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He's sure he's right, but he's all alone

Lawyer Mark A. Adams sees conspiracies against him at every turn.

He says the Florida Bar is out to get him. So is Pinellas Judge Crockett Farnell. Judges on an appeals court, too, along with lawyers at one of the Tampa Bay area's best-known law firms, he says. Adams sued the firm for slander. He talks of suing Farnell.

To Adams, all seek to destroy his career.

"When people see my case, they are mostly shocked," said Adams, 41, who says he is a victim of judicial corruption and the old-boy network. "You're not supposed to falsely impugn the integrity of judges or officers of the court. But I haven't said anything that's false."

Adams faces problems rare for any lawyer, all over a lawsuit he filed for a client in 2001 involving unpaid wages and commissions. A grievance committee of the bar has found probable cause that Adams violated seven rules of conduct, including conduct unlawful or contrary to honesty and justice.

Eventually, Adams faces a hearing that could result in him losing his law license. Adams, calling his accusers "those bar weasels," denies the charges.

Adams portrays his situation as a David and Goliath battle, the solo practitioner who went up against a big law firm in a lawsuit and lost case and career. To those involved, Adams' fall is more about his behavior and its inevitable consequences.

What's left is the story of a lawyer up against the powers of his profession, struggling to save his career and lashing out at everybody. He's broke, depressed and sure he's right.

"The sad thing about this case," said Tim Weber, a lawyer with Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & Wein, the St. Petersburg firm Adams sued, "is that if he had at any time straightened out his act and tried to make things right, the Florida Bar might be forgiving."

But Weber said, "Mark never wants to make things square with the world."

Adams faces a criminal contempt charge in Pinellas that was initiated by Farnell, a circuit judge in Clearwater who recently agreed to step down from the case.

If convicted, he faces six months in jail.

"He's just gone out of his way to make things as bad as possible for himself," Farnell said.

Adams, who lives in Valrico with his wife and two children, isn't budging, saying he has been denied due process by Farnell. "I'm crazy according to those weasels at Battaglia's firm," he said.

It began in 2001, when Adams filed a Pinellas lawsuit against Corporate Sports Marketing Group, a Clearwater contract publishing house for pro sports leagues, including Major League Baseball.

A former salesman of the company, Jeffrey S. Smith, hired Adams because he said he was owed back wages. Eventually, Adams would represent a second former salesman. He sued, including claims of slander, fraud and tortious interference.

On Feb. 6, 2002, at a party for a celebrity golfing event in Miami, Smith said he was approached by an executive of CSMG who told him the Battaglia firm had been hired to defend the company. In an affidavit, Smith said the executive told him "that his attorney said that my attorney was an idiot and that his attorney said that they were going to bury me."

Another former CSMG salesman said in an affidavit that similar comments were made to him.

Martin Richardson, vice president of CSMG, also is accused of making similar statements in April 2002.

Adams said he was then told by his clients they wanted another lawyer to help represent them. Adams eventually withdrew.

CSMG executives denied making the statements.

"He's very good advertising," Weber said jokingly, denying the allegation that his firm has undo influence on judges.

Another lawyer would eventually dismiss many of the counts Adams raised in the lawsuit. The rest also would eventually be dismissed in a settlement between the plaintiffs and CSMG. The company sought to recoup its attorney's fees, which is allowed if a judge deems that a frivolous or bad faith action was filed.

At an April 2003 hearing on the matter, Adams asked for a continuance so he could hire an attorney to represent him, though he had weeks of notice about the hearing. Farnell gave him 10 minutes. Adams walked out and didn't return.

"Has anyone seen or heard from him or has he checked into the hospital or does anyone know?" Farnell asked.

In July 2003, Farnell ordered Adams and Smith to pay many of CSMG's legal fees and costs, and referred Adams to the Florida Bar for "unethical conduct." Adams was on the hook for more than $20,000.

His troubles were only just beginning.

Weber said Adams refused to comply with his efforts to depose him and gather information to collect the $20,000 judgment. Adams failed to appear at a deposition, saying he wasn't under subpoena.

Weber said three different hearings were set to determine whether Adams should be found in contempt. Adams didn't show up for any of them.

Adams, saying he wasn't guilty of contempt, said he had obtained a stay from an appeals court. In January 2004, Farnell disagreed and signed a warrant for Adams' arrest.

Weber said Adams dodged police, who went to Adams' home to find him. "They were trying to get him to come in," Weber said. "He just didn't want to be arrested."

On Feb. 19, 2004, Adams faxed Weber a document from his home. Weber called police. "We told them, "He's home. Get him,' " Weber said.

Police arrested Adams, who was released on bail.

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In March 2004, Adams' attorney asked that doctors be allowed to examine him to determine if he was mentally competent to proceed to a hearing. The judge agreed, later finding Adams competent when two out of three doctors said Adams was mentally fit to proceed.

Through it all, Adams asked Farnell at least 10 times to recuse himself from the case. He asked for dismissals of the case. All were unsuccessful.

Farnell was becoming frustrated with Adams. At one hearing, Farnell asked Adams mockingly, "You are a member of the Florida Bar, are you not?" In a Dec. 13 order, Farnell slammed Adams, saying: "To date he has refused to comply with numerous court orders. He has shown no respect for the court or the judicial process."

Meantime, Adams had filed a slander suit against Weber's firm and CSMG. Farnell has ruled he will dismiss it, though a final order awaits an appeal by Adams.

Just before a contempt hearing was to be held last month, Farnell agreed to step down.

"I wanted to get as far away from the case as I could," Farnell said. "I decided I suffered enough with the guy. I feel sorry for whatever judge gets it."

Now another judge eventually will consider whether Adams should be found in contempt.

Attorney Skip Olney represents Adams on the contempt charge and declined to say whether he believes his client is in the right.

"I am convinced that Mark believes that he has done nothing wrong," he said. "He's a great guy, loving husband who cares very much about his clients, which makes the case all the more bizarre."

Dwayne Martins, chief financial officer of CSMG, said the company has been victimized by Adams.

"He created this environment for himself," Martins said. "I think the man needs some serious help."

Adams raises numerous complaints about how the system has treated him. Lawyers, he said, don't give him proper notice for hearings. The judge dislikes him. Court rules and the law aren't followed.

"I'll let people draw their own conclusions," Adams said. "I haven't done anything wrong."

William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3436 or levesquesptimes.com.

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