The Buffalo News by Patrick Lakamp - March 15, 2009
The Attorney Grievance Committee for the State Supreme Court’s Eighth Judicial District was ready to recommend formal disciplinary charges over the way Adams dealt with a client in a divorce case, according to documents obtained by The Buffalo News. Adams, of Orchard Park, resigned before the committee’s scheduled March 26 meeting. “Her resignation has the same effect on her license as a disbarment, and, consequently, no further action will be taken by this office regarding your complaint,” Guy C. Giancarlo, the committee’s associate counsel, wrote Thursday in a letter to the client. “However, in submitting her resignation, Ms. Adams admitted all of the allegations related to your complaint.” John Elmore, the chairman of the Attorney Grievance Committee, would not comment on Adams’ case. James P. Harrington, Adams’ attorney, confirmed her resignation but had no other comment.
Among the client’s allegations, Adams:
• Was paid $15,000, but she never provided a bill — despite requests over six years — or an accounting of her time spent on the case.
• Did not deposit separate checks worth $2,000 and $4,000 into a client trust account but cashed the checks through a teller at a local bank.
• Falsely claimed the divorce case file was destroyed in a fire rather than produce the file when the former client pursued formal procedures to get some of her money back.
• Brought forth untrue information when she unsuccessfully appealed to a State Supreme Court judge to overturn an arbitration panel’s decision that she owed the former client a $4,775 refund. As part of the divorce settlement, the then-client received a $10,000 check from her former husband in August 2000. But Adams took it and said it would be held in a trust account until another of the client’s minor legal issues was resolved. The woman tried for six years to get some of that money returned.
“That check was meant to be a settlement award to me and not an award of attorney’s fees,” the former client said in her formal complaint to the grievance committee. “I turned to Ms. Adams for counsel and advice during a terrible time in my life — not expecting that a member of the legal profession would further victimize me.” The former client spoke only on condition of anonymity because she wants her privacy. The News agreed to her request because she has copies of court documents relating to the complaint that would not otherwise be available. The court system keeps them secret. The former client said she had never sought legal counsel before her divorce. She was in debt after her divorce and had an income of only about $22,000 a year. “To take the money that the judge granted me as a settlement only makes her conduct more despicable,” the former client told the grievance committee. In 2007, the former client won a nearly $5,000 refund from an arbitration panel, which heard the dispute between her and Adams. Adams then filed an appeal.
State Supreme Court Justice Kevin M. Dillon rejected Adams’ appeal and ordered Adams to pay the former client $4,825. In the end, the former client paid $9,000 in attorney fees for her divorce and slightly more than $1,000 for four to six hours of legal work on related civil matters. She said her former husband paid his divorce lawyer $3,000. She and her former husband did not have children, and she did not seek an interest in her former husband’s business. The former client also had to spend $1,800 in legal fees to contest Adams’ appeal.
The former client filed her complaint against Adams with the grievance committee after Adams lost the appeal. “At that point, it wasn’t a matter of money,” the former client told The News. “I pursued it so that vulnerable women like me, in duress, don’t fall victim to her unethical practices.” The former client said she decided to talk about her case — even after Adams’ resignation — because she does not want the public to think Adams’ legal problems stemmed from just the driving-while-intoxicated arrest last September. She also praised the work of the grievance committee, whose lawyers “restored my faith in the judicial system.” Adams pleaded guilty last month before Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio to three misdemeanors: drunken driving, offering a false instrument for filing and attempted tampering with physical evidence. firstname.lastname@example.org