NORTON: A Norton attorney who was entertaining the idea that he was incompetent to stand trial on public indecency charges continued to represent at least one client in Summit County Probate Court.
In November, Thomas L. Walkley was retained by a 70-year-old woman to defend her against a motion by her niece, who wanted her placed under guardianship by the court.
He billed her for $10,000 in services in the first month.
But in January, Walkley’s own personal troubles surfaced.
Norton police, in a Jan. 18 news account, told the Beacon Journal they were called to Cafe 41:11, near Norton High School, after two teens told police dispatchers Walkley took off his pants and exposed himself while counseling them.
Walkley, 52, founded the coffeehouse as a Christian outreach center for troubled youths. The two teens who visited him there said they hoped Walkley could direct them to some sort of community-service program for their underage drinking arrests in Brimfield Township on Halloween.
He was charged with two counts of misdemeanor public indecency.
On Feb. 24, Walkley and his attorney, Paul F. Adamson, initiated the legal groundwork for Walkley’s competency issues. They began in-chambers discussions on the matter with Barberton Municipal Court Judge David Fish, the case docket shows, and Fish issued a May 3 order for a mental evaluation by the Summit County Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic.
Meanwhile, Walkley continued to work at least for the elderly woman, filing a will on her behalf in probate court on May 16.
A hearing on the woman’s guardianship case was scheduled for the afternoon of June 21, and there is nothing in the court records suggesting Walkley had concerns about continuing to represent her — until that day.
That same morning, Walkley was in Barberton Municipal Court where Fish, with the mental evaluation in hand, ruled Walkley mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Walkley informed the probate court about the incompetency ruling, and the magistrate did not allow the June 21 hearing to proceed.
Tamara Kerr of Geneva, the niece of the woman in the probate case, says Walkley was attempting to play both sides of the fence – all the while adding to his income to the tune of at least $10,000 in fees in the guardianship case.
Kerr was attempting to have another local attorney appointed as an independent guardian over her aunt’s medical and financial affairs.
According to Kerr, Walkley produced only two documents in the case: a motion to dismiss the guardianship action, in December, and the will filed in May.
“He billed out [to the aunt] $10,000 in the first month. He could do that,” Kerr said, “because my aunt is vulnerable, a wealthy woman. She’s needy, she’s lonely…. And she doesn’t know the meter’s running.”
Kerr said she intends to file a formal complaint with the Akron city prosecutor’s office, hoping it will lead to a formal disciplinary measure against Walkley by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline.
In a detailed, typewritten summary of her aunt’s case and their dealings with Walkley, including dates, times and places related to the probate matter, Kerr wrote: “Is Attorney Walkley crazy, or just crazy like a fox?”
“I would opine,” she concluded later, “that he took a lot of license when he thought he could.”
Regardless of what the circumstances were, or what occurred in the months following Walkley’s arrest, Kerr said Walkley should have removed himself from her aunt’s case then.
“He should have done it on his own integrity, but isn’t that an oxymoron — a man who pulled his trousers down ought to have decency and integrity?” Kerr said.
Fish wrote in his incompetency ruling that Walkley “is not capable of understanding the nature and objective of the proceedings against him and is not capable of presently assisting in his defense.”
30 days of treatment
The judge then ordered Walkley to spend 30 days in treatment at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare in Northfield, with an additional finding that there would be “a substantial probability” of restoring Walkley’s competence with proper treatment.
Fish said last week it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the mental ramifications with Walkley’s criminal case ongoing.
Walkley will not be discharged from the treatment program, Fish ruled, until authorized by a future court order.
Case Western Reserve University law professor Lewis R. Katz, whose books and criminal justice articles have been cited in more than 400 cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court, said Walkley was “entitled to the presumption of innocence” immediately after his January arrest.
However, a month later as the mental competency inquiry was beginning in Fish’s court, it definitely should have given Walkley pause to continue practicing law, Katz said.
“I don’t see how he could [continue] with a straight face,” he said. “It’s not so much the criminal case, which I think is ugly, per se, but the fact that he’s claiming he’s incompetent. How can he represent clients after he’s made that claim?”
Adamson, Walkley’s lawyer, said he was advised “only tangentially” of Walkley’s involvement in the probate case.
“I didn’t have any direct contact with that case, or the clients, or the status of that case,” Adamson said early this month, “but certainly we had advised Tom not to be actively practicing law.”
He said Walkley would have no comment on his criminal case or the probate case. Adamson noted it was only a few weeks ago that there was a judicial finding of mental incompetency.
“To my knowledge, he has not practiced since then, and I believe his intentions are to place his [law] license on inactive status while he continues to be involved in recovery,” Adamson said.
He said he could not comment further.
Court records show other developments have occurred in Walkley’s cases since the June 21 incompetency ruling.
Another local attorney filed a probate court motion — on the day after the incompetency ruling — asking a magistrate to disallow Walkley’s power-of-attorney status in the case of Kerr’s aunt.
A decision on that matter by the probate court’s chief magistrate, George R. Wertz, is pending.
Walkley also filed motions in his criminal case on July 1, asking Fish to consider a homeopathic treatment program, and again last week, asking to dismiss all criminal charges.
Fish moved swiftly, denying both of those motions.
Kerr said she believes court officials, in both the criminal and probate cases, also need to be more alert of such potential conflicts.
“I think it’s also [a matter of]: what did anybody do to protect an elderly citizen?” she said.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com