TAMPA (FOX 13) - Three attorneys found guilty last May of setting up rival attorney Phil Campbell for a DUI arrest have been permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court.
Stephen Diaco was already permanently disbarred after volunteering to have his license to practice away in hopes of saving the careers of his colleagues, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut. But the Florida Supreme Court said they were still responsible for their actions and could no longer practice law.
Those actions played out during the now-infamous defamation lawsuit pitting radio rivals Todd "MJ" Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge against one another. During that trial, Schnitt's lawyer, Phil Campbell was arrested for DUI, but that arrested turned out to be a set-up orchestrated by Bubba's lawyers, Diaco, Adams and Filthaut.
Their scheme began by having a legal assistant, Melissa Personius meet with Campbell for drinks at Malios. Afterward, she convinced Campbell to collect her car from the valet so she could drive home. Campbell apparently tried to convince her to take a cab, but her mission was to put Campbell behind the wheel of a car. Meanwhile, the head of the DUI squad , disgraced Sergeant Ray Fernandez, was waiting in the wings to arrest Campbell.
Campbell was arrested, but the charges were later dropped after analysis showed Campbell likely was not intoxicated based on the number of drinks he had, his weight, and his food consumption before the arrest.
Sgt. Fernandez was fired for his part in the scheme.
Ahead of the court's decision on their disbarring, Robert Adams' attorney, William Jung tried his best to remove his client from blame, but the justices did not seem interested.
"In a very high-profile, contentious case, a couple of lawyers, primarily Mr. Diaco, lost their way," said Jung. "[Adams] has never committed such error in judgment in his 47 years on plant Earth."
"I would hope not," interrupted Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis. "I have never encountered behavior like this, and calculated, and planned behavior... You know, it could be we've never seen a case this bad. Is that possible?"
With that, an onslaught began of scathing comments about the attorneys' actions. Adam Filthauts' attorney, Mark O'Brien tried to defend his client, saying his client was doing the right things, trying to get a drunk driver off the street, but Justice Barbara Pariente wasn't buying it.
"But for Mr. Filtahut - and his knowledge and friendship with Fernandez - the ensnaring, the entrapment, the unethical conduct of that night would not have occurred," Justice Pariente said. "Was he like a pal of Fernandez? Going around because he really had a thing against DUIs, so that anybody at a bar would not drive and drink? I mean, come on."
One justice after the next scolded the actions of all three attorneys.
"You're a lawyer. You took an oath. I can't do this, and if it means, 'hey, I'm not going to be getting a paycheck from this firm tomorrow,' fine! Go back to the public defenders office or the State Attorneys Office, but we don't do this," said Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.
Justice Peggy Quince followed-up with her conclusions.
"He could have walked away from this, but he stayed in the mix, twice. And I just don't see how he is not as culpable as the others," Justice Quince said.
Now that the three have been permanently disbarred, they cannot reapply for their license or practice law ever again. They were also ordered to pay the courts costs, totaling about $14,000 each.