Trials & Litigation
Was mid-trial DUI a set-up by lawyer’s opposing counsel in DJ defamation case?
Posted Jan 28, 2013 12:04 PM CST
By Martha Neil
Updated: A paralegal repeatedly took the Fifth on Friday during a Florida court hearing on claims by an attorney that he had been set up by his opposing counsel for a driving-under-the-influence arrest in the midst of a high-profile Tampa trial.
Attorney Charles Philip Campbell Jr., was arrested for drunken driving Wednesday, at the wheel of a car owned by Melissa Personius, the Tampa Bay Times recounted in a Saturday article.
Campbell, of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, is representing Todd "MJ" Schnitt in a defamation case in which he is the plaintiff. Personius works for Adams & Diaco, which represents the opposing party, local personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Both he and Schnitt are radio shock jocks. (Adams & Diaco won the case—see later post.)
But the plot thickens:
According to testimony Friday in a hearing to determine whether a mistrial should be granted, after Campbell and another lawyer on the Schnitt trial team stopped at Malio's Prime Steakhouse in downtown Tampa for a drink around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Personius told Campbell that her name is Melissa and she works for a well-known corporate law firm. (She apparently never gave Campbell her full name or told him which law firm she actually works for; another Tampa Bay Times article says she testified that she lied because she doesn't want men stalking her.)
About 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, a lawyer at Adams & Diaco called his son's godfather, a sergeant with the Tampa police, and reported that a man who drinks and drives was at Malio's, the newspaper says. Two officers drove to a spot near the steakhouse and, at 9:50 p.m., arrested Campbell after he refused a breath test. Meanwhile, his trial bag, including his trial notes, was on the back seat of Personius' vehicle.
According to testimony, the trial bag went from Personius' car on Thursday, to the vehicle of an attorney at Adams & Diaco, who drove it from her home to the law firm's offices, then back to Personius. She then took a cab to the Shumaker firm and sent the driver up to deliver the bag. The Adams & Diaco firm says its lawyers never opened the bag.
Records show that Personius, who was herself arrested on a DUI charge in 2009, has a suspended driver's license, the Times reports. And for reasons that weren't explained in Friday's hearing, someone at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick got hold of her mug shot and figured out who she was even as the cab was en route to the firm.
Personius on Friday asserted her Fifth Amendment rights not to testify in response to questions including whether her boss at Adams & Diaco told her to get Campbell drunk or told her to ask him to drive her car, the Times reported.
Circuit Judge James Arnold polled the jury Friday to make sure no one had seen news coverage of Campbell's drunken-driving arrest and has taken the mistrial motion under advisement. Meanwhile, the defamation trial continues.
"I'm sure there will be a lot more intense investigation on those issues," said the judge concerning the Friday mistrial motion by Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick. "But that's not for me at this time."
Indeed, the latest news is that three lawyers from Adams & Diaco are now facing a legal ethics investigation. Meanwhile, the judge has converted the mistrial motion to a motion for a new trial and given a go-ahead for related discovery.
The Tampa Tribune also has a story.
Last updated Jan. 31 to note subsequent coverage about the outcome of the case and on Feb. 6 to include news of legal ethics investigation and result of mistrial motion.