Monday, March 16, 2015

Ohio Supreme Court: New guardianship rules start June 1


Court-appointed guardians across Ohio will all have to follow the same set of basic requirements starting June 1 as they manage the affairs of Ohioans who are deemed unable to care for themselves — children, the elderly and people with mental disabilities.

The Ohio Supreme Court released a set of standards yesterday that will become the new minimum requirements for guardians statewide. Those rules had been left up to individual probate courts in Ohio’s 88 counties.

The new rules require training, monitoring and background checks and say that guardians must meet with their wards at least every three months.

A court-appointed committee had studied the issue for more than eight years before releasing a draft set of rules for guardians last spring — just as TheDispatch published an investigation in May that revealed how the state’s patchwork quilt of local rules has failed Ohioans.

The series, “Unguarded,” available online at Dispatch.com/unguarded, found widespread problems with the way some guardians were managing the care of their wards, including instances of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

The court pulled back the draft after receiving more than 100 pages of comments, prompted in part by the Dispatch series.

The committee work started in 2007 after national news stories raised an alarm about the lack of oversight in guardianship cases. While Ohio was one of the first states to form a committee to study the issue, much of the rest of the country raced ahead with comprehensive state standards.

Julia Nack is one of the state’s few certified master guardians and the director of the volunteer guardianship program at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging. She both commented on the draft rules and was part of the committee tasked with redrafting the rules based on that feedback.

She called yesterday’s decision by the court historic but cautioned that it is a first step.

“In general, these are positive steps forward, but not as rigorous as the national standards envision,” she said.

She would have preferred for the court to require guardians to visit wards more frequently than the four times a year outlined in the rules, for example, adding that the national model calls for monthly visits. But she concedes that the new rules are better than the previous standard, which required no visits.

In an unexpected move, the court also decided to make the rules apply to relatives who serve as guardians, according to a court news release.

Nack and other advocates had fought to make family members follow the same guidelines as lawyer guardians who charge a ward’s estate to perform the work, but that requirement was one that many of the state’s probate judges resisted.

Many judges on the committee that helped draft the rules said they feared they would not be able to find enough people to do the work if the rules were too stringent.

But feedback that the Supreme Court received also pointed out that many judges did not want to administer two classes of guardians.

Applying the rules to family members represents a sea change in Ohio, Nack said, and a long-overdue recognition of the power that guardians — family members or not — hold over the lives of the people in their care.

In fact, the Dispatch series provided numerous examples of family members who mistreated, neglected or stole from the relatives in their care.

It also showed that the lack of oversight by courts across the state allowed unscrupulous guardians — family members and court-hired guardians, including some lawyers — to take advantage of their wards.

One lawyer, Paul S. Kormanik, was indicted on 11 charges in January. One is a first-degree felony accusing him of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a violation of Ohio’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said at the time.

Kormanik, who once was responsible for more than 400 court-appointed wards, already was awaiting trial on two felony theft charges. He was re-indicted on those two charges in January, and nine charges were added.

Investigators with O’Brien’s office and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said Kormanik stole nearly $50,000 from four wards between 2009 and last year. The indictment says Kormanik, 65, hid assets from the court that belonged to wards and deposited them into his own accounts.

While the new rules could have gone further, Nack said, they provide improvements, including a training requirement for all current and newly appointed guardians, an ongoing education requirement, better monitoring of professional guardians who oversee more than 10 wards, a requirement that guardians undergo a criminal background check and a prohibition against appointing as guardians nursing homes or in-home care providers who are paid to serve the ward.

“I’m dancing around my office,” Nack said yesterday after learning that the rules would be implemented this year.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a news release that the rules align Ohio with standards set by the National Guardianship Association and raise the level of professionalism among guardians in the state.

“We know this has been a long process, but we have never lost sight that the ultimate goal is to provide our probate courts with effective means to ensure the safety and well-being of people who need our protection,” O’Connor said.

Full Article & Source:
Ohio Supreme Court: New guardianship rules start June 1

6 comments:

StandUp said...

Step one is getting the law changed and thanks to the Dispatch, that's been done. Now, enforcement is key.

Barbara said...

I agree StandUp. It takes fixing the law and then enforcing it. And enforcement will be a problem if the discipline committees don't step up.

Julie Crum said...

My father is a victim of Paul Kormanik - if there are other's out there make sure you notify the Probate Court of Franklin County, OH - they WILL listen!
This man is guilty of MANY more crimes than just the current indictments

NASGA said...

Julie - thanks for posting. We do hope you'll join NASGA and work for reform nationwide.

Join by going to our main website, www.StopGuardianAbuse.org, to the "Join NASGA Advocates for Reform Page."

1 C said...

I am floored my sister who is guardian of my mother refuses to let me take my mother out of nursing home for a vist or give me any medical info on her is this allowed

NASGA said...

1 C, it should be up to the facility to decide if your Mother could visit you out of the facility. Sometimes, it's not a good idea because of meds or perhaps the person needs too much care. But, we would suggest you try to work this out with your sister. Try to communicate with her without fighting - make it all about your Mother and what she wants. Sibling may fight their entire life (some for good reason, some not), but your Mother won't be with you forever. It should all be about her.