Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Suspended for Defrauding Family Estate

A Lorain County attorney has been suspended from the practice of law for two years with one year stayed for fraudulently diverting funds from a family probate estate, including taking $5,200 to purchase a used BMW, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court suspended Diana Jancura of Sheffield Lake for professional conduct violations that occurred while handling an aunt’s estate.

Attorney Represents Cousin’s Estate
In 2003, Jancura created a trust for her cousin Christopher Kovach Sr. and his wife, Angela Ceo. Two years later Kovach died. In 2016, Ceo requested that Jancura revise the trust to name her mother, Candice Frantz, as a successor trustee. Ceo also asked Jancura to revise Ceo’s will to name Frantz as the guardian of Ceo’s 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 the trustee and guardian.

In 2018, Patricia DiRenzo died. DiRenzo was Kovach’s mother and Jancura’s aunt. DiRenzo’s will left her estate to her son, which passed to his minor children, since Kovach and Ceo were both deceased. Frantz was then in charge of managing the money from DiRenzo’s estate for the children.

Attorney Withdraws Fees and Funds From Estate
Jancura applied to have DiRenzo’s estate probated in Cuyahoga County Probate Court and became the estate’s administrator. Under the probate court’s local rules, Jancura was entitled to earn approximately $6,000 in fees to serve as an administrator. The court would also permit 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 when a lawyer serves as both the administrator and attorney for an estate, the attorney fee is half the standard fee. Therefore, Jancura’s total compensation for handling the DiRenzo estate was limited to $9,000 unless she applied for additional fees and provided supporting documentation.

In 2019, Jancura distributed funds from the DiRenzo estate into the trust of the two children. At that time, she withdrew $10,000 from the estate to pay her law firm. She documented the payment as legal fees related to representing Frantz as guardian and trustee to the children. She later withdrew $6,000 as her administrator fee from the DiRenzo estate.

Funds Withdrawn to Purchase Car
About five months later, Jancura withdrew money from the DiRenzo estate by writing a $5,200 check payable as “cash.” She used the cash to purchase a cashier’s check payable to James Kepler. Jancura and her husband, who was also her law partner, used the check to buy a 2003 BMW from Kepler.

Since Jancura had already received her $6,000 administrator fee, she was only entitled to $3,000 in attorney fees. Yet, a month after purchasing the car, she withdrew another $6,000 from the estate as her attorney fee. Her withdrawals from the estate, including the money used to purchase the car, totaled $27,200 .

In March 2020, Jancura’s husband filed a court motion to represent the DiRenzo estate. A month later, Jancura requested that the court approve another $6,000 in attorney fees, without disclosing that she already had withdrawn her fees from the estate.

Along with the request, Jancura filed an entry with the court stating that Kepler was paid $5,200 from the estate for work he performed for DiRenzo before she died.

Grandmother Suspicious of Estate Account
After receiving a copy of the estate’s account, Frantz hired another attorney to review the records. The lawyer requested from Jancura an accounting of expenses listed in her report, including the $5,200 paid to Kepler.

Jancura wrote to the lawyer that Kepler had provided services to DiRenzo. Although Jancura knew the content of the letter was false, she represented to her husband that it was true and had him sign the letter as the estate’s attorney. When Frantz’s lawyer requested more information, Jancura provided two fabricated receipts for labor and materials for work that Kepler had allegedly performed on 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 the estate administrator and order her to repay the attorney fees she had taken for administering the estate. She alleged Jancura committed fraud by paying Kepler with estate funds and attempting to conceal her conduct. Shortly thereafter, Jancura repaid the $5,200 to the estate.

In a deposition, Jancura admitted that she fabricated the Kepler receipts and withdrew more fees than allowed by court rules without seeking approval from the probate court.

Frantz settled her lawsuit with Jancura, and Jancura repaid the additional $22,000 she had taken from the estate.

Estate Handling Leads to Disciplinary Complaint
In 2021, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Jancura with the Board of Professional Conduct based on her handling of the estate.

Jancura and the disciplinary counsel stipulated, and the board agreed, that Jancura violated several professional conduct rules by falsifying evidence , making a false statement to a court, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

At her disciplinary hearing, Jancura testified she suffered from depression and began to meet with a therapist. She entered into a two-year Ohio Lawyer’s Assistance Program (OLAP) contract to attend therapy. However, the board’s report stated that Jancura does not appear to have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

The board reported that Jancura had acknowledged the wrongfulness of her actions, but did not appear to accept full responsibility. She at one point stated, “None of this would have happened but for COVID,” and blamed the pandemic lockdowns for many of her missteps. The board rejected that claim since she misappropriated the money five months before COVID lockdowns began.

The Court adopted the board’s recommendation that Jancura be suspended for two years, with one year stayed on the conditions that she does not engage in further misconduct and pays the costs of the disciplinary proceedings. The Court also required that to be reinstated, Jancura must comply with OLAP contract and any extension recommended by OLAP.

2022-0367. Disciplinary Counsel v. Jancura, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3189.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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