Monday, December 7, 2015
Restitution for wards may be long fight
No feeling of relief.
On many nights, Metoyer had thought about what he’d say to Kormanik, a lawyer who had been appointed as guardian to Metoyer’s father, Albert.
In his final years, Albert Metoyer lacked proper medical care because Kormanik failed to file the right paperwork to enroll him for Medicaid, according to Franklin County Probate Court records. Kormanik liquidated the man’s assets and even interfered with the family’s plans for funeral arrangements.
It has been six weeks since Kormanik was found dead in his Upper Arlington home — the same morning that the longtime lawyer and guardian was supposed to appear in Probate Court on contempt charges for failure to pay restitution to a ward he had victimized.
Attorneys and friends close to the Kormanik family said he died by suicide. Official autopsy results are pending with the county coroner’s office.
His death brings more heartache and legal battles for families such as Metoyer’s who say that Kormanik victimized their loved ones.
Now, those who want restitution must spend thousands of dollars for attorneys and probably years in court proceedings, said several probate lawyers.
“People will usually have to file a claim against someone’s estate in these instances,” said John Mashburn, a probate lawyer.
Guardians such as Kormanik who oversee assets are required to be bonded or insured. Families also have the option to pursue action with those bonding agencies, attorneys said.
Before his death, Kormanik transferred his largest assets, such as his home, to his wife, according to county documents.
Probate Court officials declined to discuss what actions they are taking to ensure that families get their day in court, saying they can’t comment on cases that are before the court or might come before it.
Before Kormanik’s death on Oct. 5, the court had stripped him of his wards, and he surrendered his law license and pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts, including theft from an elderly or disabled person and tampering with records. He was to be sentenced on Oct. 20 for those crimes.
Two years ago, Kormanik had more wards — people deemed by probate courts to be unable to care for themselves — than any other lawyer in Ohio’s history.
Dozens of families came forward after The Dispatch found during a yearlong investigation that Kormanik and other attorneys were not taking proper care of wards and were misspending their money.
Investigations by the Probate Court and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien also found that Kormanik was stealing items from wards and, in some cases, giving the items to his staff members.
Hundreds of those things are unaccounted for.
Kormanik’s roster of about 400 wards was a byproduct of probate judges being overburdened by the demand for guardians. Several judges expressed concern to the Ohio Supreme Court about Kormanik’s actions as early as 2007, the Dispatch investigation found, but he kept accumulating wards.
Franklin County Probate Judge Robert Montgomery assigned wards to Kormanik until The Dispatch presented its findings.
Kormanik’s family has said he did nothing wrong. His daughter, in a written response after his death, said the Probate Court and the newspaper made Kormanik a scapegoat for a system in need of fixing.
Kormanik’s wife also has confronted court officials to express those sentiments.
His family members have asked The Dispatch never to contact them again.
Phil Metoyer carries the pain of his father’s final days as only a son can. He wanted control of the funeral for his father, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but Kormanik interfered.
“I pray for his family, but I wish Kormanik would’ve stood up and been a man about this,” Metoyer said.
Some wards’ families, such as the relatives of Richard E. Roberts, have hired attorneys who have been able to extract a few thousand dollars from the bonding company that insured Kormanik.
In the Roberts case, Kormanik stole a couch, lawn mower and rocking chair. Authorities found the lawn mower at the house of a former employee of Kormanik’s.
Roberts died on Oct. 20. With the help of an attorney, his relatives were able to do what Phil Metoyer couldn’t: bury their father and husband the way they wanted.
Julie Crum, Roberts’ daughter, said her father’s death and Kormanik’s suicide brought a blunt end to years of turmoil.
But the bitterness remains.
“All the heartache and tragedy over the last two years, and it all came crashing down in a two-week period,” Crum said. “My father’s case is coming to a close, and I hope that all the other families have found some closure as well.”
Judge Montgomery is still sorting out Kormanik’s wards. Court officials have reached out to relatives of his former wards to see if they are willing to take care of their loved ones.
Montgomery also created what he said is Ohio’s first public guardian in early October. He founded a Guardianship Service Board and appointed Jack R. Kullman Jr., a former magistrate in the state’s 10th District Court of Appeals, as the board’s director.
Kullman was appointed guardian of four wards on Oct. 1.
Other board members include Columbus defense lawyer Larry James. The board meets monthly; the next meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 17 on the 11th floor of 373 S. High St.
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