Ohio lawmakers take action as court-appointed guardians come under fire

Ohio News

COLUMBUS (WCMH)- Being a Guardian Ad Litem or CASA volunteer is a thankless but necessary job. These attorneys or volunteers are meant to be a voice for the voiceless, but more and more workers in Ohio say they are being threatened on the job. Now, they want lawmakers to act.

RB Barms knows how important a guardian can be; she and her siblings were assigned one when her father was attempting to get visitation. She said he was abusive and they were able to talk to their guardian about what would be best for them.

“I don’t think that it would be the same, I don’t think our outcome would be the same if I had a different guardian,” Barms said.

Like so many guardians, Barms’ guardian said she was threatened and stalked by the father. Barms said she was always worrying about her guardian.

“We spent so long saying, ‘You need to be careful,’ and she really listened to us and really stuck there. She was our voice,” Barms said.

Barms’ story is not a unique one. Delileh Nunez, a central Ohio attorney, said the number of people willing to becoming guardians is dwindling.

“We’ve seen a lot of cases where parents are threatening guardians, they’re threatening them and even stalking them and unfortunately, in Franklin County, we’ve gotten so many complaints that a lot of guardians have stopped doing this kind of work,” Nunez said.

Barms was frustrated by what was happening to her siblings and her advocate. She began writing her experiences down in hopes someone would pay attention.

“I wanted anyone out there just to see this is wrong, this is what needs to be fixed,” Barms said.

Lawmakers paid attention to the issue, drafting House Bill 226. The bill will expand the offenses of intimidation and intimidation in a criminal case to include intimidation of a guardian ad litem or court-appointed special advocate and make intimidation a first-degree misdemeanor when the victim is a guardian ad litem or court-appointed special advocate and retains the third-degree felony penalty for intimidation of persons protected by existing law intimidation offenses.

“It is to say that we value you, we value the opinions that you do working right alongside working with this child,” said Rep. Gail Pavliga (R-Portage County).

House Bill 226 has had two hearings and lawmakers say they hope the process will move forward quickly once they are back in session.

“We’ve got to find ways to support the volunteers that are the backbone of our criminal justice system,” said Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus).

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