7 judges recuse from criminal case against Hamilton attorney

Dennis Lee Adams dipped into a trust account for his personal use, prosecutor says.

A visiting judge is needed to preside over a criminal theft case against a longtime Hamilton attorney after all Butler County Common Pleas judges recused themselves, according to court records.

Dennis Lee Adams, 52, of Fairfield Twp., was indicted last month by a Butler County grand jury for grand theft, theft by deception and receiving stolen property, all fourth-degree felonies.

The alleged crimes occurred between June 20, 2017, and Oct. 13, 2020, involving “value of property or services stolen (in the amount of) $7,500 or more and less than $150,000,” according to the indictment.

The case was assigned to common pleas Judge Greg Stephens, but as of Tuesday he and the six other general assignment judges have recused. They do not have to give a reason for recusal, but it is likely because in addition to private practice, Adams served for 12 years in the county public defender office.

Adams has retained attorney David Washington to represent him. Washington said arraignment will be set when the Ohio Supreme Court assigns a visiting judge.

Adams’ license to practice law is under default suspension after he failed to respond to a four-part formal disciplinary complaint filed by clients against him last September. The matter is now before the Board of Professional Conduct for recommendation on disbarment, which requires action by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Last week, the board of professional conduct recommended permanent disbarment. Adams has 20 days to respond to the notice and recommendation or it will go directly to the supreme court.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said the indictment involves Adams’ private civil practice and not his work on criminal cases. Adams worked for the Butler County Public Defender’s office from May 2011 to January 2023, when he resigned, according to a spokeswoman.

Adams was admitted to the bar to practice law in Ohio in 1997, according to Ohio Supreme Court records.

Prosecutors say Adams used client money received in a court settlement for personal use.

“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,” Gmoser said.

Adams dipped into a trust account for his personal use, he said.

“The attorney has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain that client trust account and not make any improper disbursement,” Gmoser said.

Adams did not return messages left at offices listed for him and to an email listed for him in Ohio Supreme Court disciplinary documents.

The case was investigated in-house at the prosecutor’s office. Gmoser said there will be no need for a special prosecutor.

Gmoser would not comment on whether the criminal charges stemmed from the disciplinary action at the supreme court, but said the investigations were likely “contemporaneously conducted.”

According to supreme court documents, the disciplinary counsel complaints allege Adams neglected a client’s personal injury matter and misappropriated $20,231.74 from that client’s personal injury settlement; misappropriated $4,849.93 from a second client’s personal injury settlement; failed to participate in extensive civil litigation brought on by failure to pay a subrogation lien on behalf of a client; failed to pay a $680.76 outstanding judgment on behalf of a client of which he was aware and had negotiated with the opposing party; and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; and (g) failed to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation.

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