TAMPA — Lawyers at the firm of Adams & Diaco stand accused of serious hardball tactics: sending a Tampa paralegal undercover to discredit an opposing attorney by getting him arrested for DUI.
It's not the first time the firm has faced accusations about how it does business.
Three years ago in Miami, a lawyer at Adams & Diaco was accused of sending a paralegal undercover — that time, to discredit a witness who was about to testify.
Robert Frankl, a Miami chiropractor, filed a complaint in 2010 with the Florida Bar against firm partner Robert Adams. Adams represented an auto insurance company in a car crash case, and the chiropractor was about to testify about the reasonableness of his fees for treatment.
Frankl said two women came to his office days before trial pretending to be potential patients and tried to get him to reduce his fees because they didn't have insurance coverage. Their motive, he believed, was to use a lowered fee to accuse him of insurance fraud at the trial.
Frankl said he later discovered at least one of the women was employed at Adams & Diaco.
In an email this week, lawyer Stephen Diaco wrote, "Dr. Frankl's allegations about the actions of our employees in his office are absolutely untrue and preposterous. . . . Behavior of the type that Dr. Frankl describes simply did not occur — we don't do business that way." The Bar declined to pursue any action against Adams, saying it was a civil matter.
In the Tampa case currently in the headlines, the FBI, state prosecutors and the Florida Bar are investigating the Jan. 23 arrest of lawyer C. Philip Campbell, who was opposing the Diaco firm in the bitter defamation trial of radio DJs Todd "MJ" Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
A 30-year-old paralegal with the firm met Campbell, 65, at Malio's bar downtown, lied about where she worked and drank with him. A lawyer from Adams & Diaco tipped a police friend who staked out the bar. A short time later Campbell was pulled over driving the paralegal's car, his second DUI arrest.
Adams & Diaco deny any wrongdoing.
The Miami case in 2010 was much less sensational.
In his complaint to the Florida Bar, Frankl said that four days before he was to testify about reasonable fees for treatment, two women came to his Ocean Health Inc. office in Miami Shores. He said they gave what turned out to be fake names, said they had no ID and lied about having accident-related injuries.
A woman who identified herself as Nicole Flaveqz said she had no insurance, he wrote. The other woman said she was Nicole Johnson and told him her benefits had been exhausted, he said. Both, he said, asked what he could do for them about his fees.
"I think they were looking to establish for the insurance company and the agent Robert Adams Esq. that Robert Frankl D.C. will charge a lower fee with no insurance and a much higher fee if there was insurance," Frankl wrote in his complaint. "They were hoping that if I reduced my fees . . . they could accuse me of insurance fraud to be brought out at trial, since the whole trial had to do with doctor fees."
Frankl also said that when he was distracted by a process server who arrived with a subpoena for the upcoming court date, he believes the women took pictures of his office that surfaced in the court case.
Later, when he checked his office phone, the number for the woman who called for the appointment and called herself Nicole Flaveqz came up as Lauren Titzler, Frankl said. The chiropractor said he then searched Titzler's name on Google and discovered she worked for Adams & Diaco. She is listed as a paralegal.
Frankl would later bill Adams & Diaco $400 in unpaid consultation fees for having seen "Lauren Nicole Titzler (alias Nicole Flaveqz)" and "Jane Doe (alias Nicole Johnson)" in his office. The matter was eventually turned over to a collection agency.
Contacted this week, Titzler, 35, called the chiropractor's contentions "a bunch of lies." She said she didn't remember if she had been to his office three years ago but said her bosses never sent her there.
"Absolutely not," said Titzler, now office manager at the firm's W Flagler Street location in Miami.
In a flurry of correspondence that followed Frankl's allegations, Adams said an employee of his office "who was injured stopped into Dr. Frankl's office to inquire about possibly treating there," but that was several months before the court date. Photos of the chiropractor's office, he said, had been taken during an earlier deposition of the doctor.
According to court records, the jury determined medical charges submitted by Frankl were not reasonable and cut the amounts.
When writing to a lawyer who had represented the car accident victim, Adams suggested this motivation for Frankl's complaint: "I killed him on cross and made him look foolish. I got the best of him and he simply can't take it. He lost. He needs to get over it."
Diaco's email this week gave this explanation for the employees who showed up at the chiropractor's office: Sometime after Adams' deposition of Frankl, he wrote, "two of our employees visited his office to obtain additional photographs. They identified themselves by their first names when approached by Dr. Frankl, and had every right to do what they were doing. Due to his bizarre and aggressive behavior, they quickly left, shaken and frightened."
"Absolutely not," Frankl said this week.
In a letter to Frankl two months after the trial, the Florida Bar wrote that "the matters referenced in your inquiry do not constitute violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct."
"Because your positions . . . are diametrically opposed, and there is no way for the Bar to determine whose information is accurate, this matter should be resolved through the civil court system," the letter said.
An analyst from the Florida Department of Financial Services told Frankl the office was unable to help with what appeared to be "a legal dispute."
State records show that Frankl, 70, has been licensed as a chiropractor in Florida since 1976. He has no disciplinary actions or public complaints on file.
The firm's website says Adams largely defends personal injury protection cases with a focus on expert and doctor depositions. The 14-year-old firm specializes in insurance defense, personal injury and medical malpractice and employs 45 lawyers in Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Lakewood Ranch. "No one while employed at our firm has ever been disciplined by the Florida Bar," Diaco noted in his email.
In the Tampa case, the Diaco lawyers have repeatedly said no one forced Campbell to drink and drive the night he was arrested for DUI.
Titzler, the paralegal in the Miami matter, had nothing but praise for the lawyers for whom she has worked for seven years. "They have big hearts. They look after their employees," she said.
"It's just sad this is going on."
Sue Carlton can be reached at email@example.com. John Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.