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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. 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....

    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.
  2. 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....

    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)]
  3. 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....

  4. 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 embraces her son, Angel, in her hands in their kitchen in Plant City on January 22, 2015. Earlier in the month when Angel turned one, Maria and Jose threw Angel a large Baptism party using all of their savings account. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. 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.
  6. 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....

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

    Criminal

    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]
  8. Falling prices, fewer workers have Florida strawberry farmers doubting future

    Agriculture

    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....

    Workers pick strawberries at Fancy Farms in Plant City last week. Strawberry farmers are increasingly fed up with the current immigration laws that, they say, stand in the way of keeping a steady supply of reliable workers.
  9. Moffitt Cancer Center sues one of its own doctors over a surgical invention

    Medicine

    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. ...

  10. Widowed Florida man seeks recognition of marriage to his late husband

    Courts

    For Charles Pohlman and William H. Ross of Brooksville, getting married after 37 years together was easy. But persuading Florida health officials to recognize their marriage after Ross died this week proved far more complicated.

    More than a month after same-sex marriage became legal in Florida, the state's bureaucracy is struggling to come to terms with the change. Today, marriage licenses still refer to a "bride" and "groom," prompting awkward, if amusing, conversations among gay and lesbian couples over who is which. And although they won the federal lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban, the Tallahassee couple at the center of the case have been unable to update their state employee retirement plan to reflect the fact that they are legally married....

    William H. Ross, left, and Charles Pohlman were married in November in Pinehurst, N.C. Hospitalized with an infection, Ross suffered a stroke and died Monday.
  11. Hillsborough judge's wife claims he used court records to pursue her

    Courts

    TAMPA — Among the many people who appeared before Hillsborough County Judge Eric Myers in domestic violence court, one woman caught his eye.

    That's how Shirley Odom, who was 30 years old and married, recalls it.

    Nearly a year earlier, Odom had been arrested and accused of attacking her husband with a kitchen fork, according to court records. The deputies who responded to her husband's 911 call found him bleeding from four small puncture wounds to his head. When the husband appeared before Myers in 2004, he wanted a restraining order....

    Hillsborough Judge Eric Myers, 58, has remained on the bench since his arrest, presiding over misdemeanor and traffic cases.
  12. Prosecutors investigating whether to bring charges against both judge and wife

    Courts

    TAMPA — Allegations of domestic abuse and violence are flying both ways in the case of a Hillsborough County judge arrested last month and his wife, who could wind up facing prosecution herself.

    At a hearing Friday, Shirley Sanchez-Myers, the wife of Judge Eric Myers, said her husband is alleging that she attacked him first, instigating the brawl on Jan. 16 that culminated in his arrest. Although Myers' wife was not arrested, Hillsborough County sheriff deputies did alert prosecutors to the allegations against her. Recently, when the case was transferred to Pinellas County, prosecutors there began investigating whether to bring charges against both husband and wife....

    Eric Myers, 58, who hears criminal cases for the 13th judicial circuit, was taken into custody by Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies last month.
  13. Widow sues Tampa, police officers over husband's death

    Civil

    TAMPA — The widow of a man who died last year after suffering a diabetic seizure during an encounter with Tampa police officers is suing the city of Tampa, as well as the officers involved, claiming their actions led to his death.

    Filed in federal court Tuesday by Lena Young, who was married to Arthur Green Jr., the eight-count lawsuit alleges that when Green became unresponsive in the middle of a traffic stop, the two Tampa police officers at the scene essentially ignored his worsening medical condition. Rather than immediately administering CPR or summoning paramedics, the officers pinned the 63-year-old to the ground and handcuffed him, according to the lawsuit....

    Lena Young filed a suit claiming that police officers’ actions led to the death of husband Arthur Green Jr.
  14. Jury finds Tampa pharmacist guilty of wife's murder

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Jurors convicted a Tampa pharmacist on Friday of beating his wife to death with a baseball bat in 2010.

    The conviction of Olufemi Ademoye, 56, followed weeks of testimony in which defense attorney Barry Cohen sought to convince jurors that the defendant's wife, Juliet Ademoye, had died from an accidental fall in the couple's Tampa home. But physical evidence — in particular, Juliet Ademoye's blood found on a baseball bat — suggested otherwise....

    Olufemi Ademoye, 56, faces 25 years to life in prison. His sentencing is set for 
March.
  15. For Hillsborough judge in domestic violence case, courtroom drama gets personal

    News

    TAMPA — Since his arrest nearly two weeks ago on a domestic violence charge, Hills­borough County Judge Eric Myers has continued to preside over criminal cases, going to work every morning as though nothing has changed.

    But his own legal troubles are not fading away.

    On Wednesday, Myers' wife, Shirley Sanchez-Myers, 40, who has accused her husband of beating her until she lost consciousness, filed a motion claiming he had violated a temporary restraining order. Although a judge had barred Myers, 58, from coming within 500 feet of his wife, she said that on Monday, he showed up at their house in Odessa unannounced and tried to enter while she was home....

    According to Judge Eric Myers’ wife, he tried to pry open the garage door to enter their home, leaving a sizable dent. Her attorneys say this violates a court order.