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Tampa lawyers face discipline in DUI scandal

Stephen Diaco is charged with eight violations.

Stephen Diaco is charged with eight violations.

TAMPA — Three lawyers accused of setting up opposing counsel for a DUI arrest in a notorious legal scandal are officially in trouble with the Florida Bar.

The agency that governs lawyers found probable cause Friday that Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut of Tampa's Adams & Diaco firm violated Florida Bar rules in a case that has been the talk of local courthouses.

All three face charges of misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court. If they are found guilty, punishment can range from admonishment to suspension or disbarment.

An attorney representing the Adams & Diaco firm said Friday that he is "absolutely confident" there will ultimately be no finding that any of the three did anything wrong.

The simmering legal scandal centers on a bitter defamation trial between warring radio shock jocks Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

In January 2013 after a day in court, attorney C. Philip Campbell, who represented Schnitt, sat in an upscale steakhouse bar downtown. A young paralegal from the Adams & Diaco firm took the stool next to him, lied about where she worked, flirted and drank with him, according to witnesses. Campbell was later arrested for DUI while driving her in her car.

"The whole thing makes me ashamed to be an attorney," Diaco said back then at the news of Campbell's arrest.

Then came the revelation of multiple cellphone calls and texts that flew that night between the paralegal in the bar, her bosses and a Tampa police DUI sergeant outside Malio's Prime Steakhouse.

Assigned the DUI case, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office dropped the charge and issued a blistering report calling the paralegal "undercover" and using the words "collaboration" and "organized effort" regarding the arrest. Adams & Diaco lawyers contended they were only helping to get a drunken driver off the streets, the report said, but they put considerable "time, effort and subterfuge" into getting him on the streets.

In other fallout, Tampa DUI Sgt. Ray Fernandez — a close family friend of attorney Filthaut, who tipped him about Campbell that night — was fired after Chief Jane Castor said he "lost his impartiality and professionalism" in this case.

This week an FBI spokesman confirmed an investigation is ongoing. And after more than a year of investigation, the Bar is moving forward against the three lawyers.

Campbell's attorney John Fitzgibbons called their conduct "despicable and reprehensible" and said he looked forward to their version of events under oath.

But attorney Greg Kehoe, who represents the Adams & Diaco firm, said they will answer every probable cause allegation. "At the end of the day, I'm confident there will be no finding any of those individuals did anything wrong at any time — absolutely confident," he said.

A news release on behalf of the firm noted no probable cause was found for any criminal act, and said a member of the Bar's grievance committee that investigated the case agreed there was no "setup." That member, attorney Richard Martin, said Friday that public records of their "very thorough investigation" will make his viewpoints clear.

Filthaut faces five violations, Adams six and Diaco eight. Diaco and Adams are also charged under a rule that says one lawyer is responsible for another's misconduct if he ordered it or was his supervisor and did nothing about it.

Next up, a county or circuit judge from a neighboring circuit is expected to be appointed to hear the evidence. The judge, or "referee," determines guilt and recommends any discipline. The Florida Supreme Court has the final say in an attorney's professional fate.

The Adams & Diaco firm has offices in Tampa, Orlando, Lakewood Ranch, and Miami and specializes in insurance defense, personal injury and medical malpractice. Melissa Personius, the paralegal at the center of the case, continues to work there.

Local lawyers have followed this case closely. Assuming the allegations are true, said Tampa attorney Rick Terrana, "This serves as a black eye on such a time-honored profession and does nothing but diminish the level of trust and confidence that both the public and prospective lawyers have of our industry."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

Tampa lawyers face discipline in DUI scandal 05/09/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2014 9:33pm]
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