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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

Email: aphillips@tampabay.com

Twitter: @annamphillips

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  1. Pasco judge recuses himself from theater shooting case

    Criminal

    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)] 
  2. Judge says three Adams & Diaco lawyers guilty of DUI setup, coverup

    Courts

    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]
  3. At Brandon's Fourth of July parade, a more muted display of Confederate colors

    Human Interest

    BRANDON — The Vietnam veterans gave out bead necklaces, the Veterans of Foreign Wars gave out candy, and the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Veterans gave out Confederate battle flags, as they have always done.

    In most respects, Brandon's Fourth of July parade, with its classic theme of "Red, White and Blue," was no different than it has ever been. More than 100 groups paraded down Parsons Avenue on Saturday in front of tens of thousands of people gathered for one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in the state. The parade has been a Brandon tradition for decades, and is run by the Community Roundtable, a local nonprofit....

    Belen Gonzalez helps her daughter, Lilah, 1 1/2, keep cool Saturday with an ice pop as they watch the parade in Brandon.
  4. Celebrity website Gawker wins delay in Hulk Hogan sex tape trial

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — An appellate court's ruling has delayed next week's scheduled start of the highly anticipated trial between former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and New York-based media company Gawker.

    In a 14-page decision handed down Thursday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a Pinellas circuit judge's order setting the trial for Monday, saying that the civil trial could not begin on that date because of several technical violations....

    Hulk Hogan 
is seeking $100 million in damages from Gawker.
  5. Judge bars media from viewing Hulk Hogan sex tape in Gawker trial

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — The 1-minute, 41-second sex tape at the center of a high-stakes case between Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, and Gawker, will be hidden from the public during the trial.

    A Pinellas circuit judge Wednesday ordered that jurors in the trial, which is set to begin Monday, will be permitted to view the video on a TV monitor angled away from the rest of the courtroom....

    Terry Bollea, known as Hulk Hogan, stands between attorneys David Houston, left, and Charles Harder after a 2012 press conference addressing the lawsuits he filed against Heather Cole, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Gawker. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  6. Hulk Hogan trial against Gawker set for next week

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — Don't call him Mr. Hogan. Mr. Hulkster is off limits, too.

    When former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan goes to trial here next week against Gawker, the New York-based news website, he will be called by his real name, Terry Gene Bollea. That order came from a Pinellas judge on Monday at the request of Bollea's attorneys, who are representing him in his effort to win $100 million in damages from Gawker for publishing an excerpt of his sex tape in 2012....

    Hulk Hogan stands with attorney David Houston during a news conference in 2012 to address the lawsuit to be filed against Gawker Media, which rejects his privacy claim in the suit.
  7. What does the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling mean for Florida?

    Courts

    The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision Friday relegates Florida's gay marriage ban to the cobwebbed corners of history.

    The court's ruling brings closure to a yearslong battle between same-sex couples seeking the right to marry and to have their out-of-state marriages recognized, and the state's Republican leaders, who have fought it at every turn. Although gay marriage became legal in Florida in January, it has remained on appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether gay couples had the right to marry nationwide....

    From left: Gay couples Allen Backer, 67, and Robb Sanborn, 68, both of Dunedin, and Charlie Cerveny, 63, and Ed Blacker, 79, both of St. Petersburg, gather at the LGBT Welcome Center in St. Petersburg to listen to the president's speech praising Friday's U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in in all 50 states. Backer and Sanborn were married in 2004 in Boston. Cerveny and Blacker were married five years ago in Palm Springs. "It's an amazing day," said Blacker. "Our relationship and our equality are now recognized," said Cerveny. "It's the real deal," capped Ed. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  8. Lawyers in DUI set-up case say evidence against them is 'thin'

    Courts

    TAMPA — Lawyers for three attorneys facing possible disbarment said the case against them is "nonexistent," according to written arguments filed on Wednesday.

    The arguments were a response to the Florida Bar's allegations that the three Adams & Diaco attorneys conspired with one of their paralegals to have lawyer C. Philip Campbell arrested for driving under the influence in 2013.

    At the time, the Adams & Diaco firm and Campbell opposed each other in a bitter defamation suit between warring radio personalities Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. The lawyers' disciplinary trial ended last month....

    Lawyers Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut and Robert Adams are accused of conspiring with one of their paralegals to have lawyer C. Philip Campbell arrested for driving under the influence in 2013.
  9. Controversial probation company Sentinel could bring checkered past to Hillsborough

    Local Government

    TAMPA — While neighboring counties tout in-house solutions to managing low-level criminal offenders, Hillsborough County is poised to hand over its probation operations to a controversial California company with a history of legal disputes.

    Sentinel Offender Services finished as the winning bidder in a heavily contested county procurement battle in May. The prize: A three-year, $7.2 million contract to monitor more than 2,000 misdemeanor defendants....

  10. Probation, not prison, for family charged in mother's death

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Investigators agreed that Mary Hildreth Winston's death was a homicide.

    Photographs taken of her shortly after she died in her Citrus Park home three years ago showed the 65-year-old in bed, her limbs frozen by an aggressive and untreated type of rheumatoid arthritis that left her unable to care for herself. The retired nurse was covered in bed sores, some so severe that her rib cage was partially exposed....

    Osmond Winston Sr. received a year of house arrest and several years of probation in the neglect case.
  11. Family says woman begged to die at home; prosecutors say they neglected her

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Mary Hildreth Winston's family says she was clear about how she wanted to die.

    In the years before the 65-year-old passed away in her Citrus Park home in 2012, she told her husband and their three grown children not to take her to a hospital or put her in a nursing home. Crippled by an incredibly aggressive type of rheumatoid arthritis that left her bedridden and unable to feed or bathe herself, the retired nurse refused to take anything stronger than ibuprofen. Her bed sores grew, and her limbs twisted....

    Osmond Winston faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter of an elderly or disabled person.
  12. Tampa's Christ the King Church sues prominent Republican to claim willed property

    Civil

    TAMPA — One of the area's most prominent churches, Christ the King Catholic Church, has filed a lawsuit against a Tampa family, seeking property it says was left to the church in a deceased member's will and has been wrongfully withheld.

    The lawsuit was filed against Teresa "Terri" Gaffney, a lawyer who serves as counsel for the Hillsborough County Republican Party and is chair of Hillsborough's Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets judicial candidates and makes recommendations to the governor. Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the commission in 2011....

  13. Appellate court again takes issue with a Tampa judge's sentence

    Criminal

    TAMPA — For the third time in a year, an appellate court has issued an opinion rebuking Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe for improperly sentencing a defendant.

    In the halls of Tampa's courthouse, Tharpe is known for taking a hard line. But it's not the lengthy sentences the veteran judge hands down that are landing him in trouble. It's his penchant for basing sentencing decisions on factors that judges are expressly forbidden from taking into account....

    The opinion faults Judge Chet Tharpe’s legal reasoning.
  14. Edward Covington, who killed his girlfriend and her two children, sentenced to death

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Seven years after a triple homicide that Hillsborough County's sheriff called the grisliest he had ever seen, a judge on Friday sentenced Edward Covington to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two children.

    In a rejection of defense attorneys' arguments that Covington is mentally ill and should be spared the death penalty, the judge found that death was the appropriate punishment for one of the goriest homicide cases in Hillsborough's history. Covington, 42, absorbed the sentence impassively, surrounded by stone-faced lawyers....

    Barbara and Keith Freiberg embrace in the Hillsborough County Courthouse after addressing the media following the sentencing of Edward Covington in Judge William Fuente's courtroom.
  15. Trial over DUI setup during rival shock jocks lawsuit concludes

    Courts

    CLEARWATER — After less than two hours of testimony Thursday, the defense in the disciplinary trial of three Tampa lawyers facing possible disbarment rested their case having called only three witnesses.

    There were no eloquent closing arguments — the judge requested written filings — or displays of evidence to contradict the case put on by the Florida Bar. Rather, the trial rooted in explosive allegations of a DUI setup that surfaced amid a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit between radio shock jocks concluded abruptly and quietly. The judge, known as a "referee" in these proceedings, is not expected to make a decision about the lawyers' culpability for more than a month....