TAMPA — Surprising new evidence in the case against three Tampa lawyers accused of orchestrating a DUI set-up has surfaced less than a week before their trial, igniting debate over whether it can be used against them.
At the center of the dispute is a video recording that reportedly shows Melissa Personius, a paralegal at the firm of Adams & Diaco, confessing to arranging the arrest of rival attorney C. Philip Campbell in January 2013. At the time, Personius' firm and Campbell were on opposing sides of a bitter defamation lawsuit between warring radio shock jocks Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Although the video has not been made public, recently filed court documents revealed its existence as well as the possibility that attorneys for the Florida Bar may attempt to use it in their disciplinary case against lawyers Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut.
Personius was secretly recorded the night of the alleged set-up by her ex-husband, Kristopher Personius, according to the documents. In a deposition taken last year, he said that when she returned home late on January 23, the night of Campbell's arrest, he used his cell phone to record her talking in detail about a scheme concocted by her and her bosses. She appeared intoxicated and was acting "erratic," he said.
Asked to describe the content of the video, Personius said, "It depicts Melissa going into detail of how her and Adams and Diaco set up Phil Campbell, the plot from the beginning to the end." He continued, "Everything, every single thing."
In 2014, more than a year after he made the recording, Personius gave the video to the FBI, which is investigating the Adams & Diaco lawyers. Asked why he didn't immediately alert agents to the video's existence, he said he feared retaliation.
"See what we can do to Phil Campbell? Imagine what we can do to you," he said Melissa Personius warned him.
Greg Kehoe, the attorney representing the three Adams & Diaco lawyers, has filed a motion to prevent the Bar from using the recording and the transcript of it at trial, which is scheduled to begin May 11. Accused by the Bar of misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court, the lawyers face possible sanctions ranging from an admonishment to suspension to disbarment.
The video is "illegally obtained," Kehoe wrote, pointing to a Florida statute that makes it a crime to record a conversation without the other person's consent.
In his deposition, Personius said that he didn't notify his ex-wife that he was recording her.
Kehoe is also seeking to have Kristopher Personius's testimony, which he deemed "tainted by the illegal recording," barred from the trial.
The recording "will probably be tossed," said Tampa criminal defense attorney Nicholas Matassini, who has worked on several cases involving Florida's wiretapping laws. "But parties to a conversation can testify about its content," he said.
According to the Bar's narrative, the events that led to Campbell's arrest and the ensuing allegations of a DUI set-up began on an otherwise typical day after work.
Campbell went to a steak house bar in downtown Tampa, where he encountered Melissa Personius. Witnesses said she flirted with him and lied to him about where she worked, telling him she was employed at Trenam Kemker, a Tampa law firm.
Phone records would later show that over the next few hours, she texted and called her bosses multiple times. They, in turn, texted and called each other.
A few hours later, Campbell was driving Personius home when he was pulled over by Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez — a close family friend of Adams & Diaco attorney Filthaut. Records showed that Filthaut and Fernandez had exchanged multiple calls and emails that evening, too.
The lawyers dispute this version of events and have repeatedly asserted that they did not conspire to have Campbell arrested.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.