Thursday, June 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: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18