Lawyer suspended for defrauding family estate
A Lorain County attorney has been suspended from practicing law for two years, with a one-year reprieve for fraudulently embezzling funds from a family probate estate, including taking $5,200 to buy a BMW from occasion, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.
In a unanimous opinion by Curiam, the Court suspended Diana Jancura of Sheffield Lake for breaches of professional conduct which occurred while managing an aunt’s estate.
Lawyer represents cousin’s estate
In 2003, Jancura established a trust for his cousin Christopher Kovach Sr. and his wife, Angela Ceo. Two years later, Kovach died. In 2016, the CEO asked Jancura to revise the trust to appoint his mother, Candice Frantz, as successor trustee. Ceo also asked Jancura to revise Ceo’s will to name Frantz as guardian of Ceo and Kovach’s two minor children.
Ceo died in 2016. Frantz became the guardian of her orphaned grandchildren and the trustee of the trust the parents set up for the minors. Frantz hired Jancura to represent her as trustee and guardian.
In 2018, Patricia DiRenzo passed away. DiRenzo was Kovach’s mother and Jancura’s aunt. DiRenzo’s will left his estate to his son, which passed to his minor children, since both Kovach and Ceo were deceased. Frantz was then in charge of managing the money from DiRenzo’s estate for the children.
Lawyer withdraws fees and funds from the estate
Jancura filed for DiRenzo’s estate to be probated in the Cuyahoga County probate court and became the estate administrator. Under local probate court rules, Jancura was entitled to earn approximately $6,000 in fees for serving as administrator. The court would also authorize the payment of $6,000 in attorney fees for an attorney to assist the administrator.
However, Cuyahoga County has a local court rule that states that when an attorney serves as both administrator and attorney for an estate, the attorney’s fee is one-half the standard fee. Therefore, Jancura’s total compensation for handling DiRenzo’s estate was limited to $9,000, unless she requested additional fees and provided supporting documentation.
In 2019, Jancura distributed funds from the DiRenzo estate to the two children’s trust. At that time, she withdrew $10,000 from the estate to pay for her law firm. She documented the payment as legal fees related to representing Frantz as the children’s guardian and trustee. She later withdrew $6,000 as an administration fee from the DiRenzo estate.
Funds withdrawn to buy a car
About five months later, Jancura withdrew money from the DiRenzo estate by writing a check for $5,200 payable in “cash”. She used the money to buy a cashier’s check payable to James Kepler. Jancura and her husband, who was also her legal partner, used the check to buy a 2003 BMW from Kepler.
Because Jancura had already received her $6,000 administration fee, she was only entitled to $3,000 in attorney fees. Yet a month after buying the car, she withdrew an additional $6,000 from the estate as attorney fees. His withdrawals from the estate, including the money used to buy the car, totaled $27,200.
In March 2020, Jancura’s husband filed a lawsuit to represent the DiRenzo estate. A month later, Jancura asked the court to approve an additional $6,000 in attorney fees, without revealing that she had already withdrawn her fees from the estate.
Along with the request, Jancura filed an entry with the court stating that Kepler received $5,200 from the estate for work he did for DiRenzo before his death.
Suspicious grandmother of the estate account
After receiving a copy of the account from the estate, Frantz hired another attorney to review the records. The attorney asked Jancura for an account of the expenses listed in his report, including the $5,200 paid to Kepler.
Jancura wrote to the attorney that Kepler provided services to DiRenzo. Although Jancura knew the contents of the letter were false, she told her husband it was true and had him sign the letter as the estate’s attorney. When Frantz’s attorney requested more information, Jancura provided two fabricated receipts for labor and materials for work Kepler allegedly performed at DiRenzo’s home. Jancura forged a signature for Kepler on one of the receipts.
In August 2020, Frantz filed a lawsuit against Jancura. She asked the probate court to remove Jancura as administrator of the estate and order her to reimburse the attorney fees she had taken to administer the estate. She alleged that Jancura committed fraud by paying Kepler with estate funds and attempting to conceal his conduct. Shortly after, Jancura repaid the $5,200 to the estate.
In a deposition, Jancura admitted that she fabricated Kepler’s receipts and withdrew more charges than court rules allowed without seeking probate court approval.
Frantz settled his lawsuit with Jancura, and Jancura repaid the additional $22,000 she had taken from the estate.
Estate management leads to disciplinary complaint
In 2021, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Jancura with the Ethics Council over his handling of the estate.
Jancura and disciplinary counsel stipulated, and the board agreed, that Jancura violated several rules of professional conduct by tampering with evidence, making a false statement in court, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud , deception or misrepresentation.
During her disciplinary hearing, Jancura testified that she suffered from depression and began meeting with a therapist. She entered into a two-year contract with the Ohio Lawyer Assistance Program (OLAP) to undergo therapy. However, the board report said Jancura does not appear to have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.
The board reported that Jancura admitted the wrongfulness of his actions, but did not appear to accept full responsibility. She said at one point, “None of this would have happened without COVID” and blamed pandemic lockdowns for many of her missteps. The council rejected this request as it embezzled the money five months before the start of the COVID lockdowns.
The court adopted the board’s recommendation that Jancura should be suspended for two years, including one year on the condition that she commits no further misconduct and pays the costs of the disciplinary proceedings. The Court also required that to be reinstated, Jancura must comply with the OLAP contract and any extension recommended by OLAP.
2022-0367. Disciplinary Council c. JancuraBrief Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3189.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and the news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for notable cases. Opinion summaries should not be considered official summaries or programs of judicial opinion. The full text of this decision and other court decisions is available online.
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