Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Hamilton Lawyer Disbarred for Misusing Clients’ Settlement Funds

The Supreme Court of Ohio today disbarred a Hamilton attorney and ordered him to pay more than $25,000 in restitution to his former clients and others harmed by his misconduct.

The Supreme Court found Dennis L. Adams committed 19 ethics violations in three client matters, including neglect that led to a woman having her Social Security benefits garnished to pay for injuries she suffered in an auto accident.

In a per curiam opinion, the Court found that Adams misled clients, misused their settlement funds, and neglected their cases. The Court stated that Adams’ lack of cooperation in the resulting disciplinary investigations, coupled with the harm he caused vulnerable clients, and his failure to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his actions warranted permanent disbarment.

Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Joseph T. Deters joined the opinion. Justice Jennifer Brunner did not participate in the case.

Money Meant for Client Medical Bills Goes Missing
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Adams with the Board of Professional Conduct in September 2022. Among the clients that Adams harmed was Teresa McAdams. In July 2017, McAdams and her husband hired Adams to represent them in a lawsuit against a driver of another vehicle who seriously injured McAdams. The couple signed a contingent fee agreement with Adams, entitling him to 33 percent of any amount recovered.

Adams filed a lawsuit in Butler County Common Pleas Court against the driver and against Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, which provided McAdams’ uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. A year later, Adams settled the claim with the other driver for $22,000.

Part of McAdams’ treatment for her injuries was paid for by Medicaid and Medicare. Adams told her that he was withholding part of the settlement to reimburse Medicaid $1,726 and Medicare $3,969. Adams paid Medicaid, but not Medicare.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against Allstate was still pending. In March 2019, Adams voluntarily dismissed that case without telling the couple. He also missed the one-year deadline to refile the case.

In 2019, McAdams received a letter informing her that her Social Security benefits would be reduced by up to 15% monthly to reimburse Medicare for her accident-related treatment. McAdams forwarded the letter to Adams, who did not respond. He eventually met with McAdams and told her he would handle the matter with Medicare and Social Security. He also told her that he expected to settle the case with Allstate at the end of the year without disclosing that he had dismissed that case.

McAdams persistently asked Adams for information about the case, and he offered no substantive responses to her inquiries. He made no payments to Medicare, and by July 2022, her Social Security benefits had been reduced by $3,993 to satisfy the Medicare debt that, with interest, had grown to more than $4,100.

The couple eventually hired a new lawyer who told them that their case against Allstate had been dismissed more than two years earlier and that the time to refile it had expired.

The Board of Professional Conduct determined that Adams was entitled to a $7,260 fee from the $22,000 settlement with the driver. After subtracting the payment of the Medicaid bill, the couple should have received nearly $13,000.

Adams only participation in a disciplinary proceeding regarding the McAdams matter was to appear for a deposition. At the deposition, he could not explain why he had not disbursed any settlement funds to the couple. He maintained that his computer had crashed and that he had health issues that were impacting his memory, concentration, vision, and balance. After the deposition, Adams did not fulfill his promise to provide information to explain what had happened to the missing money.

The board found Adams violated several ethics rules, including failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The board also determined he knowingly failed to respond to a demand for information during a disciplinary investigation.

The board recommended and the Court agreed that Adams should pay McAdams $12,971.74 in restitution. The Court also noted that the couple sued Adams in 2022 for malpractice. The couple received a default judgment because Adams did not respond to the lawsuit. The trial court awarded the couple $272,000 in damages.

Adams also engaged in similar conduct with two other clients. He entered into contingent fee agreements and improperly withheld portions of the settlements. As a result of his neglect, his clients had to pay other attorneys to handle their matters and, in one case, another party had to pay for expenses incurred by Adams’ injured client. In addition to paying restitution to McAdams, the Court ordered Adams to pay $12,965 in restitution and court costs in those cases.

2022-1256. Disciplinary Counsel v. Adams, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-559.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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