TAMPA — A Malio's valet remembers the Jan. 23 exchange: A dark-haired woman left her car with him and after spending a couple of hours at the bar, then asked an older man to drive it for her.
It likely did not mean much to valet Joshua Lee Moore at the time. Now, his memories are part of a signed affidavit in court, attached to Todd "MJ" Schnitt's motion for a new trial filed late Monday.
If true, the valet's account points to a potential setup that resulted in attorney C. Philip Campbell Jr.'s DUI arrest.
It all stems from last month's defamation trial, which pitted Schnitt against his radio rival Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. After getting out of court Jan. 23, Campbell, who represents Schnitt and his wife, went to Malio's Prime Steakhouse.
Malio's is across the street from Campbell's office and a block from his condo downtown. He usually walks, Monday's motion states.
But on Jan. 23, Campbell met a dark-haired woman at Malio's bar. The woman did not mention she was a paralegal at the law firm of Adams & Diaco, which was representing Clem. Her name: Melissa Personius.
While the two were at the bar, according to another lawyer, Personius ordered drinks — something with Southern Comfort. About 10 p.m., she and Campbell left. This is where the valet's memories become relevant to Schnitt's attorneys.
Moore did not know either person. He didn't know their names. But in his affidavit he said he remembered an "older gentleman" walking up to him with the ticket for the dark-haired woman's Nissan Altima.
The man — Campbell — asked if the car could be left overnight.
Moore said yes.
The young woman — Personius — approached, and Campbell filled her in.
She said they could not leave the car. She would need it later.
The two went back and forth. Meanwhile, Moore took other valet tickets.
Eventually, the valet wrote, "she prevailed upon him to take the vehicle." Campbell opened the passenger door for her, and she got in.
Campbell made it five blocks before a Tampa police DUI sergeant — tipped off by his godson's father, a lawyer at Adams & Diaco — pulled Campbell over.
Campbell refused to perform field sobriety exercises or have his blood-alcohol level taken. He was booked into jail, leaving his trial bag in the back of Personius' car.
The briefcase, which contained confidential trial information, wasn't returned until 18 hours later. Attorneys at Adams & Diaco say they did not open the briefcase.
Nonetheless, Schnitt's attorneys have filed a motion for a new trial, saying that the firm's mere possession of the trial bag is unfair to the Schnitts and that Adams & Diaco should have been disqualified from representing Clem.
Clem won the lawsuit last month. On Jan. 30, jurors found that he did not defame the Schnitts. They did not award any damages.
Several days after the trial ended, Circuit Judge James Arnold said Schnitt's attorneys could gather evidence and interview people about the DUI setup allegations.
It appears Clem's attorneys are gathering facts, too. On Monday, they filed a list of 120 statements that they are asking Schnitt's attorneys to either confirm or deny.
The list includes allegations that Campbell bought Personius drinks and offered to drive her back to his condo, where she could either sober up or call a cab.
Schnitt's attorneys also have filed a motion for contempt against Stephen Diaco, a partner at the firm of Adams & Diaco.
He was subpoenaed for the Jan. 25 hearing on the DUI setup allegations, during which he pleaded the Fifth Amendment multiple times. He also was required to bring his cellphone, and he did not.
He said he simply forgot his phone. He also said he could not remember his cellphone carrier. His wife deals with that, he said.
The Florida Bar recently opened an investigation into Diaco, as well as two other lawyers at his firm, Adam Filthaut and Robert Adams.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.