MJ vs. Bubba: Florida Bar investigating; could lawyers be disbarred?

9:07 PM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida - It's a high-profile, controversial case that just keeps going and going: MJ vs. Bubba.

Bubba the Love Sponge Clem was cleared of all charges recently during a defamation lawsuit where rival radio host Todd "MJ" Schnitt sued for damages and lost.

The jury sided with Bubba, while one juror told MJ to "put on his big girl panties and get over it."

The case made national headlines when MJ's attorney Phil Campbell, was arrested for DUI after drinking at Malio's with a pretty legal assistant who works for the same law firm representing Bubba. Some called it a "honeypot" scheme, where she allegedly enticed Campbell into a massive setup that night.  The now-infamous event has been the subject of continuous analysis, fodder for gossip and water cooler humor.

However, Judge Arnold wasn't laughing.

On Monday, the judge in the case held a closed-door private meeting with both attorneys and the media where he said, "In my 40 years of practicing law and 29 years on the bench, I've never seen allegations of misconduct like this." He referred to the alleged DUI setup with MJ's attorney, Phil Campbell and the subsequent legal briefcase of his that went missing after that night of drinking at Malio's.

Judge Arnold ordered a full investigation into that now-fateful night at Malio's and the DUI arrest afterward. The judge wants to know exactly what happened that night, every last detail, and that includes depositions from attorneys and the possible seizure of phone records.

Well, the soap opera saga isn't over yet, not by a long shot.

Now, the Florida Bar Association is involved. A spokesperson at the Florida bar confirmed to 10 News today that there is a current investigation by Florida bar members into MJ's attorney, Phil Campbell, Bubba's attorney, Steve Diaco, and Adam Filthaut, an attorney who works with Diaco.

None of the attorneys commented on the case today, although 10 News has tried repeatedly to garner an interview. The legal assistant in this case, accused of enticing Campbell to drink at Malio's as part of a honeypot scheme, is not being investigated by the Florida bar.  However, Melissa Personius will most likely still be deposed as part of Judge Arnold's investigation, and her phone records could be seized from that night at Malio's.

Although Steve Diaco made comments when testifying in court such as, "I don't recall," he will not be able to invoke those same privileges, experts say, when testifying before the bar. He, along with others, must answer all questions.

Longtime and well-known Tampa attorney and former federal prosecutor Steve Crawford has watched the trial closely and weighed in on the ramifications it has created.

"I've been practicing law a long time, and I've never seen anything like this. It is not common," Crawford told 10 News.  

Steve Diaco has long maintained his innocence. In fact, in court during the trial, he said he had nothing to do with Phil Campbell's missing briefcase. But, Judge Arnold wants more answers about the night the briefcase went missing.

Steve Diaco testified in court, "I never laid a finger on [the briefcase]."

Attorneys are said to be preparing for depositions right now after subpoenas were served.  

Judge Arnold said today, "The discovery process has started. I'm waiting to hear from attorneys."

Diaco also said in court that he didn't know anything about the alleged DUI setup. He told the judge, "I don't recall having that conversation."

So, what happens if these prominent Tampa attorneys are disbarred? The investigation by the state bar could take a year or longer, experts say.

If they are disbarred, it could take up to five years to get reinstated, Crawford told 10 News, and could cost thousands of dollars. The attorneys would also have to retake the bar exam.

Crawford says the Florida Bar Association weighs cases like this carefully. "There could be a few less lawyers in Tampa, Florida."

Be sure to follow reporter Melanie Michael's updates on the case on Twitter @WTSPMelanie.

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