This should be top item on Ohio legislature’s new-year agenda
A bill that would have accomplished this was left for dead by the lame-duck legislature earlier this month. The anti-abortion lobby seized on a ward’s “Bill of Rights,” whose provisions included a privacy-of-the body clause, as an opening for young girls to demand abortions. That’s a real stretch, given that the majority of Ohio’s 65,000 court-appointed wards are elderly, but the bill ran out of time to iron out the totally unexpected opposition.
House Bill 624 would have codified appropriate legal guidelines for guardians who are entrusted with making personal, financial and medical decisions in their ward’s best interests.
The crying need for this was demonstrated a week ago in a Franklin County probate courtroom, where two wards’ families accused attorney Paul S. Kormanik of looting their loved ones of valuable belongings, family heirlooms and cash.
They became suspicious after reading a Dispatch series, “Unguarded,” that detailed the lack of oversight of unscrupulous guardians by probate courts that are either negligent or complicit.
The newspaper detailed stories of wards stripped of everything: their freedom, homes, treasured belongings and dignity. Meanwhile, some attorney guardians siphoned accounts by charging high legal fees for ordinary work, or they hired their families and paid them from the wards’ accounts.
Among the worst, according to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, is Kormanik. At one time, he boasted his 400 wards probably made him the biggest guardian in the nation. Today, he faces two felony theft charges that could send him to prison for 4½ years.
Those criminal charges are unrelated to the probate court claims heard last week. If substantiated, O’Brien should pursue additional charges. Each and every victim deserves justice.
Likewise, the allegations raise concerns as to whether tax fraud was involved. Prosecutors should update the IRS, which has a talented pool of investigators who can root out financial misdeeds.
According to the probate-court testimony, more than $55,000 and valuable furnishings are unaccounted for from the Bexley home of a 91-year-old woman.
An elderly Galloway man’s home was missing at least 49 items, a daughter told the court. But one item did turn up: A riding mower is at the home of Kormanik’s paralegal, Julie Whisner. Her family has been using it for the past year. After initially refusing to return it, they’d agreed to — for a $120 delivery fee.
The family still hasn’t gotten the mower back.
Kormanik, who has since resigned or, in other cases, been removed from managing the affairs of his wards, invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege and declined to answer questions in court.
“This has been nothing but a nightmare,” said Linda Gomez, the daughter of the Bexley woman.
Ohio’s broken guardianship system demands repair. People are suffering.
State Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, who co-wrote the guardianship bill with Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, vowed to reintroduce the bill with clearer requirements in the new session.
Lawmakers should take up this bill immediately and pass these protections.
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Guardianship bill needed