Legal Ethics

2 lawyers and paralegal take Fifth; name partner says he didn't direct DUI setup of trial opponent

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A legal ethics trial of three Florida lawyers accused of setting up their opposing counsel for a drunken-driving arrest during a hard-fought, high-profile 2013 defamation trial has involved one consistent defense theme during the first two days.

None of the three Adams & Diaco lawyers accused of playing a role in luring attorney C. Philip Campbell behind the wheel of an Adams & Diaco paralegal’s car after a night of drinking at a Tampa bar said he knew what was going on. Instead, the defense is pointing the finger at paralegal Melissa Personius and others, according to the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa Tribune.

A flurry of phone calls and texts between the respondents, Personius and a now-former Tampa police sergeant preceded the DUI arrest of Campbell, shortly after he drove away from the bar in 2013. The DUI case against him was later dropped over concerns about the involvement of Adams & Diaco personnel.

Two of the three Adams & Diaco attorney respondents, Stephen Diaco, 46, and Adam Filthaut, 40, as well as Personius, who was called as a witness, took the Fifth when asked to testify Monday and Tuesday, apparently concerned about the impact that their statements might have in an ongoing criminal civil rights investigation by the FBI, according to the two newspapers.

However, the third respondent, name partner Robert Adams, 45, testified that he hadn’t understood what was contemplated when he spoke with Personius hours before Campbell was arrested.

Testifying Monday, Adams said he made the “worst decision in my life” when he didn’t tell Personius, who left the bar and called him to report she had seen Campbell there, not to go back. But he didn’t tell Personius to return to the bar either, Adams said, nor did he or the other accused lawyers dream that she would falsely tell Campbell she worked at a different law firm, drink with him and encourage him to drive her car, all of which allegedly occurred.

What he did do, Adams testified, was tell Stephen Diaco, who told him to tell Filthaut, about Campbell’s presence at the bar, the Tribune reports. Adams said he didn’t know when he passed the news to Filthaut that Filthaut would tell his friend Sgt. Raymond Fernandez, who headed the Tampa police department’s DUI unit at that time.

“I didn’t tell Adam to do anything, and I didn’t stop him, either,” the name partner said. “That’s a big lapse in judgment on my part.”

Filthaut took the Fifth when called to testify Tuesday. However, defense attorney Mark O’Brien blamed Adams and Personius in his opening statement.

“Mr. Filthaut would not have called Sgt. Fernandez had he not been asked to by his superior, Stephen Diaco,” said attorney Mark O’Brien. “Mr. Filthaut simply was asked to do something, and he did it.”

As far as Personius is concerned, she “went above and beyond what she was asked to do,” O’Brien said, contending that she was told simply to watch Campbell to see whether he “was drinking and was going to drive.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Diaco, who also took the Fifth on Monday, is trying to get state bar authorities to accept his resignation and conclude the ethics trial as far as he is concerned, the Tribune notes.

He unsuccessfully sought to do so earlier, as part of a plea deal on behalf of all three of the lawyers in the legal ethics case, but he now would be acting as an individual.

Personius still works for Adams & Diaco, which is covering her legal bills, Adams testified.

Related coverage: “3 lawyers face legal ethics case in claimed mid-trial DUI arrest setup of opposing counsel” “Plea deal rejected for 3 partners in claimed DUI set-up of opposing trial counsel” “Judge may allow video of paralegal at trial of 3 lawyers accused in DUI setup of opposing counsel”

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