Lawyer John Mlnarik Ousted as Rotary President; New Details Emerge About His Misconduct

Santa Clara attorney John Mlnarik is suspended from practicing law for at least a year after the California State Bar busted him for charging clients without their permission and, in one instance, for work he didn’t even do.

He could’ve fared worse. The 10-year barrister could very well have been disbarred for the kind of misconduct he admitted to. Cal Bar showed mercy, as we reported earlier this month, because Mlnarik had no previous disciplinary actions and because he made a convincing case of being an upstanding citizen who tirelessly volunteers for community organizations and his local parish.

Source: Cal Bar

But one jilted client says the lawyer’s skullduggery was more alarming, and more widespread, than public records indicate (more on that later). And at least one of the service groups to which Mlnarik dedicated his time—and in his response to the State Bar cited as proof of his upstanding character—wants nothing to do with him now.

The Rotary Club of Santa Clara, which appointed Mlnarik to serve as president from last summer to the next one, cut his term short once they found out how he (mis)treated clients and kept everyone around him in the dark about the resulting investigation.

“If I were president of the club, knowing that this is for the community and all that, I would come forward and say, ‘Listen, I’m going to step aside because of this and I don’t want to be a distraction,’” a longtime Rotarian, who requested anonymity, tells Fly.

Mlnarik didn’t do that. He reportedly remained at the helm, which put the Rotary board in the awkward position of having to oust him.

“Santa Clara Rotary is a great club, a very dynamic club; we do a lot of great stuff in the community, provide scholarships and do things for the greater good,” the source explains. “People also donate their time and money to us, so we need people with trustworthy character to lead.”

Mlnarik, who has yet to respond with comment, is evidently not that kinda guy.

According to Kia Friedman, who reported him to the State Bar, he’s worse.

“The State Bar complaint doesn’t tell the full story,” she says. “He didn’t just bill us improperly, he committed outright fraud.”

Cal Bar’s Nov. 28 ruling cites two cases, one involving charging a client named Aro Ebenhahn $6,200 after he already fired Mlnarik. In making the unauthorized expense, the disgraced attorney “intentionally committed an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption ...,” the decision states.

The other case involves a client named Ludette Storozinski and Friedman, who offered to foot the bill so her friend, who was in dire need, could hire an attorney to help renegotiate her mortgage.

An analyst determined that someone forged the signature of one of John Mlnarik's clients to justify him charging her thousands more dollars than was agreed upon. (Source: Fisher Forensic Inc.)

Cal Bar’s account is accurate but incomplete, Friedman claims, echoing a comment she left on the Santa Clara Weekly website that disappeared shortly after Fly emailed Mlnarik to ask him about it.

What the Cal Bar ruling does state is that Friedman agreed to fork out a $5,000 advance before Mlnarik would commence work on her friend’s case, that Mlnarik never obtained authorization to accept that payment and then proceeded to rack up an additional $13,828 even though the work wasn’t getting done. He then charged the entire amount to Friedman’s credit card without her consent a day after Storozinski terminated his service.

What the complaint leaves out, Friedman says, is that Mlnarik or someone under his watch allegedly forged her friend’s signature. Friedman even hired Patricia Fisher, a forensic document examiner with 30 years of experience, to prove it.

In comparing Storozinski’s signature on three documents, Fisher determined that Mlnarik had indeed faked the client’s credit card authorization. Whoever forged the signature, Fisher wrote, did so by cutting it from one document and pasting it on another. In the process, she concluded, the person cutting and pasting failed to align the signature block accurately. A dead giveaway.

“When she put up one signature up against another and found out it was a perfect match, I realized that it wasn’t all in my head,” Friedman says.

She prevailed over Mlnarik in fee arbitration, but because it was non-binding, Friedman says, he refused to pay. Then, he sued to keep the cash, forcing her rack up tens of thousands more dollars in legal fees the arbitration deal would have required him to pay if she won the case. To avoid the prospect of owing her more than he already did, according to Friedman, he withdrew his lawsuit and left her to foot the bill.

Mlnarik only returned what he wrongfully charge in October last year—after he found out Friedman complained to the State Bar. “It wasn’t out of the goodness of his own heart,” she scoffs. “He knew he had to.”

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10 Comments

    • How stupid are these people. They are supposed to be community leaders. By reading this article they seem like stupid people and they kept enabling him

  1. The charges against the lawyer are very serious, if not criminal. Moral turpitude should cause disbarment. The State Bar punishment is a wrist slap. The victims should appeal to the Supreme Court, which should revise punishment to disbarment.

    Just another example that there is no accountability for local, connected lawyers in District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s county. Rosen and his people will not hesitate to throw the book at the poor and low level offenders, while ignoring egregious white collar crime.

    • I totally agree with you! What is wrong with this California Bar Assiciation? This is a joke! Is the BAR’s mantra “criminals representing criminals?”

  2. Good question, Theri.

    And apparently the same questionable culture is found in Mlnarik’s law office. I had some work done there by an attorney who was an employee of Mlnarik’s. He told me the work would not cost more than $X,XXX. However, he wanted a much larger retainer (deposit).

    I asked him why, reminding him that he’d just assured me that the work would cost substantially less. After some back and forth discussion, we finally agreed on a deposit amount that pretty much split the difference between his retainer demand, and what he told me the job would cost.

    But when the job was done… I got zero dollars back! Amazingly, the job turned out to cost my what my retainer was. What are the odds, eh?

  3. Historically Rotarians have been a tremendous asset to local communities. Their work is largely responsible for Polio being eradicated from our lives.

    Individual Rotarians have been mentors to our youth and leaders in our community. It is time for Rotarians to continue their important work with an eye to the complexities of our modern society.

    San Jose’s Rotary Club has been used as a venue for events involving local lawyers and Judges that has caused the public great alarm. A young photojournalist was asked to film a local bar association event at the San Jose Rotary Club on December 2, 2016. The event had uniformed officers and judges singing with lawyers about all of the money they take from families in divorce cases. Catering kickbacks were reportedly provided to public officials and court staffers from the Fairmont Hotel through Lew Wolff’s.

    Reports to the county’s Whistleblower program and internal affairs went nowhere. Complaints to the State Bar and the Commission on Judicial Performance went nowhere.

    Two years later the local bar has not paid the photojournalist they asked to photograph their holiday party, while Mlnariak was in a leadership roll at both the Rotary and the local bar association. Lawyers and judges not paying their bills while collecting their fees like predatory credit card companies, are simply shameful. A disgrace to the legal system.

    Good for Kia Friedman, she helped her friend and she spoke out to hold a lawyer accountable, something apparently the State Bar and the San Jose Rotary were reluctant to do.

    John Mlnarik continues to get a free pass from the Santa Clara County District Attorney who is known for giving attorneys and public a free pass when it comes to white collar crimes.

    Maybe the fact that James Towery and his wife, Karyn Sinunu Towery, have been active with the San Jose Rotary is an indication of how Rotarians grew too trusting of unethical lawyers willing to steal from their clients and taxpayers.

    Where else in America can you steal from clients, commit fraud, and get nothing more than a hand slap.

    P.S. Shame on the Santa Clara Weekly for taking down Kia Friedman’s post. Hope Freidman files a police report for fraud. Let’s keep stacking up the police reports on lawyers that the DA tosses in the round file. That file is going to get Rosen Recalled and Disbarred.

  4. I had an experience with this attorney that I believe was immoral reprehensible and warrants that he and any of his associates with similar behavior should be disbarred permanently. I believe he engaged in behavior that was condescending, discriminatory, and agree with the complaining parties that he falsely charges for services not provided. I thought it was just me and it happened over a year ago. I wanted to come forward and now I wish I had. I wish this had been more public and that they had reached out to any parties involved so that we all could’ve submitted complaints at that time. Regarding his Rotary connection, it should be noted that the current president seemed to be highly supportive of him remaining ( and appears close friends) and in my opinion the entire organization should be restructured and parties that were aware of his behavior yet turned a blind eye should possibly be removed from office….. I would choose to associate with another Rotary club.

    Kudos to Kia for standing up to the system and fighting for justice, something the rotary and Mlnarik should be doing

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