Hamilton attorney disbarred after criminal conviction for stealing from clients

Longtime Hamilton attorney Dennis Lee Adams has been disbarred by the Ohio Supreme Court for misuse of clients’ settlement funds after last year’s local criminal court conviction for stealing from clients.

In the high court’s opinion released Tuesday — the culmination of a probe begun by the Board of Professional Conduct in 2022 — the justices found Adams committed 19 ethics violations in three client matters. Also ordered was $25,000 in restitution to the former client harmed by his misconduct.

The court found Adams misled clients, misused their settlement funds and neglected their cases. The court stated Adams’ lack of cooperation in the resulting disciplinary investigations and well as harm he caused to clients warranted permanent disbarment.

“Adams engaged in a pattern of misconduct by misappropriating settlement proceeds in three separate client matters, by repeatedly failing to respond to communications from clients, and by failing to follow through on commitments he had made to clients, attorneys representing other litigants and lienholders, and relator. He committed multiple offenses—19 rule violations in all—and with the exception of his eventual participation in a single deposition, he failed to cooperate in the disciplinary process. In addition, Adams failed to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct and caused harm to vulnerable clients, two of whom were subject to collection actions and another whose Social Security benefits were garnished for nearly three years. Furthermore, he failed to make restitution to his clients and others harmed by his misconduct,” the court stated in its decision.

Adams, 52, of Fairfield Twp., was indicted by a Butler County grand jury in May 2023 for grand theft, theft by deception and receiving stolen property, all fourth-degree felonies.

He pleaded guilty in October in Butler County Common Pleas Court to a lesser charge of theft by deception and one count of grand theft on a bill of information for a second case involving a client in criminal case.

Visiting Judge Dennis J. Langer was appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court to hear the case after all seven Butler County common pleas judges recused themselves. He sentenced Adams to five years probation in November for the criminal charges.

At sentencing, Adams had made restitution to the two victims in the criminal cases..

In addition to probation, Langer also ordered Adams to maintain full-time employment, undergo a mental health assessment and complete 500 hours of community service.

Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Garrett Baker said in November that Adams made a choice to continually ignore his responsibilities as an attorney and “really boils down to (he made) a choice to keep all their money.”

Adams was admitted to the bar to practice law in Ohio in 1997, according to Ohio Supreme Court records. In addition to a private practice, Adams served as a Butler County public defender for 12 years.

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