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Anna M. Phillips, Times Staff Writer

Anna M. Phillips

Anna M. Phillips writes about legal affairs and criminal justice in Tampa and Hillsborough County. Before joining the Times in 2012, she covered the New York City public schools for the New York Times and for the education news website Chalkbeat New York (formerly GothamSchools).

Phone: (813) 226-3354


Twitter: @annamphillips

  1. Florida still sorting out gay marriage issues as U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear case (w/video)


    Jesse Siegrist didn't need to be asked twice.

    When the Florida branch of the American Civil Liberties Union told her it was looking for parents to speak against a bill that would allow private adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples based on religious grounds, the Clearwater mom packed her family into their car and drove to Tallahassee.

    She would have one minute to address members of the House, hardly enough time to explain how much it meant to her and her wife, Terry, to have adopted three children from the foster system. Shortly after she spoke, the House passed the bill, described by proponents as a measure to protect religious "conscience."...

    Anthony Siegrist, 16, from left, Wade Siegrist, 14, Peyton Siegrist, 14, Lucy Siegrist, 8, Jesse Siegrist, 40, and Terry Siegrist, 42, pose at their home in Clearwater on Thursday. 
  2. Florida appellate court upholds same-sex divorce


    Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a decision Friday cementing the right of same-sex couples to get divorced, the first ruling of its kind that binds judges across the state.

    It would seem logical that when same-sex couples won the right to get married in Florida, divorce would follow. And in most instances, unhappy couples have been able to get their unions dissolved.

    But whether a court accepted such petitions still was up to the judge assigned to a case, as the legal justification for dissolving gay unions remained a subject of debate, opposed by the state....

  3. Prosecutors close domestic violence case against Hillsborough judge


    TAMPA — Prosecutors have declined to file charges against a Hillsborough County judge who was arrested in January and accused by his wife of beating her unconscious.

    After months of investigation, Pinellas County prosecutors filed a notice to terminate prosecution, ending a case that could have imperiled the career of one of the few African-American judges in Hillsborough. Since his arrest, Judge Eric Myers, 59, has appeared close to facing a misdemeanor battery charge, particularly after he admitted to slapping his wife in the heat of an argument....

    Prosecutors have declined to file charges against Hillsborough County Judge Eric Myers. 
  4. Former Tampa school resource officer gets six years for having sex with underage student


    TAMPA — A Hillsborough judge on Friday sentenced former Tampa police Officer Brian Morales to six years in prison for having sex with an underage girl, one of the many students he was supposed to protect in his job as a school resource officer.

    Calling Morales "a disgrace to law enforcement and an embarrassment to the Tampa Police Department," Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella said he agreed with prosecutors that Morales should be held to a higher standard because of his position as a police officer....

    “He victimized a minor student who he was entrusted to protect. He violated the law he was sworn to uphold.”
Christopher Sabella, Hillsborough Circuit judge
  5. New year brings new violence to Tampa neighborhoods

    Public Safety


    One minute, Devita Hutchins was congratulating herself on how smoothly her 14-year-old daughter's birthday party had gone. The next, she was running from gunfire.

    Now, in an empty lot next to her house in Sulphur Springs, a ring of devotional candles has sprung up around teddy bears and crosses, a memorial to one of the latest victims in a recent surge of gun violence that has shaken even Tampa's deadliest neighborhoods....

    Devita Hutchins, 37, of Tampa, holds her 3-month-old niece, Ke-niecia Harrell, at her home in Sulphur Springs near where 14-year-old Richard Newton was shot and killed. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  6. Jury's verdict is $64.5 million in construction accident at Mosaic Co. site


    TAMPA — A Hillsborough County jury has awarded $64.5 million to a man who was seriously injured when a building collapsed while he worked at a Mosaic Co. construction site in 2009.

    Robert Matthews was 25 when an 11,000-pound prefab building fell on him, crushing his pelvis, legs and internal organs.

    The jury's decision, handed down Friday, found three companies responsible for the accident, but assigned the vast majority of the blame to Mosaic, a large fertilizer maker that operates throughout Central Florida....

  7. Judge rejects plea bargain for lawyers in DUI set-up case


    TAMPA — Calling the punishments "disproportionate and unacceptable," a Pinellas judge Thursday rejected plea agreements for three Tampa lawyers accused of orchestrating the drunken driving arrest of an opposing lawyer.

    Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird, presiding over the disciplinary proceeding, said in a written decision that the sanctions outlined in the agreement between the lawyers and the Florida Bar do not correspond to the serious allegations they face. He called for a trial with "actual testimony with vigorous cross-examination" — even if the lawyers refuse to say a word on the stand....

    Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird said that the sanctions against the Adams & Diaco lawyers in on the Tampa DUI setup case do not correspond to the serious allegations they face.
  8. Lawyers in DUI setup agree to plea bargain


    CLEARWATER — Three lawyers accused of orchestrating the DUI arrest of an opposing attorney have agreed to a plea deal that would cost one of them his license.

    Under the agreement, the details of which were discussed at a Tuesday hearing, Stephen Diaco, 46, will surrender his law license, an offer designed to protect the firm of Adams & Diaco, where he is a partner. The other lawyers, Robert Adams, 45, and Adam Filthaut, 40, will receive 91-day suspensions, during which they cannot practice law....

    Under the agreement, Stephen Diaco, 46, will surrender his law license, an offer designed to protect the firm of Adams & Diaco, where he is a partner. [Times files (2013)]
  9. Diaco lawyers due to appear in court on Tuesday


    TAMPA -- Accused of setting up a DUI sting to trap a rival attorney, three Tampa lawyers are due to appear in court Tuesday afternoon for a status hearing that's being held less than a week before they are set to go to trial.

    More than two years have passed since lawyers with the firm of Adams & Diaco were first accused of orchestrating the arrest of an opposing lawyer during a high-profile defamation trial involving radio shock jocks Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. All three lawyers — Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut — face charges from the Florida Bar of misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court....

  10. Dreams deferred for a migrant worker in Plant City's strawberry fields (w/ video)

    Human Interest

    PLANT CITY — In a strawberry patch thirty minutes outside of Tampa, just past the exit for a dinosaur-themed amusement park, Maria Zuñiga pulls on her mud-covered rubber boots and ties a bandana under her dark, quiet eyes.

    Now in her third season of strawberry picking, her latex-gloved hands know the most efficient choreography. Her body knows to stay bent at the waist, like a runner frozen mid-toe-touch. If you were to pass her from the road, you would see only the curve of her back silhouetted against the sun....

    Maria Zuñiga brushes her hair in the bathroom before running errands in Plant City on February 20, 2015. Zuñiga wanted to become a nurse after graduating from high school, but it didn't happen. "With my parents working in agriculture, I didn't have enough money to pursue a career like that," Zuñiga said. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  11. Accused of impropriety, Hillsborough's chief judge backs away from a case


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta is accused of playing a behind-the-scenes role in improperly revoking a defendant's bond, a claim that could potentially require him to testify about his actions.

    The allegations involve the case of Matthew Buendia, 27, an ex-Marine accused of shooting a Hills­borough sheriff's deputy in 2011. On Friday, defense attorneys for Buendia filed a motion contending that in the days after their client's arrest, Ficarrotta, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office and Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee worked together to revoke Buendia's bond and increase the charges against him, overruling a previous judge's order and ensuring Buendia would remain in jail until trial....

    Matthew Buendia, 27, is accused of shooting a deputy.
  12. In big leap, Florida to become the first to put court records online


    Florida is poised to become the first state in the country to make the majority of its court documents available electronically.

    With little fanfare, a state committee last week granted 59 counties' applications to put their records online. The change, which could take place as soon as this summer, would spare Floridians the hassle of having to visit a courthouse in order to access most court documents....

  13. Prosecutors to seek death penalty against Riverview man accused of murdering his wife


    TAMPA — Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Riverview man charged with murdering his wife in front of their daughters last month, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said Monday.

    Keith Dukes, 48, had no criminal arrest record in Florida until the morning of Feb. 12, when he reportedly unleashed chaos on his quiet neighborhood. While his three daughters, ages 7, 13, and 14, sat in the family car waiting to be driven to school, Dukes allegedly stabbed his wife Michelle Dukes, 34, in the neck....

    Keith Dukes, accused of stabbing and shooting his wife to death last month in front of their three daughters, was in Judge Chet Tharpe's courtroom on Monday morning as prosecutors told the judge they were seeking the death penalty for him. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
  14. Falling prices, fewer workers have Florida strawberry farmers doubting future


    PLANT CITY — Three aerial photographs hang on the wall of strawberry farmer Carl Grooms' office, each a testament to years of expansion.

    Taking a visitor from one to the next, he begins the tour in sepia in 1974, when he bought 15 acres and set out to grow nothing but strawberries and more of them every year. It's a rosy walk through history until he returns to the present and sits down heavily at his desk beneath a mounted buck wearing a straw hat....

    Strawberry farmer Carl Grooms of Fancy Farms holds strawberries from one of his fields.
  15. Moffitt Cancer Center sues one of its own doctors over a surgical invention


    TAMPA — Locked in a patent dispute, Moffitt Cancer Center has filed a lawsuit against one of its own doctors, accusing him of trying to claim sole ownership of a medical invention the hospital says it played a role in creating.

    The suit, filed last week in Hillsborough County, names Segundo J. Gonzalez, a surgical oncology fellow who began working at Moffitt in 2012. Over the next few years, Gonzalez and Yanhui Guo, a professor at St. Thomas University in Miami, developed a Google Glass-type device that uses 3-D ultrasound technology to help surgeons better see patients' tumors during operations. In a grant application, they called it "GoogleGlass for Surgeons," and described the wearable technology as specifically targeted to improving the accuracy of breast cancer surgery. ...