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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. Life sentence for Julian Ospina-Florez, Avila murderer


    TAMPA — A jury Friday voted to spare the life of a 35-year-old man convicted of a double murder, recommending that he serve life in prison for gunning down his wealthy employer and her husband in 2012.

    Although he had struggled to contain his emotions throughout the three-week trial, Julian Ospina-Florez barely registered the jury's recommendation.

    In the gallery behind him, his mother clung to her youngest son and wept. Family members of the victims walked out quietly, later releasing a statement asking for privacy and saying they were "relieved that this chapter of our family tragedy has concluded and justice has been served."...

    Julian Ospina-Florez, center, was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Debra Rivera and her husband, Dr. Hector Rivera.
  2. Avila murderer to jury: You convicted an innocent man


    TAMPA — Jurors had barely taken their seats Thursday when the man they had convicted of a double murder earlier in the week sprang from his seat and announced they were mistaken.

    Claiming to be "an innocent man," Julian Ospina-Florez, 35, opened the second phase of his trial with an impromptu speech on the justice system's failings. As jurors were ushered out of the courtroom, he complained that while those found to be criminally insane were allowed "go home," the innocent were sent to prison....

    Julian Os?pina-Florez was convicted this week of killing Debra and Hector Rivera in 2012.
  3. Jury convicts driver in murders of wealthy Tampa couple


    TAMPA — More than three years after he fatally shot his employer and her husband at their mansion in a gated enclave of Tampa, Julian Ospina-Florez was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder Tuesday.

    Ospina-Florez, 35, faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. But prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty during the second phase of the trial, which is expected to begin later this week....

    After jurors left the courtroom, defense attorney Charles Traina wipes tears from the eyes of Julian Ospina-Florez, who was convicted Tuesday of two counts of murder.
  4. Jurors hear closing arguments in Avila murder trial


    TAMPA — Julian Ospina-Florez was not a criminal mastermind, prosecutors said in closing arguments Monday at the trial of the driver accused of murdering his wealthy employer and her husband. But it doesn't take much to be an effective killer.

    "It wasn't a good plan. It wasn't well-executed," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said of the killings of Debra Rivera and her husband, Dr. Hector Rivera, who were found shot to death at their sprawling Avila mansion on Jan. 9, 2012. "But it was a plan."...

    Julian Ospina-Florez leaves court during a break Monday. He is accused of killing Dr. Hector Rivera and Debra Rivera in 2012.
  5. Judge recommends disbarment for Bubba attorneys in DUI setup case


    A judge on Thursday recommended that three Tampa lawyers be permanently barred from practicing law for their involvement in a conspiracy to have an opposing attorney arrested during a high-profile trial in 2013.

    Rejecting the defense's arguments that the lawyers were merely helping local police get a drunken driver off of city streets, Pinellas Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird found the men's actions "inexplicably egregious, spiteful, and malicious."...

    A judge has recommended that three Tampa lawyers, Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut, center, and Robert Adams, be permanently barred from practicing law for their involvement in a conspiracy to have an opposing attorney  arrested during a high-profile trial in 2013. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  6. With gay marriage decided, Florida will add gender-neutral language to forms


    Almost a year after a federal judge in Tallahassee declared Florida's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, the state is finally getting around to updating its marriage and death certificates.

    By mid September, the state plans to have removed gender-specific language from these forms, which still refer to a "husband" and "wife," according to the gay rights organization Equality Florida.

    Since same-sex marriage became legal in January, gay couples who have tied the knot have had to make the odd choice of whose name to write in which space. Once the change goes into effect, the forms will provide a place for the name of each "spouse."...

  7. Florida Bar recommends disbarment for three Adams & Diaco lawyers guilty of DUI setup


    The Florida Bar asked a Pinellas judge on Monday to revoke the law licenses of three Tampa lawyers accused of arranging the arrest of a rival attorney during a high-profile trial in 2013.

    The Bar's lawyers recommended that Stephen Diaco, a partner at Adams & Diaco, be permanently disbarred for his role in orchestrating C. Philip Campbell's DUI arrest in 2013. Calling Diaco's motives "malicious and for personal gain," the Bar's lawyers wrote that his actions not only interrupted a trial, but also "tarnished the reputation of the legal profession and the Tampa Police Department."...

    Lawyers for Stephen Diaco asked for a lesser penalty.
  8. Pam Bondi balks at paying full cost of Florida's fight against gay marriage


    After losing its yearslong defense of Florida's same-sex marriage ban, the state is arguing it shouldn't have to pay the full cost of its crusade.

    Last week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi objected to a motion concerning legal fees from lawyers who represented gay couples seeking to have their marriages recognized in Florida. In response, she wrote that because Florida voluntarily dismissed its appeal after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right to same-sex marriage nationwide, the state should not have to cover the cost of the lengthy appeals process it initiated....

    Attorney General Pam Bondi says lawyers who challenged the gay marriage ban are “not entitled to appellate attorney’s fees.”
  9. Question of disbarment hangs over Bubba lawyers' DUI setup hearing


    CLEARWATER — The disciplinary case of three Tampa lawyers found guilty of orchestrating the DUI arrest of a rival attorney has come down to a single question: Will they be disbarred?

    For a second day, Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut came to the Pinellas County Justice Center on Friday to listen as a half-dozen witnesses gave testimonials designed to sway Pinellas Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird, who will recommend their punishment....

    Lawyers Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut, center, and Robert Adams listen to the conclusion of the case Friday. At right is Filthaut’s attorney, Mark O’Brien. 
  10. Friends, colleagues say lawyers in DUI setup case are good men


    CLEARWATER — A procession of witnesses streamed through the Pinellas County Courthouse on Thursday, each of them more effusive than the last in their praise of three Tampa lawyers in serious trouble with the Florida Bar.

    They spoke of the lawyers' charitable deeds. They extolled the men's efforts to help friends in need. Many of them claimed to know next to nothing about the highly publicized legal scandal that was the reason for their appearance in court....

    Attorneys for the three Adams & Diaco lawyers accused of orchestrating a DUI set-up, and defendant Robert Adams, confer with Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird in Courtroom 19 at the Pinellas County Justice Center on Thursday (8/6/15) in Clearwater.
  11. Once dismissed, Miami chiropractor's accusations get a second life in DUI setup case


    TAMPA — Outraged by what he saw as a Tampa lawyer's underhanded tactics, a Miami chiropractor filed a complaint in 2010 against Robert Adams, a partner at the Adams & Diaco firm. The Florida Bar dismissed his concerns six days later.

    Now, in the midst of a high profile disciplinary case against Adams and two other lawyers, the Bar's attorneys have suddenly become keenly interested in what chiropractor Robert Frankl has to say....

    Robert Adams and two other lawyers could be disbarred for the setup.
  12. Did Hillsborough prosecutors send an innocent teenager to prison for life?


    TAMPA — Two middle-age men sat in a Hillsborough County courtroom last October, studiously avoiding each others' eyes.

    Outwardly, they had little in common — one entered in handcuffs, the other through the front door — but both knew it could easily have been the other way around.

    Dean McKee, 43, had waited years for the chance to put the man who helped send him to prison for life back on the witness stand. And there he was: thick-set, gray-bearded, with a tear-drop tattoo leaching from one eye. It was one of the most hopeful hours in McKee's 27 years of incarceration....

    In 1987, a St. Petersburg Times photographer visited the McKee home to photograph Dean for a story about skinheads in the Tampa Bay area.  The next spring, Dean McKee was accused of killing Isaiah Walker, a 41-year-old black man. He was convicted after his brother testified against him. [KATHLEEN CABBLE | Times (1987)]
  13. Hulk Hogan's lawyers want investigation to determine how National Enquirer got sex tape transcript


    ST. PETERSBURG — Attorneys for Hulk Hogan say they don't know who leaked a transcript of their client's racist and homophobic remarks to tabloid reporters. But they have a theory, and they're looking at Gawker.

    At a hearing Thursday, lawyers for the former professional wrestler asked Pinellas Judge Pamela Campbell to authorize an investigation into whether the news and gossip website's employees and lawyers communicated with reporters for the National Enquirer and ...

    Hulk Hogan’s lawyers said during a hearing Thursday in St. Petersburg that Gawker knows “how to leak anonymously.”
  14. Pasco judge recuses himself from theater shooting case


    The judge in the case of Curtis Reeves Jr., a retired Tampa police captain accused of shooting to death a fellow patron in a Wesley Chapel movie theater, has recused himself.

    Last week, after a hearing in which he appeared aggravated by repeated delays in the case, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa issued a notice removing himself from the proceedings. Although Siracusa did not make his reasoning public, Reeves' defense attorney Rick Escobar said the judge told lawyers that his decision stemmed from comments he made at the hearing....

    Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa has overseen the case of Curtis Reeves Jr. since Reeves’ arrest in January 2014. [BRENDAN FITTERER   |   Times (2014)] 
  15. Judge says three Adams & Diaco lawyers guilty of DUI setup, coverup


    TAMPA — A Pinellas judge on Tuesday found three Tampa lawyers guilty of "deliberately and maliciously" arranging the arrest of a rival attorney during a high-profile trial in 2013.

    In his decision, Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird concluded that the lawyers — Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut — had orchestrated C. Philip Campbell's DUI arrest to gain an advantage in a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit pitting their client, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, against his radio rival, Todd "MJ" Schnitt. Campbell was representing Schnitt....

    Lawyers Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut, center, and Robert Adams are seated in Courtroom 15 at the Pinellas County Justice Center during their trial in May. On Tuesday, a judge found all three guilty of several Florida Bar rules violations. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD/Times]