Estate Planning Lawyer Suspended for Misappropriating Funds

The Supreme Court of Ohio adopts the Board of Professional Conduct’s findings that an attorney committed misconduct by fraudulently misappropriating funds and attempting to conceal her wrongdoing, suspending her from practicing law for two years with one year stayed. In Disciplinary Counsel v. Jancura (Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3189, September 14, 2022).

Diana Jancura established a revocable trust for her cousin, Christopher Kovach Sr., and his wife, Angela Ceo, in 2003. After Mr. Kovach passed away, Ms. Jancura helped Ms. Ceo with her estate plan. She revised the trust to designate Ms. Ceo’s mother, Candice Frantz, as a successor trustee and as the proposed guardian of Ms. Ceo’s children, L.K. and C.K., in her will.

Following Ms. Ceo’s death, Ms. Franz retained Ms. Jancura to represent her as guardian of the children and successor trustee. Then, in 2018, Patricia DiRenzo, Jancura’s maternal aunt and the paternal grandmother of L.K. and C.K., passed away, leaving her estate to her grandchildren. Ms. Jancura became the estate’s administrator.

Although local rules restricted Ms. Jancura’s compensation as administrator and attorney to $9,000, she took $27,000 from the estate for her fees. She also took $5,200 from the estate for personal use. In a partial fiduciary account, she represented that the $5,200 was to repay “James Kepler” for work done for Ms. DiRenzo. The funds instead went toward paying for Ms. Jancura’s BMW.

Growing concerned, Ms. Franz retained separate counsel to review the estate. Ms. Jancura lied to Scott Jancura, her husband and law partner, about the transaction. He signed a letter supporting Jancura’s untrue claims. She also fabricated receipts for the $5,200, claiming Mr. Kepler had performed labor on DiRenzo’s home in 2018.

In 2020, Ms. Franz motioned for Jancura’s removal as estate administrator, denial of pending fees, and return of the misappropriated funds to the estate. During her deposition, Ms. Jancura admitted falsifying receipts for Mr. Kepler’s services, claiming the $5,200 was an attorney or fiduciary fee. She then resigned from the estate and withdrew her motion for attorney’s fees before she and Ms. Franz settled the case. Per the settlement, she repaid the $5,200, $12,000 in estate administration fees, and $10,000 in legal fees for the guardianship and trust.

The Board found that Ms. Jancura violated Ohio’s professional conduct rules in that she made a false statement, falsified evidence, lied, induced another lawyer to break the rules, was dishonest, and prejudiced justice. Explaining her actions, Ms. Jancura cited a bad relationship with Ms. Franz and Ms. Franz’ counsel, as well as COVID-19 shutdowns, childhood trauma, and “demonic thoughts.” The Board rejected her claims, as Ms. Franz was right to question the accounting and her attorney was not hostile. Recommending suspension, the Board relied on Disciplinary Counsel v. Gold, where an attorney also misappropriated funds and tried to cover up the wrongdoing.

Following the Board’s proposal, the Supreme Court suspends Ms. Jancura for two years with one year stayed, provided she commits no further wrongdoing and pays court fees. She must also comply with an Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program contract.

Access the slip opinion in PDF format.