Monday, December 18, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: 3 Tampa lawyers look sleazier than shock jock client

Put aside for just a moment all the lawyer jokes — unless speaking of the law firm of Adams & Diaco, which somehow has successfully made Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny look like Clarence Darrow meets Louis Brandeis.

Think what it takes to become a lawyer. Three long years in law school, followed by a grueling state bar exam, which many aspiring barristers often have to take a few times before passing. Then you spend more years toiling away as an associate for a firm, steadily developing a practice area and stable of clients.

A lawyer is considered an officer of the court, a fairly heady responsibility if you take the job seriously. And to be fair, a vast majority of practicing lawyers do take their oaths as officers of the court very seriously. Their livelihoods, their reputations depend on it.

Then there is Adams & Diaco, a law firm that managed the rare feat of coming off as being even sleazier than their client, a somewhat monumental accomplishment considering they were representing Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, who is to talk radio what Anthony Weiner is to sophisticated, elegant understatement.

Because the firm left no rock uncrawled under to win a trial, three of its lawyers, Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut, now find themselves facing a Florida Bar investigation into 19 charges of misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting the court. If found guilty, the three could face sanctions ranging from admonishment, suspension or disbarment.

Adams & Diaco represented Mr. Sponge in an acrimonious civil suit between another local DJ, Todd Schnitt, apparently over who was a bigger, obnoxious dope. Brown vs. Board of Education this was not.

During the course of the inane trial, Schnitt's attorney, Philip Campbell, repaired to Malio's Prime Steakhouse for a few pops, and really now, could you blame him?

It was there at the bar that Campbell met the acquaintance of femme fatale Melissa Personius, a paralegal for (ta-da!) Adams & Diaco, although the lass never identified herself as an employee of his courtroom adversary. Cocktails — several of them — ensued, while Personius discreetly texted Filthaut of the events occurring inside.

Filthaut, in turn, contacted a pal, Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez, who then laid in wait for Campbell to emerge from Malio's to bust him for DUI when he got behind the wheel of the Mata Hari of Martinis' car.

Once the flurry of cellphone calls and text messages between Personius, Filthaut and Fernandez became public, the legal ethics of plotting to set up an opposing counsel hit the Florida Bar fan. In time, the Tampa Police Department fired Fernandez, the DUI against Campbell was dropped and now Adams, Diaco and Filthaut find themselves facing the very distinct possibility of being disciplined by the Bar.

And for what? To cause mischief with an opposing counsel in a ridiculous civil trial pitting two talk radio oafs? This is worth losing a law license over? This is worth being hung with the reputation for being smarmy?

It's a naive concept, perhaps, but don't we all want to believe that when lawyers appear before the bench on behalf of a client that the matter before the judge will be argued on the basis of: a) the merits of the dispute and/or b) the legal skills of the attorneys to aggressively argue their side of the case, without resorting to attempting to entrap the opposing counsel outside the courtroom?

In its tortured defense, Adams & Diaco proudly touted that aside from the fact they have been charged with 19 counts of ethical breaches of conduct, at least the Florida Bar found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the case of the Plotting Paralegal and the Buzzed Barrister.

Whew! That was close. For a moment there you might have thought Adams & Diaco were in big trouble.

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