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Tampa Lawyers Under Fire in Plot to Set up Rival Attorney for DUI Bust

A trio of Tampa lawyers who had been representing radio host Bubba the Love Sponge Clem in a dispute with another shock jock are in hot water for allegedly setting up the drunken-driving arrest of the rival attorney.

One has already been disbarred and two others are fighting to hang onto their law licenses.

Image: Lawyers for jocks on trial
Lawyers Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut, center, and Robert Adams confer in Courtroom 19 at the Pinellas County Justice Center on Aug. 6, 2015, in Clearwater, Fla., to begin the second phase in the case against the three Adams & Diaco lawyers accused of orchestrating a DUI set-up. In the foreground is attorney Mark O'Brien, who is representing Filthaut. Douglas R. Clifford / The Tampa Bay Times via AP, Pool

But when the lawyer for disgraced attorney Robert Adams told the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday that his client had never done something like this before, he got an earful from one of the justices.

"I would hope not," Justice R. Fred Lewis said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "I have never encountered behavior like this, and calculated and planned behavior. This is not, 'OK, I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have signed that check.'"

Clem, who is best known as being the ex-husband of the woman who appeared with Hulk Hogan on a sex tape leaked online, was the target of a years-long multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Todd "MJ" Schnitt when the bizarre plot was hatched, according to court documents.

It involved Adams and his partners Stephen Diaco and Adam Filhaut, who were found responsible by a local judge of orchestrating the Jan. 23, 2013 arrest of attorney C. Philip Campbell, who represented Schnitt in the defamation suit.

It also involved their paralegal Melissa Personius and Tampa cop Sgt. Ray Fernandez, who was later fired for his role in the conspiracy.

The details of the plot against Campbell was detailed in court papers filed in August in which Pinellas Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird recommended the three lawyers be disbarred. Diaco has already surrendered his legal license, according to a January article in the former Tampa Tribune.

The plot began six months before Campbell was busted when Filhaut called his pal Fernadez and told him to keep a look out for "Philip Campbell."

"There’s this guy that works in my building," Filhaut said. "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."

What Filhaut didn’t tell Fernandez was that Campbell was representing Schnitt. Fernandez then assigned a cop to stake out Malio’s Prime Steakhouse, which a popular gathering spot for many lawyers in downtown Tampa.

But it was a call from Personius to Adams that Campbell was drinking at Malio’s that set in motion the eventual arrest of the rival lawyer.

Adams informed Filhaut who then called Fernandez.

While Fernandez got his men into place, Personius went back to Malio’s where she "openly and obviously flirted with Mr. Campbell, encouraged him to drink, and bought him drinks herself," the court papers state.

Personius also lied about who she worked for and "managed to carry on a steady series of cell phone texts and calls" with the three lawyers, according to the court documents.

Filhaut passed on those updates to Fernandez, who, in turn, updated the two officers he dispatched to the stake out the steakhouse.

But around 9:45 p.m. that night, Personius found out that Campbell had actually walked to Malio’s. So she had the unsuspecting lawyer accompany her to valet parking to collect her car.

Personius "appeared to be intoxicated" and Campbell offered to call her a cab, the papers state. But Personius refused to part with her car, even though the attendant said it would be all right to leave it there overnight.

"Out of frustration, Mr. Campbell agreed to move the car to a lot near his apartment building and to call her a cab from there," the papers state.

Minutes after Campbell got behind the wheel of Personius’ Nissan, Fernandez pulled him over.

Campbell’s arrest was later expunged, the papers state.

Diaco, and Filthaut refused to testify at trial or in depositions under the protections against self-incrimination, according to court documents. Adams refused to answer questions at a deposition under the same protections, but testified at trial.

Fernandez refused to testify at trial but answered questions at depositions. Personius answered questions but said she had no recollection of many significant portions of these events, according to court papers.

A ruling as to whether Filthaut and Adams will lose their law licenses is expected to take several months, a spokesperson for the court said.