Paul S. Kormanik, a Columbus lawyer who was convicted of bilking people he was paid to protect, was found dead on Monday morning in his Upper Arlington home.
The Franklin County coroner confirmed his death and said that her office is investigating the cause.
A Columbus attorney who took over some of Kormanik’s wards said Kormanik died of an apparent suicide.
Kormanik, 65, was to appear in Franklin County Probate Court on Monday to answer a charge of contempt of court for not following a court order to pay back one of his victims. Court officials did not return a call seeking comment.
In August, Kormanik pleaded guilty to four counts of stealing from people for whom he was a court-appointed guardian, and to other charges connected to taking taxpayers’ money and falsifying records.
As late as last year, Kormanik had served as a guardian for about 400 wards and boasted that he had the most wards of any guardianship attorney in the nation.
His sentencing had been set for Oct. 20 and he faced multiple years in prison.
Upper Arlington Fire Chief Jeff Young confirmed that paramedics went to Kormanik’s home on Monday morning, but said he did not have any details about the call.
Kormanik’s family issued a statement after his death became public:
“We are devastated at the loss of Paul — a loving husband, father and friend. Despite The Dispatch’s woefully misguided and misleading stories about the guardianship program and Judge Robert Montgomery’s vendetta to make Paul a scapegoat, he was a compassionate attorney who worked tirelessly on behalf of his clients for decades.”
Kormanik, who gave up his law license last year, was one of several guardians highlighted in “Unguarded,” a five-part Dispatch investigative report in May 2014. The series raised questions about how county probate courts across the state handle the care of children, the elderly and people with mental disabilities who are deemed unfit to care for themselves.
The Columbus Bar Association brought 15 charges of misconduct against Kormanik and he was stripped of several wards by Judge Montgomery before Kormanik gave up control of the rest about a year ago.
Kormanik said in spring 2014 that he was trying to help hundreds of Ohioans who had no one else to handle their affairs. He said he was the person the court turned to when no one else cared.
In addition to spurring legal action against Kormanik, the stories caused state legislators, probate judges and the Ohio Supreme Court to enact reforms for the guardianship system.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also created new guidelines in a handbook that must be available to every guardian in the state.
Linda Gomez said she was stunned to hear of Kormanik’s death. Kormanik served as the guardian of Marcia Pendleton, Gomez’s mother, until about 18 months ago.
“I know his family must be in a lot of pain, like the rest of us who have gone through this nightmare, and I really feel for them,” Gomez said. “Mr. Kormanik knew he was guilty.”
Dispatch Reporter Encarnacion Pyle contributed to this story.