The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office made the right decision in dropping 12 drunken driving cases handled in part by a Tampa police officer who was fired after authorities said he lied about his role in an unrelated DUI setup scandal. That was only fair and practical given the credibility problems that former Sgt. Ray Fernandez would have faced as a witness. The decision is the latest damage to the judicial system from a case that demands a tough response by the Florida Bar.
Fernandez, a 19-year veteran who supervised the DUI squad, played a pivotal role in the Jan. 23 arrest of Tampa attorney C. Philip Campbell. An attorney for a law firm at trial against Campbell contacted Fernandez, a close friend, and told him Campbell was drinking and about to leave a downtown bar. A special investigation by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe later described the affair as a setup.
An internal Tampa police investigation found that Fernandez violated five regulations. Prosecutors were right that Fernandez damaged his value as a witness. Among the cases dropped: a defendant driving down a main highway at midnight with her headlights off, and another who blew an alcohol level at twice what is considered drunken driving in Florida.
Prosecutors also are reviewing Fernandez's role in about 40 other DUI cases dating to 2000, and the FBI is investigating. These are all measures of the broad impact of the scandal. The parties responsible for arranging Campbell's arrest caused havoc in the judicial system. The Florida Bar has an obligation to respond appropriately when the integrity of the legal system is so compromised.