Tampa Police Sgt. Ray Fernandez
Tampa, Florida - It's been nearly a year, and it's the case people are still talking about.
The MJ versus Bubba trial certainly had it's share of drama last January as two nationally syndicated radio hosts squared off in a court case that made national headlines.
Aside from the heated drama in the courtroom, the moments away from the trial seemed to define the controversial defamation case. Attorney Phil Campbell, representing Todd MJ Schnitt, was arrested on DUI charges during the trial after drinking alongside a pretty paralegal from the opposing team in the case.
Months later, the story continues to makes news.
But, this time it's the former Tampa police sergeant at the heart of the Campbell DUI arrest now getting attention.
Sgt. Ray Fernandez, fired on September 27th, is fighting to get his job back and says he should have never been let go last month.
Today Fernandez's attorney, Chip Purcell, argued the case during a grievance hearing at Tampa City Hall, where roughly seven people were present during the hour-long meeting, including Assistant Police Chief John Newman. Purcell did all the talking, as is customary in a hearing of this nature ruled by specific Florida statutes.
10 News asked Fernandez's attorney if the 19-year veteran set up Phil Campbell on that now-fateful night at Malio's and then lied about it to his bosses at the police department.
"Absolutely, unequivocally no," said Purcell.
Fernandez's lawyer says that his client is a scapegoat in the aftermath of the shock jock trial. However, Chief Jane Castor says the sergeant misused his power as an officer and let personal relationships affect his decisions.
Adam Filthaut from the Adams & Diaco firm is the godfather to Fernandez's son and was in close contact that night with Fernandez. The two exchanged 92 text messages, although Purcell said, "All the texts were not about Campbell. That would be ridiculous to think that my client sent 92 texts about a man drinking at a bar. They talked about their kids, about paintball."
After the hearing today, the attorney for the fired sergeant says he feels "very encouraged" about the possibility of Fernandez getting his job back.
"He's a DUI sergeant. That's what DUI sergeant's do! They arrest people driving and driving. He did his job. He didn't do anything wrong," said Purcell.
The Tampa Police Department has two weeks to come back with a decision about Fernandez. If they choose not to reinstate him, the matter then goes to City Hall for another hearing. The next step after that would be an independent arbitrator.
"There was good dialogue today," says Purcell.
In addition, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says the department is currently working with the FBI. An Internal Affairs investigator has been assigned to work with them and, once the federal investigation is finished, the department will do its own investigation if needed.
The Florida Bar is also investigating several attorneys involved in the case -- Adam Filthaut and Steve Diaco. The matter is currently at the grievance committee stage in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.
As for the attorneys involved, Phil Campbell attorney John Fitzgibbons says, "My strong personal feeling is when this case is done some people should no longer have 'lawyer' after their name."
While Fitzgibbons wants the lawyers involved to be disbarred, the odds are against it happening. Since 2007, the bar investigates an average 680 cases a year against attorneys with about 52 percent resulting in discipline. Of those who are disciplined, an average of 82 attorneys are disbarred each year -- that's about one in 1,000 attorneys in the state of Florida.
However, at this point, Fitzgibbons is directing his anger toward the Tampa Police Department, saying, "It's now a scandal that is festering, and we have virtually nothing from the Tampa Police Department."