TAMPA — A central figure in a sensational legal case was video recorded talking about how she and two lawyers orchestrated the DUI arrest of their opponent in a high profile trial, according to court documents.
Melissa Personius is the attractive paralegal for the Adams and Diaco law firm who just happened to have drinks at Malio’s with C. Philip Campbell Jr., who was representing radio shock jock Todd “MJ” Schnitt in his libel case against Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Personius later admitted she lied to Campbell about the fact that she worked for the Diaco firm.
Her ex-husband, Kristopher Personius, says in an affidavit that she told him she was going to “get a big bonus” for helping arrange for Campbell’s arrest because it was going to “help their client’s case.”
Although the details of what happened the night of Jan. 23, 2013, are disputed, Personius is accused of plying Campbell with drinks and then tricking him into moving her car. Campbell was arrested for DUI after a lawyer in the firm communicated with the head of the police department’s DUI unit through 90 text messages that night.
When Personius got home that night, her estranged husband, Kristopher, was waiting, according to a partial deposition filed by Greg Kehoe, who is representing Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut in the disciplinary case brought by the Florida Bar.
Kristopher Personius says he was “scared for my life,” when Melissa Personius came home. “She was erratic; she was driving drunk that night; she did not have her license. I didn’t know if she had hit somebody.”
Kristopher Personius said he didn’t ask his estranged wife for her permission to record, but says he was holding up his phone “right there in her sight.”
But he also says he’s “not positive” she knew she was being recorded.
The recording, he says, “depicts Melissa going into detail of how her, Adams and Diaco set up Phil Campbell, the plot from beginning to end ... Everything. Every single thing.”
He also says he turned the recording over to the FBI, which is conducting a civil rights investigation into the incident.
In an affidavit filed by the bar, Kristopher Personius says his ex-wife told him she talked to Campbell that night and “got him to stay longer at Malio’s and drink with her.”
She told him, he added, that she texted with Adams, Diaco and Filthaut while she was at the bar with Campbell and that they asked her what was going on and that a “cop was waiting outside the parking lot,” he says in his affidavit.
He says she told him Campbell told her she was too drunk to drive, and she “made Mr. Campbell get her car from the valet and drive it.”
Kehoe says in court filings that Kristopher Personius’ recording was made illegally. He is asking that attorneys representing the bar be disqualified from the case because they have the recording and are using it in making strategy decisions on presenting their case, which is scheduled to go to trial before a senior judge in Pinellas County who is serving as a “referee” who will recommend what, if any, action the state Supreme Court should take to discipline the lawyers.
Attorney Todd Foster, who is representing Melissa Personius, said in an email, “I have no comment about any alleged recording.” He also said it would be inappropriate to comment on Kristopher Personius’ affidavit.
Lawyer Norman Cannella Jr., who previously represented Melissa Personius, wasn’t so terse.
“I’ve never heard the recordings,” Cannella said. “I know that in doing that, he committed a felony to record somebody without their knowledge. The ex-husband did. That’s typical of this whole scenario. There’s probably not going to be any charges filed against that ex-husband just as there were no charges” against Campbell for driving drunk. “They’re like horses with blinders on just going after Stephen Diaco and the others. They could care less about other crimes that happen or anything else that’s going on. ... They’re just out on a mission to teach some lessons. ... It doesn’t have anything to do with justice. It’s just like a modern-day lynching so to speak.”
Lawyer John Fitzgibbons, who represents Campbell, said Kehoe’s efforts to have the bar attorneys removed from the case and motions to suppress the video and deposition testimony from Raymond Fernandez, the former head of TPD DUI unit, constitute “just another attempt by Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut to keep the full story of their role in the DUI setup scandal from being told. Why are they afraid of the truth and why do they continue to refuse to tell their side of the story? The only answer is because they know the truth will show how deeply involved they were in this scandal.”
The attorneys have repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and are expected to continue to plead the Fifth during the bar trial. Kehoe has argued that as long as the FBI investigation is pending, the lawyers and Personius must be careful about what they say about the scandal.