Columbus lawyer gives up all guardianship cases (OH)

A Columbus lawyer who a few months ago boasted that he probably acted as guardian for more people than anyone else in the nation has resigned from all his cases and briefly checked himself into a local hospital for mental-health treatment.

Paul S. Kormanik filed his resignation with Franklin County Probate Court on

Aug. 26. He once had about 400 wards; now the hundreds he had left have been temporarily put in the custody of Groveport attorney John Mashburn until the court can find permanent guardians.

Kormanik did not return emails or calls to his law practice seeking comment on Thursday or yesterday.

Mike Moran, the court’s chief of staff, said on Wednesday that Kormanik will no longer be associated with the court. Several people who know Kormanik said he checked into Dublin Springs, a mental-health treatment facility, for observation.

Moran said the court was in the process of removing Kormanik’s involvement in guardianship cases. Almost all of Kormanik’s law practice consisted of guardianship cases. To oversee many of them, he was paid thousands of dollars per case annually.

In an unprecedented move last month, the court began taking wards away from Kormanik after a five-part Dispatch series, “Unguarded,” showed how the guardianship system has been abused. Stories specifically questioned Kormanik’s billing practices and his extraordinary caseload.

The court removed about 50 of Kormanik’s wards last month and placed them in the care of Advocacy and Protective Services Inc., or APSI, which helps people with disabilities.

A probate judge or magistrate has the authority to appoint a guardian to take control of decision-making for a person who has been declared incompetent, also known as a ward. A guardian can request the relationship without ever meeting the ward or speaking to family members.

For the past two years, Franklin County Probate Judge Robert G. Montgomery has been trying to find a better way to handle guardianships and reduce the number of cases that are assigned to local lawyers.

The judge’s efforts got a boost this year when he got legislative approval to create a first-of-its-kind Franklin County Guardianship Service Board. Montgomery has said it will be a collaborative effort between the court and local charities and social-services organizations.

Under Montgomery’s plan, the three-member board would hire an executive director to serve as a guardian for the county’s hardest-to-serve residents, typically those wards with a mental illness who live outside a nursing home or other group setting.

The new agency would hire social workers to serve those wards. It would deploy volunteers and interns to work with other wards and visit them to check on their welfare.

Meanwhile, volunteers from the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging’s guardian program have assumed control of or are becoming guardians for about 35 of Kormanik’s former wards, many of them people who are receiving long-term care in nursing homes, said Julia Nack, director of the program.

In addition to questions raised in the Dispatch investigation, the court found several cases in which Kormanik misused a taxpayer-supported fund that pays attorney guardians up to $420 annually to handle legal matters for indigent people.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien also are investigating Kormanik’s billing practices and use of Medicaid funds.

Kormanik, 64, has said in repeated interviews and court hearings that he has done nothing wrong.

The Dispatch investigation found that several attorneys billed thousands of dollars in legal fees for nonlegal work. One billed a ward’s family to discuss the ward’s funeral arrangements with her relatives.

That lawyer, Kevin A. Craine, is under investigation by the Ohio Supreme Court’s disciplinary counsel, state and local authorities have said. The counsel is looking at possible ethics violations.

The probate court is not reviewing Craine’s cases.

Court officials said they are reviewing the cases of several lawyers but have declined to identify them.

Mashburn is not one of the lawyers being looked at by the court. He is one of the area’s longest-serving guardians; he has about 200 permanent cases and acknowledges that Kormanik is a friend.

Mashburn’s office now has temporary control of about 300 of Kormanik’s former cases. Those cases mainly involve caring for a person’s medical or personal needs.

“I had many conversations with the court, and we wanted to do the right thing because these people need help,” Mashburn said. “Whether it’s making sure people receive the proper medical care or other needs, we will make sure they get it.”

As for Kormanik’s troubles, Mashburn said: “I just feel bad about what has happened, and I hate to see things like this happen to anyone.”

Dispatch Reporter Mike Wagner contributed to this story.

Attribution:

Columbus lawyer gives up all guardianship cases
Lucas Sullivan
September 13, 2014
The Columbus Dispatch
http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/09/13/columbus-lawyer-gives-up-all-guardianship-cases.html

Share
News