Sunday, January 21, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Weak wills, stiff drinks and a wait for answers in Maliogate

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to believe we might get lucky.

This might well qualify as a new rule of saloon life: When you are a 65-year-old man sitting in a bar and you find yourself being plied with cocktails by a strange, comely young woman, while hope may spring eternal, nothing much good will come of this.

And that ought to be the lesson learned by Tampa attorney C. Philip Campbell, who walked into Malio's for a pop and wound up getting popped. And thus began Tampa's B-movie version of The Verdict, back in January.

At the time Campbell was representing local radio yokel Todd "MJ" Schnitt, who was in a legal snit with local radio yahoo Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. At issue were some unfortunate comments Mr. Sponge had made over the air about his on-air munchkin rival as well as Mrs. Schnitt.

Uh, Marbury vs. Madison this was not.

You would think after a day in court with two low-rent bellowing radio goons, Philip Campbell couldn't wait to take a shower. Instead he headed over to Malio's.

Of all the gin joints in all the world, 30-year-old Melissa Personius had to walk into Malio's, where she soon found herself engaging in conversation with the Rumpole of the Hillsborough bar.

New rule: When you qualify for Medicare, no matter how much you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and hear the James Bond theme coming back at you, it is highly unlikely you are going to get a 30-year-old woman's knees all atwitter simply by being in your presence.

When Personius started buying him highballs, it should have alerted Campbell's lawyerly acumen for deducing means, motive and opportunity that something might possibly be amiss.

Within moments after leaving Malio's together, Campbell was stopped and charged with DUI while driving Personius' car. And here the plot slickens.

Coincidences abounded. For it turned out the fetching Ms. Personius worked as a paralegal for Mr. Sponge's mouthpiece, Adams & Diaco. It turned out an Adams & Diaco lawyer, Adam Filthaut, had tipped off one of the Tampa Police Department's most aggressive DUI investigators, Sgt. Ray Fernandez, that Campbell had been imbibing at Malio's. And it turned out Fernandez had been sitting outside the watering hole waiting for the lawyer to leave his barstool.

Call it a happy hour of bad luck. When Campbell was stopped by Fernandez and hauled off to the hoosegow, his briefcase with files relating to the Schnitt/Mr. Sponge spat fell into the hands of Adams & Diaco. Oooops.

Of course the value of the legal documents probably weren't all that revealing, simply suggesting the party of the first part is a sniveling crybaby involved in a silly court tiff with a ham-handed oaf with a microphone.

Uh, the Pentagon Papers these were likely not.

Still Campbell's barroom travails with a twist of irony turned what should have been merely a courtroom geek show into a federal case.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has been appointed to investigate Maliogate. An unamused Florida Bar is also trying to determine if legal ethics — stop laughing! — might have been breached. And even the FBI has entered the scene.

Subpoenas are flying off the shelves. Lawyers are lawyering up.

And what of Philip Campbell, an attorney who walked into a bar? He may have missed last call. But he still might get the last laugh.

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