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Ousted Judge Seeks Divorce to Shield Wife

April 26, 1996|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — An ousted judge accused of taking bribes filed for divorce Thursday from his wealthy wife to shield her from having to pay his legal bills.

Former Superior Court Judge G. Dennis Adams announced that he is divorcing his wife, Judge Barbara T. Gamer, because federal prosecutors are trying to strip him of his publicly paid lawyer on the grounds that his wife can afford to pay a private attorney.

"We are devastated," Adams said in a written statement. "Although our marriage lasted only three years and eight months, it is a relationship we treasured."

Adams and Gamer signed a prenuptial agreement in 1992 keeping their assets separate, but federal prosecutors have argued that legal fees fit the legal definition of the necessities of life that a spouse must provide. A judge magistrate has agreed with the prosecutors.

In his statement, Adams said his wife has "serious, potentially life-threatening health problems," as well as a mother with Alzheimer's disease, two sons and two granddaughters, "whose futures she needs to protect."

He added, "She is not the accused. The expense of this trial must not jeopardize her financial security."

Gamer's court clerk said the judge had no comment. Gamer, 52, has undergone a mastectomy for breast cancer and has had other chronic medical problems.

Adams has insisted that he was wiped out financially by a divorce that left him free to marry Gamer and that he has had no income since being removed from the bench in July by the state Supreme Court. The couple live in a $610,000 condominium owned by Gamer in downtown San Diego.

The surprise divorce announcement came in response to a written ruling from a judge magistrate that was more adverse to Adams and Gamer than the magistrate had indicated would be the case.

In a hearing last Friday, Magistrate Judge Roger McKee said that although he agreed with federal prosecutors that a spouse should be required to pay legal fees, he would not order Adams stripped of his public defender because it would slow down the trial. He added that he might later order Adams to reimburse the government for the cost of his defense.

In his written ruling, however, McKee wrote that Adams will definitely be billed for the cost of the services of his lawyer, Mario Conte, head of Federal Defenders, which has a contract with the federal government to represent indigents in criminal cases.

Under federal rules, Conte's fee would be $75 an hour. Although that is still less than most private attorneys charge, the tab could mount quickly. Conte has said it could take a year or more to prepare for trial in a case with hundreds of thousands of documents and dozens of witnesses.

McKee also wrote that no prenuptial agreement could save a spouse from having to pay for the other spouse's lawyer. Federal prosecutors are appealing McKee's ruling that allows Conte to remain and instead want to force Adams to hire private counsel.

Adams is one of three ex-judges accused of taking bribes from a flamboyant trial attorney, Patrick Frega, in exchange for favorable treatment. Frega is also charged with bribery and racketeering.

One of the ex-jurists, Michael Greer, has pleaded guilty and pledged to testify against the other two, Adams and James Malkus. The case was assigned to a federal judge from Los Angeles, Edward Rafeedie, after all judges in San Diego removed themselves because they know the defendants.

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