LARGO — A judge ruled Wednesday that the Florida Bar's case against three Tampa lawyers accused of misconduct amid a defamation trial between radio shock jocks Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem can proceed, but that certain documents will not be made public.
Lawyers Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut of Tampa's Adams & Diaco firm face admonishment, suspension or disbarment if found guilty of violating Bar rules against misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court for their alleged role in a DUI scandal involving opposing counsel.
In January 2013, after a day in court, attorney C. Philip Campbell, who represented Schnitt, sat in an upscale steak house bar in downtown Tampa. A young paralegal from the Adams & Diaco firm sat next to him, lied about where she worked, flirted and drank with him, according to witnesses.
Campbell was later arrested and charged with DUI while driving her in her car. It was later revealed that multiple cellphone calls and texts flew that night between the paralegal in the bar, her bosses and a Tampa police DUI sergeant who pulled Campbell over not far from Malio's Prime Steakhouse.
The sergeant, a close friend of one of the Adams & Diaco lawyers, was eventually fired. The DUI charge was dropped.
The accused weren't in court Wednesday. But their attorneys argued that the Bar matter should be postponed and all documents kept confidential while an FBI and federal grand jury investigation into their conduct lingers.
Since the Bar and the federal cases involve the same facts, attorney Greg Kehoe said, testifying in the Bar case might violate his clients' Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. No criminal charges have been filed, but he noted that judges routinely halt civil matters while criminal cases are pending.
He said pausing wouldn't hurt the Bar's case, and he hinted that the agency was trying to "railroad" the case through the courts to pander to the media.
"Given the fact that their careers are in the balance," Kehoe said to the judge, ". . . please stay this to a time when these three men can adequately and fulsomely defend themselves."
In deciding to seal some documents, Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird said he was following the law.
Tampa Bay Times attorney Alison Steele objected to the motion to seal, which was discussed for 40 minutes in the judge's private chambers.
In ruling no — at least for now — on the delay request, Baird sided with Bar attorneys Jodi Thompson and Katrina Brown, who argued that the Florida Supreme Court has already ruled that the case is of great importance to upholding the public's trust in the legal system, protecting citizens and deterring future misconduct.
Baird noted that the case Kehoe and co-counsel Joseph Corsmeier said set precedent for such trial delays is different from this one because it involved a criminal charge that would have resulted in that attorney's automatic suspension upon conviction.
Baird said it might "put things in a different light" if the accused lawyers agreed to voluntarily halt practicing while the Bar case is heard.
"The interest no one's really talked about," Baird said, "is the interest of the public to have this resolved properly, swiftly and decisively one way or the other."
The case will be heard in Pinellas County. No trial date has been set.
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