Paralegal accused in DUI setup during Bubba vs. Schnitt suit is called a flirt

Attorney Michael Trentalange, testifies,  testifies in court, Wednesday at the Pinellas County Justice Center.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Attorney Michael Trentalange, testifies, testifies in court, Wednesday at the Pinellas County Justice Center. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published May 20, 2015

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.

That was the picture painted Wednesday by former Adams & Diaco law firm employee Vanessa Fykes, who spent the evening of Jan. 23, 2013, perched on a bar stool next to her then-colleague, paralegal Melissa Personius.

Personius is a central figure in the Florida Bar disciplinary trial now under way against her bosses, Adams & Diaco lawyers Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut.

The Bar has accused the lawyers of conspiring with Personius and one another to have Campbell arrested for driving under the influence and removed from a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit against one of their clients, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. At the time, Campbell was representing Clem's broadcast rival, Todd Schnitt.

If the judge, known as a "referee" in these proceedings, finds them guilty of misconduct and other professional violations, they could have their licenses to practice law suspended or revoked.

On the stand Wednesday, Fykes says it was Personius' idea to go to Malio's Prime Steakhouse in Tampa, where Campbell was drinking that evening with a colleague. Although she couldn't understand the urgency, she followed Personius first to Malio's, then to a nearby bar, and then back to Malio's.

There, she watched, mystified, as Personius, then 30 years old, struck up a conversation with Campbell, 64.

"She was very flirtatious," Fykes said, recalling how she sat there quietly while her friend ignored her. She noticed that Personius seemed "preoccupied with her phone."

At the time, Personius was dating another lawyer at the Adams & Diaco firm, C. Spencer Petty, Fykes said. He is still employed there.

When Fykes learned that Campbell had been arrested, she "put two and two together," she said. "I thought she (Personius) was involved."

Soon after allegations of a DUI setup surfaced, Fykes said she received a phone call from Stephen Diaco, who said it was "very important" that she call him back. Personius called her as well, she said, to let her know there was an Adams & Diaco investigator who wanted to speak with her. That man continued to call her, but she never returned his messages.

Fykes said she already has testified as part of a grand jury investigation led by the Tampa U.S. Attorney's Office.

To corroborate Fykes' memories, Bar attorneys called on two lawyers who also were at Malio's that night: Campbell's colleague Jonathan Ellis and Michael Trentalange, a Tampa lawyer.

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Both lawyers said Personius introduced herself as a paralegal at Trenam Kemker, another Tampa law firm. She never said that she worked for Adams & Diaco, they said.

Trentalange said he left the bar that night with the distinct impression that there was something "amorous" between Personius and Campbell. It didn't make sense to him that a woman would tell a man she had just met that she needed to have her car moved, or that the man would agree to help.

"There was some reason why she wanted him — Phil Campbell — as opposed to anyone else," Trentalange said.

Phone records show that while in the bar, Personius texted and called her bosses multiple times. They, in turn, texted and called one another.

A few hours later, Campbell was driving Personius home when he was pulled over by Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez — a close family friend of Adams & Diaco lawyer Filthaut. Records showed that Filthaut and Fernandez had exchanged multiple calls and emails that evening, too.

Also called to testify Wednesday was Campbell's colleague Jaime Austrich, who accused Diaco of concealing the fact that Personius had Campbell's trial briefcase.

"Your client had it for 18 hours before anybody thought to mention it to us," he said to Diaco's defense attorney.

On a day that mainly consisted of lawyers cross-examining lawyers, tempers flared easily.

Witnesses could barely contain their dislike for the Adams & Diaco lawyers, and the judge chastised defense attorney Greg Kehoe for "testifying" when the witness he was questioning didn't give the answers he sought.

At one point, the animosity between defense lawyers and lawyers for the Florida Bar went on full display, as they bickered over the witness list.

"All's fair in love and war," one lawyer snapped at another.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.