Sunday, February 25, 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: Learning from St. Petersburg’s Sunshine Law violation

Editorial: Learning from St. Petersburg’s Sunshine Law violation

A recent state appeals court opinion strikes a victory for open government in finding St. Petersburg city officials violated the state’s Sunshine Law. City councils and other government panels in Florida are allowed to meet in secret only in very lim...
Published: 02/25/18
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the state’s safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last week’s massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Association’s solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nation’s conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places — South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington — as survivors, victims’ families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasn’t enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldn’t take months or another tragedy for Florida — which is hot and full of seniors — to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. That’s why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.’’ A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he won’t raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trump’s claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nation’s 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18