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Kokomo lawyer skips town, leaving 'mess' behind

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A Kokomo lawyer’s sudden abandonment of his law practice has left the local legal community scrambling to clean up a mess involving scores of ripped-off clients, some of whom learned of their attorney’s disappearance when they showed up for court dates and he didn’t.

“I think it’s deplorable,” Howard County Bar Association President Rebecca Vent said of the situation involving attorney Bradley Hamilton. Vent said Hamilton was accepting new clients and collecting fees the same week he left the country, apparently to join his wife who returned to her native Australia with the couple’s three children.

It’s unclear how much money Hamilton’s clients may have lost. As many as 80 appear to have pre-paid for bankruptcy petitions that he failed to file before leaving the country, according to Brent Dechert, the attorney appointed by court order Oct. 7 to act as a surrogate and wind down Hamilton’s practice. Dechert said Hamilton also left his practice with about 150 active cases.

Vent has taken a few of those cases, and other lawyers are doing what they can.

“Like any other profession, when something tragic happens, we pull together as best we can,” she said. Hamilton’s clients, though, are stinging.

“They’re frustrated, they’re apprehensive about what’s going on,” Vent said. New lawyers stepping in to take over cases don’t just have to get up to speed, but they also have to counsel distrustful clients. “They’re anxious … and understandably so,” she said.

“The Howard County Bar Association feels horribly about how quickly Mr. Hamilton left without providing due notice or refunds to his clients,” she said.

Dechert said Hamilton told him he was leaving more than a month ago after he unsuccessfully attempted to sell his law practice. Before he left, Dechert said Hamilton asked him if he would consent to serve as a surrogate. “It’s quite a mess,” Dechert said.

A few Mondays back, Howard Superior 4 Judge George Hopkins said three or four of Hamilton’s clients with court dates appeared before him after he had received the petition to appoint Dechert. “In each case, I talked to the people individually, and told them Mr. Hamilton is no longer practicing,” Hopkins said. “They had no idea.”

Dechert couldn’t estimate how much clients may have lost, and he said clients are still making claims. “I think it could be substantial,” he said. But he noted there still are accounts with balances, and it will be up to the court to determine how claims for the funds will be handled.

Hopkins’ order says, “the disappearance and/or abrupt closure of Bradley D. Hamilton’s law office constitutes an occurrence under Supreme Court Admission and Discipline Rule 23, Section 27(c), which requires the appointment of an attorney surrogate to act as custodian of Bradley Hamilton’s law practice.”

The surrogate order appoints Dechert to act as custodian, transfer files and notify clients pursuant to the rule. The order also grants a 120-day extension on statutes of limitations, deadlines and most filing time limits for Hamilton’s clients, as provided in ADR 23, Section 27(e).

Dechert, whose practice is predominantly family law, said he’s been able to take some of those cases, and other attorneys in Kokomo have stepped up to take bankruptcy and miscellaneous civil cases left unrepresented. He said his first priority as surrogate is making sure files are returned to clients who can then decide how best to proceed with their cases.

Dechert said he’s had limited email contact with Hamilton since being appointed surrogate. “This was not the way it should have been closed down,” Dechert said.

He said some of Hamilton’s clients had filed or were planning to file complaints with the Howard County Bar Association and the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, and he had provided information to clients about filing complaints.

Hamilton was last seen in Kokomo in late September. He was admitted to practice in 1984 and is listed on the Indiana Roll of Attorneys as active and in good standing, with prior disciplinary matters filed in 2010 concluded in March 2012.

Indiana Supreme Court public information officer Kathryn Dolan said the Disciplinary Commission has not issued a verified petition for discipline in Hamilton’s case. She said she could not comment on whether any complaints had been filed because they remain confidential before the issuance of a verified petition.

But Dolan said Hamilton’s case shows that the attorney surrogate rule adopted in recent years is working. “The goal here is to make sure that clients are represented,” she said.

Hamilton also might be facing criminal charges.

“The matter is still under investigation, and I can say our office has received some complaints against Mr. Hamilton which we are investigating,” Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann said. “We’re still trying to talk to victims and alleged victims.”

Hopkins said the situation presents challenges for the court and attorneys. Dechert has petitioned the court for guidance on how to handle money Hamilton’s practice retained, for instance, and for everyday matters such as how to handle mail that arrives at the office. There’s also at least one case where there might be a conflict. Hopkins said he’ll soon rule on those sorts of issues.

“It’s a difficult situation for any attorney even under the best of circumstances,” Hopkins said of those who act as surrogates or take cases where a surrogate has been appointed. Dechert, for instance, has incurred out-of-pocket expense, Hopkins said.

“You’re asking an attorney to walk in and take over a goodly number of cases with no background in the cases at all and doing what needs to be done under the surrogate rule, and probably doing a lot of it for free,” Hopkins said.

“It’s a pretty good undertaking for anyone who walks into this position, and yet we have to have some way to do it,” he said.

Vent said the local legal community is trying to make the best of a bad situation. “You typically don’t need a lawyer unless there’s some sort of trouble in your life or an issue in your life you need help with,” she said. “I’m just frustrated that his departure has left so many people up in the air.”•

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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