Lawyers Adam Filthaut, left, and Robert Adams. (POOL PHOTO)
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday permanently disbarred two Tampa lawyers who set up their trial adversary in a drunken-driving sting with help from a friendly police officer.
The justices called the misconduct of three lawyers from the defunct Adams & Diaco law firm “among the most shocking, unethical and unprofessional as has ever been brought before this court.” The unsigned opinion was published in the first batch of rulings following the court’s annual summer break.
Robert D. Adams and Adam Filthaut must pay over $14,000 apiece for costs. The third lawyer, Stephen Diaco, dropped his appeal and was permanently disbarred in January.
Filthaut’s lawyer, Mark O’Brien, said he wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision. “It was a very difficult case from the very beginning.”
“I will say on behalf of Adam that he is obviously very disappointed, but he has moved on and is actually very happy in his current endeavors,” said O’Brien of O’Brien Hatfield in Tampa. He said Filthaut is operating an auto-glass business.
Tampa attorney John Fitzgibbons, counsel to C. Philip Campbell Jr., the target of the drunken-driving conspiracy, said, “The opinion is simply blistering and condemns in no uncertain terms the despicable conduct of Diaco, Adams and Filthaut. Their legal careers are now officially over and deservedly so.”
William Jung of Jung & Sisco in Tampa, who represented Adams, had no comment by deadline.
The Florida Bar referee in the ethics case found the three lawyers engineered a paralegal’s efforts to flirt with Campbell and finagle him into driving her car away from a downtown Tampa restaurant on the evening of Jan. 23, 2013. Then a police sergeant who was friends with Filthaut and had been briefed throughout the evening rushed over and arrested Campbell.
Campbell wasn’t immediately released from jail and lost possession of his trial bag for hours after leaving it in the paralegal’s car. When he and Diaco returned to court the next day, Diaco complained to news media about Campbell’s apparent misbehavior. A defamation case eventually settled, and Campbell’s client fired him. Though Sgt. Raymond Fernandez was unaware of the trial connection, he lost his job.
“The personal and professional harm inflicted upon Campbell (a fellow attorney) and his clients’ case, upon Sergeant Fernandez … and upon the legal system, the legal profession and the public’s confidence in both was simply collateral damage from the respondents’ point of view,” the court said in its unsigned opinion approving the referee’s recommendations.
Lawyers for Adams and Filthaut didn’t contest the factual findings. They argued the punishment was disproportionate to the misdeeds and both should be disbarred with a chance to regain their licenses.
The court said their strongest argument was the court’s history of imposing permanent disbarment only in cases where “patterns of continuing egregious and unrepentant misconduct” show the attorney “is not amenable to rehabilitation and is beyond redemption.”
After reviewing a few of them, however, the court concluded that if the drunken-driving plot doesn’t line up with the other scenarios, “this is in part because the misconduct in this case is unique and essentially unprecedented.”
The case Campbell tried against the Adams & Diaco lawyers had its own tabloid afterlife. Campbell represented shock jock Todd “M.J.” Schnitt in a defamation case against fellow shock jock Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem.
Later, wrestling star Hulk Hogan sued Clem, his former wife Heather Clem and Gawker Media over the publication of a video tape showing Hogan having consensual sex with Heather Clem. Hogan’s $140 million verdict against Gawker drove the online media company and blog network out of business.