PRINCESS ANNE, MD., JAN. 4 -- Former Washington County circuit judge Paul W. Ottinger pleaded guilty today to three counts of forgery and was ordered to pay $320,000 in restitution for defrauding legal clients.

In a complicated sentencing order, Ottinger was sentenced to serve three years in prison on top of a 5 1/2-year prison sentence he received Oct. 21 on federal charges of defrauding clients and banks of more than $173,000.

"I'm well aware that I have made serious mistakes," Ottinger, 72, said during what was to be the opening day of his trial on state charges in Somerset County Circuit Court. "I have been in jail for eight months and I've had a lot of time to think about that."

As a result of a plea bargain, Circuit Judge Lloyd L. Simpkins ordered Ottinger to pay full restitution of $320,000. Simpkins and Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr. also agreed that charges against Ottinger's wife Joan would be dropped.

She had been accused of forging the signature and cashing a $5,000 check allegedly written by her husband to one of his clients. The money was deposited in her account at a Hagerstown credit union.

Simpkins noted that Ottinger's age, ill health and prior good works were in his favor, but that he could not overlook the magnitude of the offenses.

"I'm impressed by his sincere remorse for the harm that he has caused," Simpkins said.

Ottinger, who was depicted in federal court as a heavy drinker and compulsive gambler, said he had lost 100 pounds since he was arrested early last year.

Ottinger disappeared from the Hagerstown area last February and was found in April by FBI agents in the York, Pa., area where he reportedly had assumed the identity of a person who had died and was trying to pass himself off as a retired Ohio schoolteacher.