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DUI charge against Todd Schnitt's lawyer dismissed; possible setup cited

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Published:   |   Updated: July 30, 2013 at 09:01 AM

Prosecutors on Monday dropped a DUI charge against the attorney for radio shock jock Todd “MJ” Schnitt, saying the legal team for a rival DJ colluded to set up the lawyer.

The report comes as the FBI investigates possible civil rights violations in connection with the Jan. 23 arrest of lawyer Charles Phillip Campbell Jr., 65. Campbell was arrested during a trial over Schnitt's ultimately unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against radio rival Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

On Monday, the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office dropped the charge and issued a scathing 24-page report detailing extraordinary efforts by Clem's lawyers at the Adams and Diaco law firm, with help from Tampa police, to set up the arrest of Campbell.

Campbell, who lived and worked downtown, had walked to a restaurant and was at the bar when a paralegal employed by Clem's attorney joined him and bought him a drink. Through the evening, he had several more drinks before the paralegal persuaded Campbell to move her car, at which time he was stopped by Tampa police.

“The public relations mantra from (Adams and Diaco) has been that they were only helping get a drunk driver off the streets,” the report concludes. “This rings hollow when you consider the time, effort and subterfuge used by them to get Campbell on the streets.”

Lawyers from Adams and Diaco — some of whom have asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination — would not speak to investigators, according to the report prepared by the office of Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe. McCabe was appointed to the case by Gov. Rick Scott because Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober had a conflict of interest.

Paralegal Melissa Personius, 32, spoke to investigators but “appeared heavily coached in her answers and attitude” and “cited memory loss on almost everything important,” according to the report, which said she exhibited “selective memory.”

Personius' attorney, Todd Foster, who stressed he didn't represent her until after she spoke to the Pinellas investigator, said the report “comes across in some ways as personal” and unfairly characterizes and focuses on Personius when it should have focused more on Campbell.

Campbell's lawyer, John Fitzgibbons, said his client “is grateful for the incredibly thorough investigation. ... It is now absolutely clear that Mr. Campbell was the victim of a devious setup, and all honest and ethical police officers and lawyers should be deeply troubled over what happened.”

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor released a statement saying the sergeant who arrested Campbell that night, Raymond Fernandez, “utilized bad judgment” when he failed to remove himself from the investigation. Fernandez is close friends with a lawyer at the Adams and Diaco firm who called him that night and texted with him nearly 100 times during the evening, according to the report.

Fernandez “should have assigned it to an officer who did not have a personal connection to the tip,” Castor said. “This would have avoided any potential appearance of impropriety.''

Fernandez was not available for comment, according to police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

The Adams and Diaco firm released a statement from its lawyer, Greg Kehoe, saying, “We respect the system and the decision made today by the State Attorney's Office as part of the process. Given that investigations into this matter are continuing, we cannot comment further at this time.”

The report notes efforts by the Adams and Diaco firm to have Campbell removed from the Clem case, adding, “There appears to exist an animosity between the lawyers, which went beyond typical advocacy.”

According to the report:

Campbell usually walked to work and the courthouse. That day, after court, he walked to Malio's Steakhouse at Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard, which is between his office and home.
 
Personius and an acquaintance, Vanessa Fykes, were at Malio's about the same time but left after having a glass of wine. On their way out, Personius said she was “shocked” to see Campbell drinking at the bar because he had previously been arrested on a DUI charge.
 
Fykes and Personius went to Fly Bar, where Personius called her supervisor, Robert Adams, to tell him about Campbell. Personius offered “to just go back (to Mailo's) if they need anything.”

Personius made or received 108 text messages or voice calls from 6:29 that night to 8:13 the next morning but had “little or no memory as to the substance of these communications — not even a general recollection of the subject matter,” according to the State Attorney's Office report.
 
The report includes a timeline of the calls and texts, which it says “reveals a pattern of communication between these parties that would leave no doubt in any reasonable mind as to their motives and intentions. ... There appears to be a collaboration involving Personius,” lawyers at Adams and Diaco, and Tampa police “to effectuate the arrest of Campbell.”
 
After Personius called Adams, he texted Adam Filthaut, a lawyer at the firm who was close friends with Fernandez. Filthaut called Fernandez, telling him Campbell was drunk at Malio's and was going to drive. About that time, the report says, “in reality, Campbell was likely having his first drink and would later be walking home.”

That evening, Filthaut and Fernandez exchanged 92 text messages. Fernandez told investigators he accidentally erased his text messages the next day.

“He did state that many of them were Filthaut updating him on Campbell's activity in Malio's while Sgt. Fernandez essentially lay in wait most of the three hours,” the report says.

Personius and Fykes hurriedly left Fly Bar and returned to Malio's, taking two open seats next to Campbell. Personius bought a shot of Southern Comfort for her and Campbell, the report states.

“Apparently, she had gotten over her 'shock' of seeing Campbell drinking,” the report says.

According to the report, Fykes said she didn't understand why Personius was flirting with Campbell, a much older man. “In retrospect, she believes Personius was engaged in a 'set-up' of Campbell.
 
”Throughout the evening, Campbell drank five vodka drinks and the Southern Comfort shot. Personius drank four or five glasses of wine and the liqueur shot.
As they were leaving, Campbell said he was concerned about Personius driving drunk. He took her valet ticket to see if her car could be left and went to an ATM to get cash to pay for a cab for Personius.

The valet at Malio's said Personius could leave her car at the parking lot nearby, but Personius insisted her car be moved to a lot several blocks away.

“The logical explanation for her odd insistence on moving her car would be to get Campbell to drive it, knowing Sgt. Fernandez was laying in wait,” the report says. Campbell says he became frustrated, it was late and he was tired, so he agreed to her demands to move the car.

Campbell drove the car three blocks before being pulled over by Fernandez. Although Campbell initially refused to take a field-sobriety test, after he was told he was being arrested, he said he would take the test. But Officer Tim McGinnis, who had arrived as a backup, refused to allow Campbell to take the test, saying a court could see that as coercion.

The report says “there is absolutely no legal basis” to justify that coercion policy.

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