To avoid prison, former lawyer gives up license

By Ed Runyan

Gray took $85,359 from his aunt while working on a probate case for her.

WARREN — Former Howland lawyer James E. Gray, whose license to practice law was suspended more than two years ago, has given up his law license as part of a plea agreement that allows him to stay out of prison.

Gray, 63, of Hunter’s Hollow, reached the plea agreement in August in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. It included having six felony theft and forgery charges reduced to misdemeanors.

He pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor petty theft charges and a misdemeanor of attempted forgery involving up to $125,000 in thefts he committed while working on court cases for five clients between 1998 and 2004.

On Wednesday, Judge W. Wyatt McKay of common pleas court sentenced Gray to two years of probation, the first six months being with electronic monitoring of his whereabouts, a suspended 18-month jail sentence and full restitution to his victims.

Chris Becker, an assistant county prosecutor, said Gray could still go to prison for up to 18 months if he fails to meet requirements of his probation.

The prosecutor’s office recommended prison time to Judge McKay, Becker said.

Gray’s law license was first suspended in the summer 2006 by the Ohio Supreme Court after the Trumbull County Probate Court uncovered problems with Gray’s work on a probate case involving his aunt, Elsie Bryn, which led to Gray admitting to the probate court judge on May 22, 2006, to using Bryn’s money and assets for his personal benefit.

The probate court determined that Gray took $85,359 from his aunt. A judgment entry ordered Gray to pay the $85,359, plus a 10-percent penalty and an investigator’s fee of $10,094, to his now-deceased aunt’s estate.

Becker said an investigation regarding Gray’s aunt also uncovered improper activities in three other cases Gray handled, including a personal injury settlement for a juvenile.

More recently, the Trumbull County Bar Association determined that Gray stole money from a Vienna man, Timothy Everett, around 2004, while working on a personal injury lawsuit.

In that case, Gray charged Everett $7,330 for the assistance of another attorney and then kept the money. The investigation also indicated that Gray put two forged pages into a settlement agreement in Everett’s case. The pages said Everett was settling his entire case for $200,000, when Everett’s actual agreement left one aspect of the case unsettled.

Everett and another victim spoke before Gray’s sentencing, as did two men who spoke on Gray’s behalf — Judge Donald Ford, formerly of the 11th District Court of Appeals, and Youngstown attorney Tom Wilson.

Gray began his law practice in Warren in 1974.

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