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TMCNet:  Lawyer accused of misusing funds: State panel reviews John Pawloski case

[February 23, 2009]

Lawyer accused of misusing funds: State panel reviews John Pawloski case

BELLEVILLE, Feb 23, 2009 (Belleville News-Democrat - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- State regulators have accused a metro-east lawyer of wrongdoing in his role as a public guardian, including the unauthorized use of $6,300 of a disabled adult ward's money on himself.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission claims in their complaint filed in November that when he allegedly took the money, John F. Pawloski was acting as a public guardian, an appointment made in each county by the governor to serve as guardian of minors or disabled adults when no family member or other person is interested.

But former Gov. Rod Blagojevich never appointed Pawloski as public guardian, a spokesman said. Illinois secretary of state records show St. Clair County hasn't had an appointed public guardian since 2004. The case in which Pawloski is accused and listed as public guardian was filed in 2007.

Pawloski, who has handled at least 10 disabled adult guardianship and estate cases in St. Clair County since 2004, also is accused by the ARDC of not communicating with a client about her deceased brother's estate case and of not cooperating with an investigation of his actions.

Pawloski has not been charged criminally in the cases. St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida said he received the case information from the ARDC and has the matter under review.

Pawloski did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment. His attorney, Van-Lear Eckert, declined to comment for this story.

Jim Grogan, panel spokesman for the ARDC, said Pawloski is not cooperating with the commission. His answer to the complaint was due at the end of December, and he has not filed one. He also failed to show up for a hearing on the case earlier this month.

It's not clear how Pawloski came to be called St. Clair County's public guardian.

St. Clair County Associate Judge Stephen Rice said that when he was appointed probate judge, he was told that Pawloski was the public guardian for the county, and he never heard differently or had reason to investigate whether this was true.

Public guardians were established by state law to step in when there is no one to act as guardian for minors and disabled adults. The Office of the State Guardian typically handles cases in which a ward has less than $25,000. Individuals who aren't the public guardian or with the Office of the State Guardian also can act as guardians for nonfamily members if they petition to do so and a judge approves them.

Rice last month removed Pawloski from three probate cases, including the guardianship case in which he is accused of taking money, and two 2007 estate cases. Pawloski was ordered to appear in St. Clair County probate court Tuesday to account for the money he handled in those cases.

Eckert has filed an objection in the two estate cases to the request for an accounting because he said filing the accounting, for Pawloski, "Would result in substantial hazards of self-incrimination that are real and appreciable." The ARDC said in its complaint filed in November that Pawloski, as public guardian of the person and estate for Frances V. Moll, then 86, used $6,300 from her checking and Money Market accounts for himself without asking permission from a judge.

The complaint also said that Pawloski, after being hired in 2006 to represent Linda Fields in handling the closing of her deceased brother's estate, stopped communicating with Fields and refused to return case documents to her.

Also according to the complaint, Pawloski didn't show up for a hearing in March in Springfield after the ARDC had subpoenaed him to testify and bring documents related to Fields' case.

Fields declined to comment for this story.

The ARDC also has accused Pawloski of unauthorized practice of law for about three months last year, during which time he had failed to register, as required annually, with the ARDC. Pawloski currently is registered with the commission.

In another St. Clair County case, Pawloski was removed as guardian of a disabled adult after Alton Mental Health Center administrators said he was difficult to reach and did not communicate well with the ward or the health center. Also in the guardianship case file are letters from the ward, then-64-year-old James Bauza, complaining about Pawloski's use of his money.

Grogan said another pre-hearing in Pawloski's case is scheduled for March 12.

Ultimately, an ARDC board will make a recommendation to the Illinois Supreme Court regarding Pawloski. He will have a chance to defend himself before the court. Sanctions could range from a formal reprimand, called censure, to the loss of his law license to practice in Illinois, or disbarment, Grogan said.

"Historically, where an attorney just doesn't show up, usually the sanctions could go from indefinite suspension to disbarment," he said.

Contact reporter Laura Girresch at [email protected] or 239-2507.

To see more of the Belleville News-Democrat, Ill., or to subscribe, visit http://www.belleville.com. Copyright (c) 2009, Belleville News-Democrat, Ill.

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