TALLAHASSEE – Robert Adams, a Tampa attorney who worked with the Adams
& Diaco law firm, was charged by the Florida Bar with several violations of
the ethical standards for lawyers. He, along with two other attorneys, was
accused of acting to orchestrate the DUI arrest of opposing counsel in a high-profile,
multimillion dollar case to benefit his firm and his client. Adams could
possibly face permanent disbarment.
Earlier this year, Senior Judge W. Douglas Briar was
appointed to serve as a referee in the ethics case and found Adams violated
several ethical standards and recommended that the court sanction him with
permanent disbarment. In return, Adams argued that permanent disbarment was too
harsh a penalty, despite the bar’s suggestion that his misconduct was serious
enough to consider permanent disbarment.
The judge found credible evidence that the Adams & Diaco
lawyers Stephen Diaco, Adam Filthaut and Adams plotted the DUI arrest of C.
Philip Campbell, the opposing lawyer, to gain an advantage in a defamation case
between two rival, high-profile radio personalities Todd "MJ" Schnitt
and Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem.
“This malicious tampering with another person’s personal
life and career was not only unprofessional, it was inexcusable,” Baird said in his written opinion on the case.
The judge suspended Adams from practicing while the court
decides his final fate, and he is restricted from taking on any new business. There
are also restrictions on his handling of funds currently in trust accounts the
firm controls or that he receives in connection with his law practice.
The Florida Bar agreed with the judge’s suspension and explained that
the accused attorneys, including Adams, were afforded due process through an
opportunity to explain their conduct and offer mitigation before a referee, but
they passed on that chance.
Baird also found that the attorneys later obstructed the investigation by
concealing or deleting information on their cellphones that revealed their
collaboration in Campbell’s DUI setup.
The Florida Bar’s official document explained that the attorneys had discussed
trying to take advantage of a friendship with a member of the Tampa Police Department's traffic enforcement and DUI unit Sgt. Raymond Fernandez.
The attorneys for Clem plotted to catch Campbell in the act
of driving while intoxicated, knowing that he had a prior arrest for drunken
driving, and also instructed their paralegal, Melissa Personius, to contact them
if she saw Campbell drinking, according to court documents.
After Personius sat near Campbell at a local restaurant bar,
she allegedly fed him drinks and then asked if he could drive her car to a safer location
while Fernandez waited to catch him driving. Campbell’s briefcase was
in the car at the time he was pulled over and arrested, documents state.
The court document also explained that there was a delayed
return of Campbell's trial briefcase, which had information about Schnitt’s
case, when they realized that it was in their firm's possession after Campbell’s
After Campbell was booked into jail on the plotted DUI charge, he lost ground
to Adams & Diaco in the case they were trying. Even though the dispute
between the two sides was resolved, Campbell's client fired him and sued for a
return of his paid fees.
The accused lawyers argued that Campbell chose to drive
intoxicated and they were trying to be good citizens by reporting his dangerous
Campbell, on the other hand, wants permanent disbarment for
all three attorneys and refused to accept less.
"Unequivocal, total and complete disbarment for
life," John Fitzgibbons, Campbell’s council and chair of the Florida
Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, said. "These were despicable acts
committed by these three crooked lawyers, and they don't deserve to ever be
called a lawyer in their lifetime."