EATON — The Preble County attorney sentenced to over four years in prison for stealing more than $200,000 from clients has been granted judicial release and placed on probation.
James W. Thomas Jr. filed his most recent motion for judicial release on Jan. 13, of this year. (He had filed a similar motion in December 2014, just six months into his sentence, but withdrew that request, after learning victims had filed a memorandum in opposition claiming he had not followed through on his promises.)
Thomas pleaded no contest to the charges against him, which arose out of his theft of funds from four individuals for whom he was serving as court-appointed guardian – and his subsequent attempts to conceal the thefts by filing false inventories with the Preble County Probate Court, according to court documents filed Monday, Oct. 3.
Thomas was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison and ordered to repay over $208,000, to be distributed to his former clients.
According to court documents, on May 11, attorney Jacob Kovach, who represented two of Thomas’ victims, filed a memorandum opposing Thomas Jr.’s motion for release. Documents note, Kovach pointed out Thomas “impeded the repayment of restitution by transferring his real estate to his wife.”
Kovach also noted, “the victims feel betrayed by the defendant and they continue to suffer emotional harm as a result of his actions.”
Attorney Sarah Michel the guardian for the estate of a third victim, echoed Kovach, and noted her client was “forced to sell personal and real property and live on a budgeted stipend.” She noted, “Thomas changed the lives of his victims and it is apparent they will be made whole again.” She added, “granting Thomas’ motion would demean the seriousness of his offense.”
On April 20, the Ohio Supreme Court found Thomas had violated several ethical measures of professional conduct and said in its decision: “Thomas acted with a dishonest or selfish motive by using the money that he misappropriated from his wards primarily to maintain his addiction to ephedrine and to compensate for the loss of law-practice income occasioned by that addiction. In addition to these aggravating factors, we also find that Thomas engaged in a pattern of misconduct that harmed vulnerable clients by misappropriating more than $200,000 over a period of six years from the wards he was court-appointed to protect.”
The court indefinitely suspended Thomas from practicing law, and his “reinstatement would be conditioned upon his completion of his sentence, payment of full restitution, completion of any probationary term, and successful completion of an approved substance abuse and addiction program,” court records note.
On Sept. 14, counsel for Thomas filed a “supplemental memorandum noting that full restitution had been made to the victims either through the defendant’s insurance carrier or the Ohio Supreme Court’s Lawyer Fund for Client Protection,” the order noted.
The court’s decision noted: ” Daniel J. Breyer, Senior Assistant Attorney General, appeared on behalf of the State of Ohio, and noted its opposition to the defendant’s motion for judicial release. Both Kovach and Michel spoke spoke at the hearing in opposition to Thomas’ motion.”
According to records, Thomas’ attorney noted Thomas “had an excellent institution record and completed an intensive outpatient program for his addiction to ephedrine.”
Thomas “expressed remorse for his actions and apologized to the victims of his misconduct.”
Noting that Thomas had served 27 months of his 4-plus year sentence, and he “has no prior criminal record and a good institution record,” sitting Judge James Brogan stated the court believed “the defendant is remorseful for his conduct and he has take steps to address his drug addiction.”
Brogan went on to place Thomas on probation for three years and ordered him to participate in a drug addiction program approved by the Preble County Probation Department.
The court reserved the right to “re-impose the sentence it reduced” if Thomas violates his community control sanctions.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.