By Derek L. Graham
I’ll never forget what happened late in 2014 on a Friday afternoon driving to West Virginia to visit family. I had three crying daughters in the van and I foolishly answered my cell phone when an unknown call popped up. The person on the other end identified themself as a director of the Ohio Judicial College with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Few things grab an attorney’s attention like a call from the Ohio Supreme Court!
I distinctly remember pulling off on the side of the road and getting out of the van to evade screaming kids, while at the same time trying to hand signal to my confused wife that it was an important call. For the life of me, I could not think of what I had done wrong, but I was pretty sure a call from the Ohio Supreme Court meant I was in big trouble.
As it turns out, they wanted to know if I was interested in working with the Judicial College to develop and teach a six-hour course on guardianship of adults. I was just relieved that I was not being disbarred and so when I said yes, I had no real idea of how much work I had just signed up for.
In 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted new rules of superintendence that created some long overdue and major changes to how adult guardianship works in Ohio. There were a variety of influences that went into the rule changes, but all agreed that the rules needed to change.
One of the more controversial rule changes was the requirement that all guardians in Ohio be subject to an education requirement.
Initially guardians would need to complete a six-hour class and then thereafter a three-hour class annually. Every county Probate Judge had the authority to waive the education requirements, but initially few took that approach. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the approximately 50,000 Guardians that were appointed and serving at the time in Ohio were told they needed to complete a six-hour training class.
As you can imagine—for a lot of these parents / family members / volunteers, this requirement did not sit well and made them very angry. In fact, for many of these guardians, sitting through a six-hour class would be the first time they sat through six hours of anything since high school.
Developing the class was fun—but very challenging.
I partnered with an awesome co-teacher named Paula Taliaferro. Paula and I became instant friends. Her background was geared more toward nursing / dementia and elderly. She has all the medical credentials and background, but she is a social worker at heart. Her focus on the elderly and my focus on persons with developmental disabilities gave us a lot of synergy in creating the program. It was definitely a challenge though, as the course had to be created in less than five months. There was a lot of trial, error, and starting over in the creation of that course. It was really an incredible experience spending so much time at the Ohio Supreme Court building and I cannot say enough good things about the professionalism and support the Ohio Judicial College provided.
On May 15, 2015, it was time for the unveiling. Paula and I were asked to present the six-hour course to a room full of probate judges, magistrates, and industry stakeholders in the Ohio Supreme Court building. It was nerve-racking! All in all though, it was a success. Paula and I would go on teach that class over 35 times in 2015 and early 2016 and have taught it at least a couple of times every year since. We traveled all over the state and provided the guardianship training in a variety of formats and locations. We certainly met our share of grumpy and reluctant participants, but by the end of the day most who attended told us they were remarkably happy with how much they learned as compared to what they expected when they first learned of the class being required. I guess really low expectations are a good thing sometimes!
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of teaming up again with Paula and the Ohio Judicial College to re-make the six-hour course. In these Covid times, everything is online and via video, but we were able to again meet at the Ohio Supreme Court Building and film an updated version of the guardianship class. I’ve also been able to participate in several of the three-hour annual classes.
If you find yourself getting appointed to serve as a guardian and you have to take the six-hour class, I hope you will realize how much work went into the creation of that course. And if you don’t enjoy the class, well then you probably should have lowered your expectations. Either way, I still haven’t been disbarred and now I don’t even get as nervous when the Ohio Supreme Court calls me!