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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. Trial over DUI setup during rival shock jocks lawsuit concludes


    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....

  2. Tampa owner of dog tied to railroad tracks pleads guilty to dogfighting


    Times Staff Writer

    TAMPA — One of four young men arrested in March after police rescued a bit pull mix that had been shot and tied to railroad tracks pleaded guilty Monday to owning the animal for dogfighting.

    Investigators said Kenny Bell, 21, was not involved in shooting 2-year-old Cabela, strapping her to the tracks in Sulphur Springs and leaving her for dead. But Cabela belonged to Bell and his brother Darnell Devlin, 18, both of whom were accused of using the dog in fights....

    Tara Stankiewicz gets some kisses from Cabela, the dog that was shot and left for dead, early this month at Ferg’s Live Cinco De Give-O event benefitting the Animal Coalition of Tampa as part of Give Day Tampa Bay.
  3. Adams & Diaco firm rebrands amid scandal


    TAMPA — Battered by a seamy scandal and a legal battle that has dragged on for more than two years, the Tampa law firm of Adams & Diaco is attempting to remake itself.

    The firm is distancing itself from its name and two of its partners accused of participating in a drunken driving setup. It is rebuilding around Joseph "Jay" Diaco Jr., 44, the only one of the firm's three partners who has not been accused by the Florida Bar of misconduct and other professional violations....

    Lawyers Stephen Diaco, second from left, Adam Filthaut and Robert Adams stand before Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird last week at the Pinellas County Justice Center. The Adams & Diaco lawyers are accused of orchestrating a DUI setup in 2013 during a high-profile trial.
  4. Paralegal's ex-husband tells court she confessed to DUI set-up


    CLEARWATER — The ex-husband of a paralegal accused of helping arrange the drunken-driving arrest of a Tampa attorney told a court Thursday that he recorded her confession.

    In Kristopher Personius' colorful retelling, his ex-wife, Melissa Personius, 32, a paralegal at the Tampa firm of Adams & Diaco, divulged everything. Drunk and "bouncing off-the-wall," she returned home late one night in January 2013 with a wild story about how she and three attorneys at her firm had orchestrated the arrest of a rival lawyer, C. Philip Campbell....

    Pinellas Judge Douglas Baird talks with attorneys after they approached while Kristopher Personius sits on the witness stand during the Florida Bar hearing concerning attorneys from Adams & Diaco. The attorneys are accused of setting up an opposing attorney for a DUI in 2013. [Pool photo]
  5. Paralegal accused in DUI setup during Bubba vs. Schnitt suit is called a flirt


    CLEARWATER — The night that Tampa lawyer C. Philip Campbell wound up in jail, charged with DUI, the woman seated next to him at the bar was "very flirtatious."

    Loud and laughing, she twirled her hair and leaned in to talk to Campbell. A friend of his who stopped by thought she seemed more interested in him than he was in her, which was noteworthy because she was half Campbell's age....

    Left to Right: Attorney's Adam Filthaut and Robert Adams, talk in court during testimony, Wednesday at the Pinellas County Justice Center. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  6. Opposing lawyers spar in trial over DUI setup during Bubba vs. Schnitt lawsuit


    CLEARWATER — What exactly was Tampa lawyer Philip Campbell doing the night in 2013 he was arrested in downtown Tampa for driving under the influence?

    Was he, as he testified Tuesday, trying to move a car to a secure spot as a favor for a woman he believed to be a paralegal at another firm? Or was he, as defense lawyer Greg Kehoe suggested, acting on impulses that might motivate a 64-year-old man, after as many as five vodkas, to drive a woman half his age toward his apartment?...

    Adam Filthaut, left, and Robert Adams, in court on Tuesday, are accused, along with fellow lawyer Stephen Diaco, of conspiring to have opposing lawyer Philip Campbell arrested on a DUI charge.
  7. Silence, surprises in first day of trial over DUI set-up during Bubba-Schnitt lawsuit


    CLEARWATER — The disciplinary trial of three Tampa lawyers accused of orchestrating the DUI arrest of a rival attorney began Monday, with one offering to surrender his law license and another abruptly deciding to testify after years of silence.

    In a case already filled with dramatic twists, attorney Stephen Diaco's announcement that he was petitioning the Florida Supreme Court to revoke his law license caught many by surprise....

    Lawyers Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut, center, and Robert Adams stand before Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird at the Pinellas County Justice Center Monday as a recess is called in the hearing in the case against the three Adams & Diaco lawyers accused of orchestrating a DUI set-up. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  8. Judge allows testimony about video in hearing about DUI setup


    CLEARWATER — A judge on Friday refused to exclude a videotaped confession from the disciplinary trial of three Tampa lawyers accused of orchestrating the DUI arrest of a rival lawyer.

    The development was one of several defeats for defense lawyers, who sought to have both the video and the testimony of its maker banned from the trial. Instead, the judge ruled that if the Florida Bar chooses to use the video, which has not been made public, he will hold a hearing to determine its admissibility....

    Pinellas-Pasco Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird listens during Friday’s hearing.
  9. Attorney for lawyer snared in DUI scandal: Newly disclosed video is 'game-changer'


    TAMPA — The lawyer for a lawyer caught up in a DUI scandal said Wednesday that new evidence in the case is a "game-changer" and raises questions about whether a witness lied in her previous testimony.

    Legal documents filed earlier this week revealed the existence of a video recording that has taken center stage in the legal battle arising from a controversial DUI arrest during the trial of dueling radio shock jocks Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem....

    “It’s the game-changer,” John Fitzgibbons, the lawyer for C. Philip Campbell, who was arrested on a DUI charge in January 2013, said Wednesday of the video. “I think it’s the smoking gun.” 
  10. Video in Tampa DUI set-up case ignites debate over use


    TAMPA — Surprising new evidence in the case against three Tampa lawyers accused of orchestrating a DUI set-up has surfaced less than a week before their trial, igniting debate over whether it can be used against them.

    At the center of the dispute is a video recording that reportedly shows Melissa Personius, a paralegal at the firm of Adams & Diaco, confessing to arranging the arrest of rival attorney C. Philip Campbell in January 2013. At the time, Personius' firm and Campbell were on opposing sides of a bitter defamation lawsuit between warring radio shock jocks Todd Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem....

    The recording of Melissa Personius has not been made public.
  11. Judge sentences ex-Tampa Day School principal to 10 years for sex assault


    TAMPA — James J. Larkin, a former Tampa Day School principal, was sentenced Thursday to a 10-year prison term as part of a plea deal in which he admitted to sexually abusing two adolescent boys.

    For more than 30 years, Larkin's reputation was that of a beloved private school leader. From 1978 to 2009, he was headmaster at St. John Greek Orthodox Day School in South Tampa, a position he left to helm the Tampa Day School. The school fired him last year after a 14-year-old boy, a student at Tampa Day, accused Larkin, 64, of molesting him one night while the principal was acting as a stand-in babysitter....

    James J. Larkin, 64, ex-principal at Tampa Day School, admitted to abusing two boys.
  12. 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. 
  13. 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....

  14. 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. 
  15. 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