Adams was born in Orrville, Ohio, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Bowling Green State University in 1978, followed by a Juris Doctor from University of Akron School of Law in 1983. He was a law clerk to W. F. Spicer of the Ohio Court of Common Pleas from 1983 to 1984. He then entered the private practice of law in Ohio until 1999, also working as an Assistant prosecutor in the Summit County Prosecutor's Office, Ohio from 1986 to 1989. He was a judge to the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, Ohio from 1999 to 2003.
On January 7, 2003, Adams was nominated by President George W. Bush to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio vacated by George Washington White. Adams was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 10, 2003, and received his commission on February 12, 2003.
In a follow-up article from the editorial board of the Akron Beacon Journal, the board noted that Judge Adams is unable to respond to the allegations because of judicial ethics. The Akron Bar Association argued the Mayor should have filed a formal motion with the court, rather than "delivering blows from the op-ed page of the newspaper." The editorial board goes on to argue that "On too many occasions, Judge Adams has failed to measure up. Many who practice and work in the federal court long have been dismayed. They have seen and discussed the displays of poor temper, the careless treatment, the absence of reason, the mean spirit. This behavior has become a Problem for the Akron community." The editorial board cites two cases where Judge Adams was overturned by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Per the editorial board: "Recall that in November 2013, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati reversed, vacated and dismissed the public sanctions Judge Adams imposed on a public defender. A three-judge panel unanimously found no basis for what the judge did, or any hint of the bad faith the judge claimed that he saw. His actions were reckless." The editorial board goes on by saying: "A year ago, the same appeals court took the rare step of removing a federal disabilities act case from Judge Adams. A three-judge panel, again unanimously, acknowledged that 'reassignment is an extraordinary power,' yet it had little choice, the judge revealing 'such a high degree of favoritism or antagonism as to make fair judgment impossible.' These are not isolated episodes. They help in setting the backdrop for Mayor Plusquellic taking his extraordinary step."
On February 3, 2015, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic wrote a letter to Judge Adams, asking Judge Adams to recuse himself from any cases involving the city of Akron. In the letter, Plusquellic argues that Judge Adams displays a "personal negative bias towards me, and more significantly the City of Akron." He points to two cases in front of Judge Adams, one involving promotions within the city's fire department, and another case against the EPA dealing with sewer runoff problems.