Lawyer’s work as guardian prompts ethics-violation case (OH)

A Columbus lawyer facing felony charges that allege he mistreated his wards while serving as their court-appointed guardian now faces ethics violations in the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Columbus Bar Association brought 15 charges of misconduct this week on three separate counts related to actions by Paul Kormanik while he served as guardian of several wards.

Kormanik also is awaiting trial on 11 felony charges filed by the Franklin County prosecutor’s office. One of those charges is a first-degree felony accusing him of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a violation of Ohio’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The ethics charges against Kormanik include misuse of funds, failing to provide competent representation and making false statements. If the court’s Board of Professional Conduct finds that Kormanik is in violation, his law license could be revoked.

The bar association says in one count that Kormanik’s actions were detailed prominently in a five-day Dispatch series, “ Unguarded,” that found gaping holes in the state’s guardianship system that have left thousands of Ohioans vulnerable to physical, mental and financial abuse.

Kormanik was one of several guardians detailed in the Dispatch series for their questionable treatment of wards. The Dispatch investigation found in several cases that probate courts either did not follow their rules meant to protect wards or had no rules at all.

Another attorney guardian highlighted in the series for questionable legal billing and potential conflicts of interest was Kevin Craine. Craine, a lawyer in Upper Arlington, is part of a separate ethics investigation, according to sources within the court and the bar association.

The first count against Kormanik also states that an investigation by the Franklin County prosecutor’s office, launched after The Dispatch began asking questions about guardianships, found that Kormanik illegally controlled 10 bank accounts for wards for whom he was guardian of their person only.

Franklin County Probate Court rules allow a guardian to control a ward’s finances only if the court has appointed that person to take charge of the ward’s estate.

Kormanik also is accused of stealing from taxpayers by making his wards appear to be indigent, according to the ethics complaint. That allowed him to collect money from the Probate Court’s indigent fund, which uses taxpayer dollars to pay attorneys for legal work done for people with no money.

When ordered by the court to return the indigent money he personally collected, Kormanik repaid the funds using money from the wards’ bank accounts that he was illegally controlling, according to the complaint.

Kormanik also is accused of not notifying beneficiaries to the trust of Paul W. Earhart after Earhart’s death in 2010. The beneficiaries filed a grievance in 2013 saying that Kormanik had never contacted them about settling Earhart’s estate. The estate remains open.

“Estate assets have been spent needlessly to store descendant’s property due to (Kormanik’s) failure to simply distribute the assets to the beneficiaries,” the complaint reads.

The final count states that Kormanik “has failed to cooperate or coordinate an orderly transfer of his files and practice” to interim guardians.

Kormanik resigned as guardian from all his wards in August after a voluntary psychiatric evaluation found that his “memory impairment and increased symptoms of anxiety/depression” made him unable to care for them.


Lawyer’s work as guardian prompts ethics-violation case
Lucas Sullivan
April 16, 2015
The Columbus Dispatch