Melissa Andrade was on her way out of Malio’s Steakhouse in Tampa when she spotted a lawyer she recognized. He was representing the opposing side in an ongoing and rather sordid case. Andrade, a paralegal, notified her bosses who called her back from her next destination, according to court documents. She returned to the steakhouse and plopped down next to the lawyer, flirting and plying him with drinks.
One of her bosses, meanwhile, called a friend at the local police department. Philip Campbell is at a bar drinking, he said, and plans to drive drunk.
Now, Andrade’s bosses—three Tampa lawyers—have been permanently disbarred for their antics at the steakhouse last January, according to a new Supreme Court of Florida ruling.
Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco, and Adam Filthaut represented Todd Clem, aka Bubba the Love Sponge, in a 2013 defamation trial. Clem was sued for alleging that his rival, Todd “MJ” Schnitt, had rigged his show’s ratings and took bribes. But a jury eventually found that Clem did not defame Schnitt and the case was settled out of court. (Clem became nationally semi-famous after Hulk Hogan was videotaped having sex with his ex-wife. That video was posted by Gawker and eventually helped bring down the website.)
As the defamation trial went on, Clem’s attorneys hatched a plan to get Schnitt’s lawyer Philip Campbell arrested for DUI, according to court documents compiled last year.
The first attempt came in November. Adam Filthaut, one of Clem’s lawyers, called up Sgt. Raymond Fernandez at the Tampa Police Department to tell him about “this guy that works in my building.”
“He’s an attorney. He gets drunk all the time. He goes to Malio’s and drinks it up and then he drives home drunk,” Filthaut said, according to Fernandez’s deposition.
The drunkard’s name: “Philip Campbell.”
Filthaut didn’t mention that Campbell just happened to be opposing counsel in the five-year legal battle between Filthaut’s client, Bubba the Love Sponge, and Todd Schnitt. Fernandez assigned an officer to go down to Malio’s Steakhouse and look for Campbell, but he didn’t spot him drinking.
So in January, when Melissa Andrade called from the steakhouse, Clem’s lawyers saw another opportunity to set Campbell up.
Andrade told Campbell she was a paralegal on that January 23 evening, but lied about where she worked, according to court documents.
“I offered—I believe I offered to just go back if they needed, you know, anything, any other—to see maybe if he’s still there,” she said during a State’s Attorney investigation into the case. “I don’t know. Whatever information the police or authorities needed.”
While she chatted away with opposing counsel, Diaco, one of the Love Sponge’s lawyers, called up his colleague Adam Filthaut. Filthaut, in turn, called Sgt. Raymond Fernandez at the Tampa Police Department.
“Is that the guy you called me about before?” Fernandez asked, according to his testimony.
“Hey, the attorney that’s in my building, he’s out drinking again at night at Malio’s,” Filthaut allegedly responded. “He’s going to drive home again tonight drunk.”
“Well, we didn’t get him last time. We’ll sit on him again and see what he does,” Fernandez responded.
This time, Fernandez assigned two officers to the case. Filthaut kept him posted on Campbell’s activities all evening. During that time, Andrade “openly and obviously flirted with Mr. Campbell, encouraged him to drink, and bought him drinks herself,” according to court documents.
Andrade accompanied Campbell from about 7 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., she communicated with Filthaut 19 times, according to court documents. She was in contact by phone or text with Adams and Diaco about 28 more times.
As the evening continued, Campbell offered to call her a cab, according to court documents. He even tried to see if her car could be kept at the restaurant overnight. But Andrade insisted that she needed it in public parking. He got behind the wheel to move it to in front of his building—a two-minute drive because Andrade appeared too drunk to take it home.
Andrade’s communications with the lawyers, meanwhile, continued at a heightened rate as they left the bar. After a flurry of communication and a text from Filthaut to Fernandez, Fernandez sent the officers on the stakeout a text: “leaving bar now.”
Campbell, meanwhile, “had hardly walked out into the parking area before this whole exchange,” court documents state. The cops thought they were looking for his black BMW. It took another flurry of communication between Andrade, the lawyers, and Fernandez for him to clarify to the officers on the dase: “dark Nissan… valet malios.”
“Female driving,” the officer reported back at 9:54 p.m.
But when the car left the Malio’s parking lot just minutes later, it was Fernandez himself who pulled them over.
Campbell was driving. He was arrested, cuffed, and taken to the county jail for processing.
Police didn’t even impound Andrade’s car. A sober lawyer from the firm was called up to retrieve the car, and he drove her home to her ex-husband and children.
The ex-husband, Kristopher Personius, was her roommate at the time and later testified that she excitedly admitted she’d participated in the setup. Personius said she told him she was asked to “get him to stay longer and drink more,” and that she’d “made [Campbell] drive my car.”
“Mr. Personius further testified that Ms. [Andrade] stated that Respondent Diaco had told her that she would receive a big bonus and would be his best-paid paralegal,” court documents state.
In the midst of his arrest, Campbell left his bag—with all his case notes for the trial with the attorneys who were ensuring he miss court—in the back seat of Andrade’s car.
He was released from jail at 6:30 a.m. the next morning but couldn’t find it. His team got a continuance for the trial, but Diaco took to local TV to rub it in.
“We were prepared for today. We were working last night in preparation for the trial. And so now we have to wait,” he said. “I don’t understand why his other partners who have been in there every single day of the trial can’t continue this case.”
Meanwhile, Campbell and his associates called the firm where Andrade said she worked asking for her. To their dismay, the firm said it had no paralegal by that name.
Attempts to reach Andrade by phone and email were unsuccessful.
Diaco and Filthaut refused to testify based on their rights against self-incrimination. Adams refused to answer questions in the deposition based on that same right, but later chose to testify at trial.
According to a summary prepared by a referee judge, Andrade said she “discovered” the bag in her car that day and called her bosses to notify them. The same colleague who’d dropped her off the night before came to retrieve it. But he didn’t walk it back to Campbell’s firm, in the same building as his own. Instead, the bag sat in the office until Diaco drove it back to Andrade that afternoon. He told her to take a cab back to the office building and drop it off anonymously, according to court documents.
The lawyers’ failure to notify Campbell that their paralegal had his bag was evidence of their intent to “withhold, destroy, or otherwise secrete the direct evidence of their involvement in Mr. Campbell’s arrest,” according to findings filed by a judicial referee. A Florida Supreme Court judge agreed. They were permanently disbarred.
“Mr. Filthaut is disappointed but has moved on with his life,” his lawyer told The Daily Beast in a statement. An attorney for Adams did not return a request for comment.
Fernandez, the cop who assigned an officer to check up on Campbell, was fired over the incident for misusing his authority. Twelve other DUI cases in which the 19-year veteran of the Tampa police department was involved were dropped, according to the Tampa Bay Times, because prosecutors decided there was no way Fernandez would have any credibility on the witness stand.
Campbell’s trials didn’t end there. Schnitt and his wife sued Campbell and the firm for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty after the Love Sponge trial. But a judge found their claims baseless.