Previously published in OJC, For the Record (4th quarter, 2003). Republished with permission.
Judge, Butler County Probate Court, Butler County Ohio.
This is the eleventh article from the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mentally Ill in the Courts about effectively dealing with mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system. This article highlights the Butler County Volunteer Guardianship Program, a program that has made a difference in the lives of many of the people our Advisory Committee is trying to reach.
There are some answers that cannot be found in law books and there are some problems that cannot be solved in courtrooms. As a law student I never learned the importance of working with social service organizations, and during my years as a trial lawyer I never found it necessary to be involved with these groups. When I became a judge in 1995 my education started all over again, and I began to appreciate the value of these organizations to an effective court system.
The development of Butler County's Volunteer Guardianship Program began in 1994 with the formation of an ad hoc committee chaired by a magistrate from the Probate Court. The motivation for creating this committee was the increasing frequency of requests coming to the Probate Court for the appointment of guardians for persons who were indigent, without family support, and considered incapable of giving consent for major life decisions. Representatives from hospitals, aging and social service agencies, and the legal community participated in the early discussions.
By the end of 1995 the Committee adopted a mission statement calling for the needed program to provide mature, caring, qualified guardians for individuals whose mental impairments so incapacitate them that they are unable to care for themselves or make sound personal decisions, and to enhance the quality of their lives. Specifications for a volunteer guardianship program were agreed upon and bids were solicited. A local agency with a long history of providing services to the area's needy submitted a bid which was accepted by a collaborative formed by the local mental health and mental retardation boards and the Probate Court.
The Butler County Volunteer Guardianship Program began its operation in 1996 and since that time has been administered by Lifespan, a nonprofit social service organization that administers other programs that meet the needs of the elderly and the mentally...