Legal Ethics

Referee: Disbar all 3 lawyers who 'maliciously' set up opposing trial counsel for DUI arrest

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Three Florida lawyers found to have “maliciously” set up the drunken-driving arrest of their opposing counsel during a high-profile defamation trial should be permanently disbarred, a referee in a legal ethics case has recommended.

Exceeding the penalty sought by the Florida Bar, Judge W. Douglas Baird, who is serving as the referee in the legal ethics case, said in his Thursday report (PDF) that Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut had demonstrated a pattern of intentional conduct.

The trio played a role in a highly publicized January 2013 episode that involved a flirtatious paralegal from their law firm, Adams & Diaco, and a night of drinking at a Tampa steakhouse bar. Opposing trial counsel C. Philip Campbell was arrested as he drove away in the paralegal’s vehicle, following a flurry of phone calls and texts between the lawyers and the paralegal. (The driving-under-the-influence case against Campbell was later dropped.)

The trio also played a role in attempting to get Tampa police to arrest Campbell some 60 days earlier, Baird said. In a November 2012 call to his good friend Sgt. Raymond Fernandez, Filthaut told him “There’s this guy that works in my building. He’s an attorney. … He goes to Malio’s and drinks it up and then he drives home,” Baird wrote, relying on deposition testimony by Fernandez. At no point, the referee noted, did Filthaut explain to Fernandez that Campbell was opposing counsel in a big-bucks case.

Fernandez sent an officer to wait outside Malio’s after Filthaut’s call, but he saw no sign of Campbell. Fernandez was later fired over his involvement in Campbell’s 2013 arrest.

“This malicious tampering with another person’s personal life and career was not only unprofessional, it was inexcusable,” Baird said.

He also blasted the three lawyers for their evasive behavior in the ethics case, either taking the Fifth or failing to remember, and called Filthaut’s claim that he had relied on senior attorneys a “variation of the Nuremberg Defense.”

The Florida Supreme Court has final authority to decide whether to accept Baird’s recommendation for discipline.

Attorney Greg Kehoe represented Diaco. “We’re very disappointed and we of course disagree with the factual recitation,” he told the Tampa Tribune, referring to Baird’s report. “It’s unfortunate none of the mitigating factors were taken into account. We plan on appealing to the Supreme Court.”

He declined to discuss specifics of the report but told the newspaper, “People should know these three men have done outstanding things for this community, legally and socially and have been great individuals for the community.”

The Tampa Bay Times also has a story.

Related coverage: “2 lawyers and paralegal take Fifth; name partner says he didn’t direct DUI setup of trial opponent”

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