CLEARWATER — A procession of witnesses streamed through the Pinellas County Courthouse on Thursday, each of them more effusive than the last in their praise of three Tampa lawyers in serious trouble with the Florida Bar.
They spoke of the lawyers' charitable deeds. They extolled the men's efforts to help friends in need. Many of them claimed to know next to nothing about the highly publicized legal scandal that was the reason for their appearance in court.
"I didn't watch any of the trial. I didn't read any of the newspaper articles. I would become too irate," said Dr. Joseph Diaco, the father of one of the lawyers, Stephen Diaco.
A month after a disciplinary trial ended in a finding that all three Adams & Diaco lawyers were guilty of "deliberately and maliciously" arranging a rival lawyer's DUI arrest, the trio returned to the courthouse for a hearing to determine their punishment. In this phase of the trial, defense attorneys and lawyers for the Florida Bar are allowed to call witnesses whose testimony might sway Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird, who could decide to permanently disbar all three.
The Bar called one witness Thursday: a Miami Shores chiropractor who filed a complaint in 2010 alleging lawyer Robert Adams had dispatched an Adams & Diaco paralegal to spy on him before he was to testify. The woman appeared in his office under a fake name, he said, and pushed him to commit insurance fraud.
When chiropractor Robert Frankl read in the newspaper that a Tampa lawyer named C. Philip Campbell was claiming his DUI arrest had been set up by Adams & Diaco lawyers, he saw a pattern.
"This is their modus operandi," Frankl testified.
Defense attorneys for the lawyers — Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco, and Adam Filthaut — attacked Frankl. They accused him of having a "minor obsession," with filing complaints against lawyers, and of harboring a grudge against Adams in particular, who won a case that caused Frankl to lose several thousand dollars.
"He's not a real chiropractor," said Adams' attorney Bill Jung. "He's running a litigation mill out of North Miami and he despises lawyers, especially lawyers for insurance companies."
The rest of the hearing was filled with testimony from the lawyers' friends, colleagues and neighbors, all of it effusive, some of it tearful. A former housekeeper and nanny who worked for Stephen Diaco testified that he had repeatedly donated money to her church.
"He's a very good person," Shirley Reese said. "If he didn't have no wife, I'd marry him myself."
Criticizing the judge for having believed "the word of a drunk driver" over that of his son, Diaco's father, a former physician for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, asked Baird not to revoke his son's law license.
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"If he committed an offense, punish him," he said, "but don't destroy him."
Contact Anna M. Phillips at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.