Saturday, April 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Report tars police, legal system

City, state and federal agencies have plenty to investigate now that a special prosecutor has dropped drunken driving charges against a Tampa lawyer who was set up by a rival law firm and Tampa police. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe arrived at the right decision to dismiss the charges and provided new insight into a well-coordinated trap. Now other authorities must investigate just as vigorously to restore public confidence in the police and the legal system.

McCabe issued a blistering report Monday that targeted not Tampa lawyer Philip Campbell Jr. but the rival firm that authorities said targeted him. Campbell was arrested in January after being pulled over downtown by Tampa police. He refused a breath test and was taken to jail on a DUI charge. Almost immediately, Campbell's side claimed he was set up by a law firm representing radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, whom Campbell had been fighting in court on behalf of shock jock "MJ" Schnitt.

The governor appointed McCabe as special prosecutor, and McCabe's report describes a setup aimed at weakening an opponent's legal team in the midst of trial. McCabe found that a paralegal for the Adams & Diaco firm, which represented Clem and had repeatedly moved to get Campbell off the case, returned to a bar one January evening to chat up Campbell after checking with her bosses. Over the course of several hours, McCabe found, Melissa Personius lied about where she worked, flirted and ordered Campbell several drinks. All along she was calling and texting colleagues at the law firm, including attorney Adam Filthaut, who phoned a "close, personal" friend at Tampa police, Sgt. Ray Fernandez, who then staked out the bar along with another officer.

McCabe found that the flurry of texts and calls between the paralegal and lawyers in her firm made it clear Personius was using "subterfuge" and acting in an "undercover" role to have Campbell arrested, that Filthaut was acting as the connection between the paralegal in the bar and the police outside, and that all parties "knew exactly what was transpiring" virtually every minute. Campbell, who lives downtown and walked to the bar, was stopped and arrested after later giving in to Personius' requests to move her car to a nearby lot.

McCabe performed a public service by detailing an episode that looked rotten from the start. The FBI, which is investigating the case, needs to determine whether Campbell's civil rights were violated. The Florida Bar, which is investigating three lawyers at the Adams firm, should take seriously its duty to enforce high ethical standards. The justice system can't work if the public lacks confidence in the legal profession.

Police chief Jane Castor, whose office initially defended Fernandez by calling him "a pawn in this situation," moved in the right direction this week by criticizing his judgment and announcing that Fernandez had been placed on administrative duty. Removing him from the street was a smart move. But the chief still needs to answer why Fernandez should remain on the force, much less in a supervisory capacity.

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Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18