Bankruptcy Judge shuts down Ed Jonak Bankruptcy Petition preparation service

A case of great interest to bankruptcy filers and practitioners was recently decided by Bankruptcy Judge Gregory Kishel. Upon motion of the United States Trustee, and after two and a half years of litigation, the judge issued a blistering 55 page opinion (Judge Kishel McDermott v Jonak). To summarize, this guy has been practicing law without a license for years, he’s been shut down in Colorado and Wisconsin, and trying to shut him down in Minnesota has been tantamount to playing “whack-a-mole” as he simply reopens under a new name with a new format. Notwithstanding the judge’s order, he continues to this day to illegally operate his enterprise, by advertising on Highway 10, and with bus benches with his name on them that he buys then plops down near bus stops without permission of the city, the bus company, or the property owner.

Now granted, maybe I’m relishing because this guy is a threat to my practice, as he claims he can do for people what I do, only at about 70% of the cost. But he’s not a lawyer, can’t give legal advice (but does) and most importantly isn’t accountable to the Supreme Court disciplinary process, and doesn’t carry legal malpractice insurance. He claims that his clients have gotten discharges, so where’s the harm? That’s like saying “I drove home drunk last night and made it safely, therefore no crime was committed.”

 Judge Kishel states:

Filing for bankruptcy is serious business, even for a consumer-debtor with modest assets and a debt structure that seems straightforward. The number of abstruse pre- and post-filing issues is now considerable. They are both functional in nature (e.g., the daunting length of the necessary forms; the heightened statutory obligation to be complete and accurate in answering every last bit of it; timely dealing with the trustee’s requirements and the demands of secured creditors) and legal (e.g., recognizing and properly scheduling and treating interests in intangible assets; electing a claim of exemptions between state and federal law, which is a crucial option for debtors of modest means).

All of this is best, most safely, and most predictably handled through representation by a licensed attorney. Members of the legal profession, and only they, are presumptively competent to protect a debtor’s interests under the onus of such complications. As an ultimate backstop, an attorney is subject to objective professional standards of conduct and performance, which protect the general interests of the public and the personal interests of clients. And as an officer of the court, an attorney is obligated to promote the courts’ need to orderly manage their dockets.

Mr. Jonak hired an attorney to appeal this decision, and guess what? He and his attorney blew the deadline for the appeal. The case is currently pending a motion on Mr. Jonak’s request to extend the appeal deadline, and his request to stay the court’s decision pending the appeal. A hearing is scheduled on that matter before Judge Kishel on September 4, 2013 in Duluth.