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In re Guardianship of Cooper

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Champaign

August 30, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF ROBIN COOPER

          Appeal from Probate Court Trial Court Case No. 2018-GI-13

          JANE A. NAPIER, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Champaign County Prosecutor's Office, Attorney for Appellee, Champaign County Adult Protective Services

          THOMAS M. KOLLIN, Attorney for Appellant, Robin Cooper

          OPINION

          WELBAUM, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Robin Cooper appeals from a judgment appointing a neutral third-party, Steve Massie, as the guardian of his person. Cooper contends that the trial court abused its discretion because the evidence established that appointing his fiancée, Janet Stricker, was in his best interest.

         {¶ 2} We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in appointing a neutral, non-related party as Cooper's guardian. Ohio does not have statutory preferences in this area. Courts generally appoint the next of kin, those with family ties, or someone acceptable to the ward, based on the theory that these people will be most concerned with the ward's welfare. However, courts have great discretion in this matter and are not required to appoint such persons. Instead, a stranger may be appointed as guardian if it is in the incompetent's best interests. There was ample evidence that the court's selection of a guardian was in Cooper's best interest.

         {¶ 3} Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

         I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 4} In August 2018, Steve Massie filed an application to be appointed the guardian of Cooper's person. Massie also filed a statement of expert evaluation by Dr. Amita Patel, who had examined Cooper in March 2018, and had found him mentally and physically impaired. Dr. Patel also deemed Cooper incompetent based on Cooper's poor decisions and poor safety awareness. An investigator's report was subsequently filed, noting that Cooper did not object to a guardianship, as long as Stricker would be his guardian.

         {¶ 5} The investigator questioned Cooper's judgment based on an Adult Protective Services ("APS") case describing abuse and neglect and a tumultuous relationship between Cooper and Stricker. He also noted that Stricker was demanding Cooper's money to pay for rent for her house trailer. As a result, the investigator stressed that if Stricker were appointed guardian, "abuse and exploitation issues would arise." In contrast, if Massie (a neutral third party) were appointed, "these issues would resolve." In addition, Cooper had been diagnosed with depression, dementia, and profound Parkinson's disease. The investigator, therefore, recommended that a guardian of Cooper's person be granted to assure that Cooper's physical needs were met.

         {¶ 6} On September 7, 2018, the trial court held a hearing on the guardianship. Cooper was represented by appointed counsel. At the hearing, the parties agreed that Cooper was incompetent and needed a guardian. They also stipulated to the statement of evaluation that had been filed.

         {¶ 7} The Champaign County Prosecutor, representing APS, also called several witnesses, including two deputies from the Champaign County Sheriff's Department; an APS worker; a supervisor for the Passport Program at Catholic Social Services ("Passport"), which provided home services to Cooper and Stricker; and the social services director at the Arbors, a nursing home where Cooper was living at the time of the hearing. The court also heard testimony from Cooper, Stricker, and Massie. After hearing the evidence, the court concluded that Cooper's best interest would be served by appointing Massie as guardian. The court finalized Massie's appointment on September 18, 2018, and this timely appeal followed.

         II. Alleged Abuse of Discretion

         {¶ 8} Cooper's sole assignment of ...


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