A well-known Pinellas County criminal defense lawyer is embroiled in a scandal that’s playing out in court records involving drugs, sex and alleged criminal activity.
Largo lawyer John Trevena — who is representing Michael Drejka, the man accused of gunning down another man in a Clearwater parking lot during an argument over a parking space — is accusing a former employee of moving into his home, getting his wife addicted to drugs, stealing personal belongings and writing checks from the law firm bank account. He also alleges she has tried to ruin his reputation and career.
The woman, Deena Covell, is denying the allegations and offered an opposite version of the story.
Covell is the sister-in-law of 10News WTSP reporter and anchor Reginald Roundtree, whom Trevena also called his “former best friend” in court documents. Roundtree has covered the Drejka case and enjoyed exclusive access to Drejka in jail to conduct an interview.
The revelations came to light through petitions for injunctions filed by Trevena and his wife, Meredith, against Covell and Michael Reeves, who say they are engaged. Trevena, Covell and Reeves appeared in court on Friday about the injunctions, though no action was taken on the cases.
Outside the courtroom, Trevena called the situation “embarrassing.” Trevena said he got involved with Covell in September because Roundtree asked him to take her in and employ her. He did it, he said, without conducting a background check. In his petition for the protective order against Covell, Trevena wrote “she was homeless, unemployed and despondent.”
“I did this solely because my best friend vouched for her,” he said Friday.
Things started to spiral out of control soon after she moved in with Trevena, 57, and his wife in their Sand Key condominium, according to Trevena’s petition. She moved Reeves in without his permission, he wrote, and the pair began using hard drugs. The pair got Trevena’s wife, Meredith Trevena, addicted to drugs, he wrote. Then, he wrote, Covell and Reeves stole from the Trevenas, including jewelry, cars, a gun and cash from the law firm.
Meredith Trevena, 33, also wrote in her petition for injunction against Covell that Covell “persuaded me to leave my husband for someone ‘younger’ who would be more agreeable to ‘party’ with me.” The Trevenas are undergoing a divorce, filed in December.
Trevena also wrote that Covell is calling his client list and the media to defame him.
The Trevenas are seeking protective orders against both Covell and Reeves, and asked the judge to prohibit them from contacting the Trevenas, coming within 500 feet of their home or place of employment or 100 feet of their vehicles, or possessing any firearms. John Trevena and his attorney, Oxalis Garcia, asked for a 60-day extension in the case to collect more evidence. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Peter Ramsberger granted the extension over an objection from Covell.
Covell, who also spoke outside the courtroom after the hearing, denied the allegations and offered an opposite version of the story. She said she owns a successful sex toy business with her twin sister, Roundtree’s wife, that she said is worth millions and wouldn’t need to steal. She said Roundtree connected her with Trevena so she could help him get his life together, and that she greatly improved his life.
Roundtree, reached Friday by phone, said he was not involved in the situation. He denied asking the Trevenas to help Covell.
“I was not a part of it. I did not hire her. I did not move her into his condo. I did not do anything. He met her, liked her, and that’s that,” Roundtree said. “I don’t control who he hires or what he does in his private life.”
He added that while he cares about Trevena — Trevena says the pair have been friends for 25 years — Roundtree has had to “step back because I have nothing to do with any of it.”
In the weeks after parking lot shooter Drejka’s arrest, 10News WTSP was the only media outlet Drejka granted an interview to.
When asked if Roundtree got the interview with Drejka because of his friendship with Trevena, the lawyer and reporter both said yes.
Relying on a personal friendship as a professional resource is an ethical gray area for journalists, said Kelly McBride, a media ethicist and vice president for academic programs at the Poynter Institute. (Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)
It’s not unusual for reporters to develop friendly relationships with newsmakers in the community, she said.
It’s up to the media outlet to determine if the relationship rises to the level that it would cause a conflict of interest. In those cases, the organization could decide to disclose the relationship in the story, or put another reporter on it altogether.
It gets less complicated when the relationship is aired in the public record, McBride said.
“Now what you have is at least the perception of a conflict of interest,” McBride said. “It would be best if his employer didn’t have him (Roundtree) cover this lawyer, because even if there’s not an actual conflict of interest, there could be a perceived conflict of interest to cause the public to doubt your fairness.”
Joe Mathewson, a former lawyer and reporter and now an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, who teaches media law and ethics, took it a step further. He referenced guidelines published by the Radio Television Digital News Association about avoiding conflicts of interest.
“Audience members may react with suspicion to revelations of friendships or romances that develop between journalists and their sources — particularly if there is ongoing coverage of a beat or story,” the guidelines state.
He said reporters should avoid covering friends’ news. And if they must, he said, the relationship must be disclosed to the audience.
“I think they’ve crossed the line here,” Mathewson said.
WTSP did not return calls seeking comment.
Roundtree denied there was any conflict.
“It’s not a personal relationship. We’re just friends,” Roundtree said of Trevena.