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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. Attorney for lawyer snared in DUI scandal: Newly disclosed video is 'game-changer'

    Courts

    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.” 
  2. Video in Tampa DUI set-up case ignites debate over use

    Courts

    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.
  3. Judge sentences ex-Tampa Day School principal to 10 years for sex assault

    Criminal

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

    Courts

    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. 
  5. Florida appellate court upholds same-sex divorce

    Courts

    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....

  6. Prosecutors close domestic violence case against Hillsborough judge

    Courts

    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. 
  7. Former Tampa school resource officer gets six years for having sex with underage student

    Criminal

    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
  8. New year brings new violence to Tampa neighborhoods

    Public Safety

    TAMPA

    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....

    Danielle Williams of Tampa grieves over the body of her son, Richard Newton, 14, at Ray Williams Funeral Home in Tampa. Newton was killed while visiting friends during a birthday party in Sulpher Springs. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  9. Jury's verdict is $64.5 million in construction accident at Mosaic Co. site

    Civil

    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....

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

    Courts

    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....

    Stephen Diaco 46, had offered to surrender his law license in order to protect the firm of Adams & Diaco, where he is a partner. [Times files (2013)]
  11. Lawyers in DUI setup agree to plea bargain

    News

    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....

    Stephen Diaco 46, will surrender his law license in an agreement that must be approved by a judge.
  12. Diaco lawyers due to appear in court on Tuesday

    Courts

    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....

  13. 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 puts on a bandana over her face as the final touch of getting ready before heading out into the strawberry field on March 4, 2015 in Plant City. Zuñiga wears a bandana while working to protect her face from the mosquitos. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  14. Accused of impropriety, Hillsborough's chief judge backs away from a case

    Criminal

    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.
  15. In big leap, Florida to become the first to put court records online

    Courts

    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....