A Tampa trial lawyer who gained national notoriety for suing nursing homes is facing criminal charges after firing two shots inside his South Tampa mansion during a domestic dispute this week, records show.
Police on Monday arrested James Lewis Wilkes II, 72, on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, and misdemeanor battery. The woman involved in the incident also might be prosecuted, police said.
Wilkes called 911 shortly before 7 a.m. and said a woman had hit him in the face during an argument in the home they share on the 400 block of South Royal Palm Way in the Beach Park neighborhood, according to a Tampa police report. During the call, the dispatcher could hear a woman in the background shouting that Wilkes pulled a gun on her and shot a wall.
Wilkes told police that he and the woman, whose name and relationship to Wilkes are redacted from the report, were arguing when the woman hit him in the head with something, possibly her hand. He said he was worried the woman was going to get one of his guns, so he went to the home’s main bedroom, where he moved a handgun and a shotgun, according to the report. Wilkes said he was still afraid, so he picked up a .45-caliber handgun.
Wilkes said the argument continued, so he fired one round from the handgun into the bed and another round into a bathroom wall to scare the woman and stop the argument, the report states. He said he did not aim the gun at the woman.
The woman told police she hit Wilkes and that, after he fired into the bed and wall, he put the gun to her temple and then her torso and threatened to kill her, according to the report. Wilkes denied that.
Wilkes was booked into the Hillsborough County jail on Monday. His first appearance in court, initially scheduled for Tuesday, was reset for Wednesday and he was released later that day after posting $1,000 bail, records show.
Police did not arrest the woman but filed a charge of battery on a person older than 65 against her for the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office to review, Tampa police spokesperson Merissa Lynn said. The woman’s name was not released because she is still protected under Marsy’s Law while the charge, which is a third-degree felony, is under review, Lynn said.
Tampa police obtained a risk protection order to remove several guns and ammunition that Wilkes had in the home.
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Reached by phone Thursday, Wilkes’ attorney, Ronald Kurpiers II, said his client was not guilty.
“He was attacked and he was defending himself,” Kurpiers said. “That’s the extent of it.”
Wilkes founded the Tampa-based law firm Wilkes & McHugh with partner Tim McHugh in 1985. The firm, which opened offices across the country, gained national attention for suing nursing homes over claims of abuse and neglect. Featured in People magazine and on shows such as “Dateline,” Wilkes has been praised for improving patient conditions and criticized for costly litigation that drove many nursing homes into bankruptcy.
When McHugh retired in 2019, the firm was renamed to Wilkes & Associates. That same year, a Las Vegas jury rejected claims Wilkes made on behalf of his client, then-Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, that an exercise band caused Reid to fall and injure himself.
Wilkes has also long been involved in the music industry, launching Streamsound Records with producer Byron Gallimore and later Red Vinyl Music with Gallimore and McHugh. And Wilkes has had a hand in the boxing world. The New York Times in a 2005 story highlighted his role as attorney and adviser to boxer Jeff Lacy, a St. Petersburg native.
In 2019, Wilkes put the five-bedroom, 7½-bath mansion on South Royal Palm Way on the market for $11 million. The home apparently was later taken off the market.
Information from Times files was used in this report.