues at this time."

The judge continued to poll jurors to make sure they have not been exposed to any trial publicity. After the sideshow made Good Morning America, he added an admonition not to read, watch or listen to any reports about this case, local — or national.

Times staff writer Jodie Tillman and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

     
Comments
Manslaughter charges coming against suspect in death of Tampa muralist Matt Callahan

Manslaughter charges coming against suspect in death of Tampa muralist Matt Callahan

TAMPA — Police say they’re bringing manslaughter charges Tuesday in the April death of Tampa muralist Matt Callahan. The suspect, 34-year-old Keith Mauga of Tampa, already is serving five years in prison for aggravated battery in an atta...
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Volunteers are essential for student health screenings at Pasco schools

Volunteers are essential for student health screenings at Pasco schools

NEW PORT RICHEY — There was a beehive of activity at Anclote Elementary School last week as students lined up for health screenings in the school media center.The state-mandated screenings cover vision, hearing and body mass testing for studen...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Pasco County Tax Collector warns businesses about Marlin Financial

Pasco County Tax Collector warns businesses about Marlin Financial

The Pasco County Tax Collector’s office is issuing a warning to local auto dealers: Beware of Marlin Financial. The office will begin circulating a letter Thursday to auto dealers it does business urging them to "think long and hard" before interacti...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream look to the ’80s and classics for horror nostalgia

Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream look to the ’80s and classics for horror nostalgia

A thin guy with perfectly Purple Rain era Prince curly mullet hair, blood dripping from his mouth to the front of his puffy shirt, struts past a group of theme park guests onto the streets of "New York City."With Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam blaring in the...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

Florida is rich in biomass. It’s got a lot of bugs. You’re driving down the highway, and all of a sudden — splat — a bug smacks your windshield, leaving a gooey glob on the glass. That’s the end of it from the bug’...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Marreese Speights’ nephew inherits his height, but puts it to use on the gridiron

Marreese Speights’ nephew inherits his height, but puts it to use on the gridiron

ST. PETERSBURG – Percy Speights is ready to battle. With knees slightly bent and elbows instinctively deployed, the 6-foot-4 sophomore stakes out his spot, pushing and pressing until his opponent is no longer a factor.It is hard labor for the d...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A gopher tortoise has been found with pink painted nails and shell

A gopher tortoise has been found with pink painted nails and shell

Photos once again are surfacing again on social media after someone painted a gopher tortoise. In a post on its Facebook page, the non-profit Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife in Odessa showed photos of a rescued female tortoise -- which is a threate...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco, charities scramble for indigent medical aid

Pasco, charities scramble for indigent medical aid

NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County contribution to provide medical care for needy people is not part of next year’s county budget.But that doesn't mean uninsured patients will go without seeing a health care provider.Here's why: The $356,...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Derrick Brooks among Hall of Famers threatening to boycott induction ceremonies

Derrick Brooks among Hall of Famers threatening to boycott induction ceremonies

Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks is among several Pro Football Hall of Famers who signed a letter Tuesday saying they would not attend the Hall's annual induction ceremony until they receive health insurance and an annual salary that includ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

BROOKSVILLE — Busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts could headline the Hernando County School District’s concerns in Tallahassee next year. As the district’s legislative picture for 2019 sha...
Updated: 1 hour ago