(News story) John Czarnecki, a Toledo lawyer respected for his criminal defense work and for patiently guiding those new to the legal profession, died Jan. 9 in his West Toledo home. He was 80.
He learned he had metastatic cancer in October, 2018, his daughter Amy Gustine said. He couldn't visit his office much at the law firm of Spengler Nathanson, but still kept in touch and worked to wind down his cases.
"My dad absolutely adored being a lawyer," she said. "He never intended to retire. He used to say, in fact, 'I'll just blow up at my desk.' That was his irreverent sense of humor."
Mr. Czarnecki practiced in state and federal court. Some of his clients were accused of tax fraud or other varieties of white collar crime. Others were immigrants seeking defense from prosecution.
"My dad was very dedicated to the idea that part of the democratic system is the rule of law and the fair application of it, no matter how much money you have or don't have," his daughter said. "He felt the strong need to play that role of a guardian. Just because you think they might be guilty doesn't mean you can cut corners. My dad had a soft spot for the underdog."
Judge Jack Puffenberger of Lucas County Probate Court, a former law student of Mr. Czarnecki's said: "He was one of the most highly respected lawyers in the Toledo area, that's for sure."
Keith Wilkowski in 1984 joined the law firm Cooper & Walinski, of which Mr. Czarnecki was part.
"John helped me as a young lawyer so many times I can't count them all," said Mr. Wilkowski, vice president of legal affairs for Block Communications Inc., which owns The Blade. "He had a calmness about him. You knew everything was going to be OK."
Mr. Czarnecki in 1991 received the Order of the Heel from the Junior Bar Association, an honor to recognize his work with young lawyers.
"He would let you try to work out and work through your thoughts and let you guide the conversation and ask probing questions about the best course of action - and fill in where you might be missing some of the finer points," said Sarah Skow of Spengler Nathanson. Her parents, Felicia and the late Judge William Skow, were longtime friends of Mr. Czarnecki's.
"He had an internal sense of justice and what was right and had an insatiable curiosity," Ms. Skow said. "He drew people to him from all walks of life, and he treated everyone with respect and dignity."
Early in his career, Mr. Czarnecki was appointed by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Walinski as a special master to oversee a federal order calling for improvements at Lima State Hospital, which housed those with mental illness.
In 2003, Mr. Czarnecki and attorney Jerry Phillips won a lawsuit filed years earlier on behalf of motorists - more than 20,000 were part of the class - whom the state improperly charged twice to get their licenses back after drunken driving convictions.
"John was universally wise," said Gerry Kowalski, a law partner for more than 20 years. "I never saw John get excited or rumpled. He was solid and believed he could to give good legal advice. Whether they could pay or not, he felt it was his obligation as a lawyer to help out."
He was born May 13, 1940 to Leona and Henry Czarnecki. An Eagle Scout and a member of Troop One at St. Adalbert Church, he was presented The Blade's Outdoor Award by Lou Klewer, the longtime outdoors editor, in 1955, for his many nature and conservation-related merit badges.
He worked to pay for his tuition at Central Catholic High School and later at the University of Toledo, from which he had bachelor's degree in business and his law degree.
He was a woodworker and a restorer of classic automobiles and motorcycles that had fallen to pieces.
"He was an active person and hardly ever sat down," his daughter said.
He was formerly married to Marguerite Milka Czarnecki.
Surviving are his wife, Sue Bedra; daughters Carrie Craun and Amy Gustine; and three grandchildren,
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a memorial service will be held at a later date. Arrangements were by Cremation Society of Toledo. The family suggests tributes to local animal rescue organizations or Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.
This is a news story by Mark Zaborney. Contact him at [email protected]
Published by The Blade on Jan. 17, 2021.