Monday, December 11, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: In DUI case, Bar acts to restore confidence in justice system

The misconduct charges the Florida Bar voted to pursue against three Tampa attorneys should finally bring some clarity to an explosive legal scandal. It is essential for public confidence in the justice system that the legal profession's disciplinary arm resolve whether members of the Tampa firm violated Bar rules by helping to arrange the drunken-driving arrest of a rival lawyer in a high-stakes civil suit. The case smelled from the start, but only the lowliest heads have rolled. It's high time the Bar judged the conduct of its members in this sordid case.

The Bar's grievance committee found probable cause last week that attorneys Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut committed misconduct in a case involving the arrest of rival attorney C. Philip Campbell. The attorneys were on opposite sides of a bitter civil suit between warring radio shock jocks Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and "MJ" Schnitt. One evening in January 2013, after a day in trial, police arrested Campbell after he left a downtown Tampa bar. Almost immediately, it was learned that the tip-off to police came from employees of the Adams and Diaco firm.

A special prosecutor appointed by the governor found that a paralegal for Adams and Diaco had recognized Campbell in the bar. Melissa Personius lied about where she worked and flirted and drank with Campbell while texting her bosses at the firm. Filthaut gave a play-by-play report to a "close, personal" friend who happened to head the Tampa Police Department's DUI squad. Sgt. Ray Fernandez, in turn, organized a stakeout, and Campbell was pulled over as he left the bar to move Personius' car to a nearby lot.

The special prosecutor dropped the DUI charge, saying the flurry of messages between the Adams and Diaco employees and Fernandez amounted to a collaboration "to effectuate the arrest." Tampa police later fired Fernandez and disciplined the arresting officer for being rude and confrontational. As part of the fallout, the Tampa Police Department changed its policies for handling DUI cases, and Hillsborough County prosecutors dropped 12 DUI cases in which Fernandez was a witness. And last week, in announcing it would proceed with charges, the Bar confirmed that the Justice Department, the FBI and a federal grand jury were investigating whether these attorneys conspired with police to violate Campbell's civil rights.

The Bar has fulfilled its public duty by taking the case seriously, and it should proceed to the next step by seeking the appointment of a judge to act as a referee to determine any guilt and recommended disciplinary action. Though the final say on the case rests with the Florida Supreme Court, the Bar deserves credit for recognizing the public interests at play in maintaining the ethical standards of the legal profession. Federal investigators should work to bring their inquiry to a conclusion, too, to give the attorneys the fairest and fullest opportunity possible to defend themselves and to help restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Comments

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trump’s risky move

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough County’s Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasn’t enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, it’s looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the city’s dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17