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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. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  2. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  3. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  4. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  5. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

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