Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Paralegal's attorney says no setup in Tampa DUI case

TAMPA — The paralegal at the center of scandalous allegations of a DUI setup talked to prosecutors behind closed doors Thursday.

But the attorney for Melissa Personius contends there was no plot by the paralegal's bosses to get C. Philip Campbell, their opposing counsel, arrested on a DUI charge in the middle of a heated trial.

"It wasn't like, 'Get this guy drunk, get him in a car so we can get him busted.' Nothing like that," attorney Norman Cannella Jr. said Friday. Campbell "was unfolding his own demise himself."

The firm where Personius works, Adams & Diaco, had been squaring off in court against Campbell in the defamation trial of radio DJs Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Todd "MJ" Schnitt. On the night of Jan. 23, Campbell, 65, was drinking at Malio's Prime Steakhouse bar downtown when Personius, 30, walked in.

She did not tell him she worked for opposing counsel. They drank together and left together, and within minutes Campbell was pulled over at the wheel of her car. It was his second DUI arrest.

Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez later said he got the tip about Campbell drinking from a close friend who is an attorney with Adams & Diaco, and that police sat on the scene for a period of time.

Cannella's comments were the first glimpse of what a defense might look like if this eyebrow-raising case results in criminal charges.

Multiple texts and phone calls between Personius, the lawyers and police that night are expected to be at the center of a separate federal investigation into whether Campbell's civil rights were violated and police power misused. This week the FBI seized cellphones from attorney Stephen Diaco and Sgt. Fernandez, and perhaps others.

Cannella said his client was indeed texting with attorneys from her firm at the bar that night, telling them she saw Campbell there. He said they asked her to tell them what he was doing and if he continued to drink.

But Cannella denied that Personius went looking for Campbell or had instructions from her bosses to drink with him.

"There was no one holding a gun to his head making him drink," Cannella said. "This is nothing more than someone seeing an individual at a bar having a lot of drinks" and calling it in to say the person is leaving.

Campbell's attorney John Fitzgibbons declined to respond to specifics, saying, "I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow discussion at this time. The investigations are totally in the hands of very competent state and federal prosecutors, and I am confident they will act appropriately after they have reviewed all the facts and evidence."

Personius spoke Thursday with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which was specially assigned to investigate the DUI because the Hillsborough state attorney was a witness in the DJ trial. They talked for about 2 1/2 hours without her attorney permitted in the room, Cannella said. She was given "use immunity," meaning what she said can't be used against her, he said.

Friday, Cannella said state prosecutors had gone beyond their assignment in a "witch hunt."

"It's rather clear to me they do not care one bit about the DUI involving Phil Campbell," Cannella said. "All the questions were basically a conspiracy theory they have going that Phil Campbell was set up." Most of the questions had to do with text messages and phone calls between her and lawyers at her firm, he said.

Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors previously said they intended to talk to "other people who were involved in the circumstances" that led to the DUI charge, presumably police, Personius and others, before deciding what to do with Campbell's case.

Friday, state attorney Bernie McCabe said, "We're investigating all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. I really couldn't care less what he thinks."

FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said Friday that the federal agency has been getting cooperation and assistance from Tampa police Chief Jane Castor and her department.

"The FBI will independently analyze all of the facts related to this matter and follow the evidence to a logical conclusion to determine if any federal laws have been violated," Couvertier said in a prepared statement.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report.

Paralegal's attorney says no setup in Tampa DUI case 05/24/13 [Last modified: Saturday, May 25, 2013 12:04am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.