Ruth: Tampa cop-lawyer scandal is like a lingering hangover

This is what happens when Lady Justice gets slipped a Mickey of — power on the rocks.

Because he lost sight that as a police officer he has an obligation to be fair and impartial, defrocked and debadged former Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez lost his job and his reputation.

You might say he crossed the thin pee-yew line.

Fernandez found himself at the epicenter of one of Tampa's more embarrassing police scandals in recent years. As the head of Tampa police's DUI squad, it was the Sgt. Schultz of Schlitz who oversaw the arrest of 65-year-old lawyer C. Philip Campbell in January as he left Malio's Steakhouse in the company of Melissa Personius, who was young enough … well, she was young enough for Campbell to A) know better and/or B) figure out nothing good was going to come from this.

But then again, he had been drinking when hope sprang eternal.

At first blush, the whole thing might have simply seemed just another case of a 60-something guy gazing too longingly into his martini glass and seeing a 20-something girl staring back at him. Unpleasantries and a Miranda warning ensued.

Eventually the whole thing turned out to be a cheesy setup. Campbell was representing DJ oaf Todd "MJ" Schnitt in an inane defamation lawsuit against another DJ knuckle-dragger, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

This was a bit like a couple of pornographers suing each other because one party was offended by all the nudity.

It didn't take long before it was revealed that Personius, the Mata Hari of Mai Tais, worked as a paralegal for Bubba the Love Mongo's mouthpiece, the law firm of Adams & Diaco. And while she and Campbell were making sloe gin fizz goo-goo eyes at each other at Malio's, Personius was relaying information to an Adams & Diaco lawyer, Adam Filthaut, who as fate would have it happened to be a pal of Fernandez's, who as fate would have it was sitting outside Malio's waiting for Campbell to leave.

After Campbell was popped for DUI, Fernandez was eventually fired for destroying evidence and lying about being part of a ham-handed Singapore sting.

That's pretty bad. But now at least 12 other DUI cases involving Fernandez have been dropped by the Hillsborough state attorney since the ex-cop with all the credibility of Baghdad Bob is such damaged goods as a witness.

Like a lingering hangover, this story seems incapable of going away. Nor should it.

Sure, Tampa police have rid themselves of a compromised bad apple. But the Florida Bar is only just beginning to look into the behavior of Adams & Diaco, which is not to be confused with the law firm of Atticus Finch.

Using an employee who never identified herself as an Adams & Diaco paralegal to Campbell to ply an opposing counsel with hooch and then have a member of the law firm (an officer of the court, by the way) conspire over the course of 90 text messages with a cop leading up to the attorney getting busted is — well, if it's not an ethical breach (this is Florida, after all), it certainly stinks to high heaven.

We all want to think, naively perhaps, that cops honor their oath of service to the community and that lawyers behave with professional decorum.

Maybe Campbell didn't get lucky. But in the end, an incompetent cop was fired and a smarmy law firm was shown for what it is. All and all, not that bad a nightcap to Phil Campbell's wayward evening on the town.

Ruth: Tampa cop-lawyer scandal is like a lingering hangover 10/10/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 11, 2013 12:20pm]

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