Hamilton attorney sentenced to probation for stealing from clients

Longtime Hamilton attorney Dennis Lee Adams was sentenced to five years probation Wednesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court after pleading guilty to stealing from clients.

Adams, 52, of Fairfield Twp., was indicted by a grand jury in May for grand theft, theft by deception and receiving stolen property, all fourth-degree felonies. In October Adams pleaded pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of theft by deception and guilty to grand theft on a bill of information for a second case involving a client in criminal case.

Adams faced a maximum of 24 months in jail, but incarceration was up to the judge and unlikely for a low level, non-violent felony when the defendant has no prior criminal record. He has made full restitution of about $13,000 to the two victims.

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.

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.

Before sentencing, Adams’ attorney David Washington said he has known his client for 15 or 20 years and Adams has always been “a very good lawyer.”

“He has lost a lot, he has come forward and made full restitution so these people can be made whole. He has got to rebuild his life at this point. I know him to be a good man who is going through some tough times,” Washington told the judge.

Adams made no statement.

Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Garrett Baker said 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.”

His license to practice law is under suspension after he failed to respond to a four-part formal disciplinary complaint against him filed by clients in September 2022. The board of professional conduct has recommended permanent disbarment. The Supreme Court makes the final ruling.

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.

The theft by deception charge involves Adams’ use of client money received in a court settlement for personal use.

From June 2017 to October 2020, Adams spent $12,492.67 worth of settlement funds that were supposed to be remitted to his client, according to court documents. Some of the purchases made by Adams included Delta vacations, plane tickets, expenses at a local veterinary clinic, sporting goods and use at Disney World, according to court records.

“Lawyers have what are called ‘client trust accounts,’ and when they are representing in civil cases in which money comes to clients, it passes through the hands of an attorney representing the client going into the trust account for distribution,” said Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser. “The attorney has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain that client trust account and not make any improper disbursement.”

The second case in which Adams admitted guilt to a bill of information, therefore bypassing the indictment process, involved a client in a criminal case. Adams spent money entrusted to him by his client that should have been used to pay restitution through the adult probation department, according to prosecutors.

From July 8, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021, Adams used $1,100 given to him by a client for restitution to be placed in a client trust account then paid to adult probation.

Adams personally used the cash, not making the payment to adult probation and, “as a result, (the man’s) probation was terminated unsuccessfully.”

That situation has been corrected after Adams made restitution for the theft and the client was able to pay off what he owed and successfully completed probation, according to prosecutors.

Langer noted while Adams’ crimes were not violent, the victims said they were harmed. One victim said her trust for attorneys and the legal system was “shattered.”

The second victim was “sweating bullets” wondering if he was going to go to prison because he had not successfully completed probation due to Adams’ actions, the judge said.

“And you did it twice,” Langer said in pointed comments to Adams.

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