Criminal Justice

DUI case dropped against lawyer who claimed he was set up, mid-trial, by opposing counsel

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Updated: A drunken-driving prosecution will not be pursued against an attorney who was arrested midway through a high-profile defamation trial after unwittingly having drinks with a paralegal from the law firm representing his client’s opponent.

C. Philip Campbell contended that his Jan. 23 arrest, a few blocks away from the Tampa steakhouse at which he and the paralegal had been drinking, was a setup by the opposing firm in the libel case, Adams & Diaco. And Monday’s announcement by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s office that a driving-under-the-influence case against Campbell would be dropped for lack of evidence is consistent with his claim, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Campbell refused a breath test, and in a memo obtained by the newspaper, the agency said it was concerned that the conduct of Tampa police “would become a significant issue which would be exploited by the defense.” A Tampa Bay Times article published in April links to a video of Campbell’s arrest.

Adam Filthaut, a lawyer at Adams & Diaco, called a DUI sergeant with a tip that Campbell was drinking and would be driving, and police waited near the restaurant for two hours before spotting and arresting him, the Times article says.

The paralegal, Melissa Personius, with whom Campbell had been drinking at Malio’s Prime Steakhouse reportedly did not identify herself as an employee of Adams & Diaco and told the trial lawyer she was a paralegal with another firm.

The state’s attorney’s office memo also questioned her inability to remember in an interview by prosecutors what had been said or even the general subject matter in more than 100 texts and voice mail messages she sent or received the morning after Campbell was arrested.

She “appeared heavily coached in her answers” and “cited memory loss on almost everything important,” the memo states.

A Tampa Tribune article notes that the case was being prosecuted in Pinellas-Pasco because of a conflict of interest in Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located.

An FBI investigation to determine whether Campbell’s civil rights were violated is reportedly ongoing. Tampa police are cooperating in that investigation.

And a lawyer for Campbell, John Fitzgibbons, is calling for an independent investigation by a lawyer, preferably a former federal prosecutor without ties to the Tampa area, of the Tampa police department’s DUI unit, the Tampa Bay Times reports in a subsequent article.

The articles don’t include any comment by Adams & Diaco or its lawyers, but the firm has previously said that it didn’t do anything wrong.

Attorney Lee Gunn, who has been representing three lawyers from Adams & Diaco in a Florida Bar investigation said earlier this year that they are cooperating but are not responsible for Campbell’s decision to drink and drive.

“We are confident that when the facts are fully vetted that any responsibility for the decision to drink and drive will be laid at the person who took the direction to get behind the wheel,” Gunn stated at that time. He declined to comment when contacted Monday by the ABA Journal.

A post-defamation-trial mediation in March ended the underlying tort case between two radio-show shock jocks with an agreed settlement that precluded appeals, as detailed in articles published at the time by ABC Action News and the Tampa Tribune.

Still ongoing, however, is a post-trial legal malpractice suit filed against Campbell and his law firm by his now-former client, losing defamation plaintiff Todd “MJ” Schnitt. Schnitt’s new lawyer, Wil Florin, is seeking reimbursement of $1 million in attorney fees charged by Campbell as well as the cancellation of an additional $1 million in legal fees that Campbell’s law firm, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, says Schnitt and his wife still owe for their work in the defamation case.

The Schnitts contend in their Hillsborough County malpractice case they should have been advised in advance that the expense of bringing suit was likely to dwarf the amount of non-economic damages they would get if they won the litigation.

In general, when liability was found, “non-economic damages in a defamation case in Florida over the past 15 years have ranged from roughly $15,000 to $25,000 dollars,” Florin told the ABA Journal, so it didn’t make sense for the Schnitts to rack up a seven-figure legal bill on the chance of collecting a relatively tiny amount of damages. “To take them down a very public road at this enormous expense, with no reasonable opportunity to recoup anywhere near the costs of the case, is where the allegations of legal negligence come in.”

Campbell did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal request for comment Monday afternoon.

See also: “Was mid-trial DUI a set-up by lawyer’s opposing counsel in DJ defamation case?” “As libel trial losers battle $1M legal bill, FBI probes claimed mid-trial DUI set-up of their lawyer”

Tampa Bay Times: “Tampa firm in DUI case faced accusation of hardball in Miami “

Tampa Bay Times: “Shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge rails against federal investigation and Tampa Bay Times coverage of his lawyer, Stephen Diaco”

Updated on Aug. 1 to include subsequent Tampa Bay Times coverage.

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