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Surrogate: Clients lost fees paid to attorney who fled

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As many as 80 clients of a Kokomo attorney may have pre-paid for bankruptcy petitions that the attorney failed to file before leaving the country, according to the lawyer appointed to wind down the practice.

Kokomo lawyer Bradley Hamilton has been missing for more than a month, leaving behind numerous unrepresented clients and about 150 active cases, according to attorney Brent Dechert of Kokomo, who was appointed this month to serve as a surrogate.

Dechert said Hamilton moved to his wife’s native Australia when she returned there with their children. “It’s quite a mess,” Dechert said.

Dechert said he couldn’t estimate how much clients may have lost and that 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 who will receive compensation.

Howard Superior 4 Judge George Hopkins earlier this month signed an order appointing Dechert to serve as a surrogate after Dechert petitioned the court. He said Hamilton left the country after unsuccessfully trying to sell his law practice.

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.”

A recording on Hamilton’s office voice mail line accepted messages but also said, “This office has closed.”

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 some of the bankruptcy and miscellaneous civil cases left unrepresented. He said his first priority as surrogate is making sure files are returned to clients who can 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.

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

 

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