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Daily Court Reporter - News Supreme Court of Ohio considers obligations in adoption case

 

Supreme Court of Ohio considers obligations in adoption case

Kathleen Maloney, Supreme Court of Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday, January 8th, heard three oral arguments, including one from a stepfather in Hamilton County who argued that he doesn’t have to obtain consent from the father of his wife’s child to pursue an adoption because the father didn’t support the child. A court determined the father wasn’t required to pay child support, but the stepfather maintains that the father owed additional duties of support to the child.

Oral Arguments Scheduled

The session started at 9 a.m. with the cases being heard at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.

Summaries Available

Below is a summary of the three arguments that were heard on January 8th. Along with the descriptions in this article, the Office of Public Information has released in-depth summaries of the cases available online at: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/previews/19/0108/0108.asp#.XC4Q8M17mUk

Brief summaries of the cases are available below:

In Re Adoption of B.I., Case nos. 2018-0181, 2018-0182, 2018-0350, and 2018-0351

First District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County)

ISSUE:

When a court doesn’t require a parent to pay child support, does that court order supersede a parent’s duty of maintenance and support and therefore require someone seeking to adopt a child to obtain the parent’s consent?

BACKGROUND:

In May 2012, Kristen and Greg Iredale were married. In a prior relationship, Kristen Iredale had a child, identified as B.I., with Gary Burbage II. The parents didn’t marry.

Kristen Iredale had obtained an order in March 2009 from the Clermont County Juvenile Court requiring Burbage to pay child support. The same month, Burbage was imprisoned. During his incarceration, the court waived Burbage’s overdue child support payments and reduced his obligation to zero. B.I.’s mother later testified that she had requested the action because otherwise, she believed, Burbage would be sent back to prison for non-payment of child support once he was released.

In February 2016, Greg Iredale filed paperwork in Hamilton County Probate Court to adopt B.I. The petition stated that Burbage’s consent wasn’t necessary because he failed without “justifiable cause” to provide for his child’s maintenance and support for the year preceding the adoption filing. Burbage objected to the stepfather’s adoption of B.I.

Burbage earned $18 per month in prison, for a total of $234 in the year preceding the February 2016 adoption filing. Burbage’s parents and a friend deposited $5,152 into his prison account during that time. Burbage spent about $4,681 that year on purchases from the prison commissary, mostly on food.

A Hamilton County Probate Court magistrate determined that Burbage wasn’t required to consent to the adoption because he gave no maintenance or support to his child during the prior year. A state law, R.C. 3107.07, mandates parental consent for adoptions, but creates an exception if a parent “has failed without justifiable cause … to provide for the maintenance and support of the child as required by law or judicial decree” in the year before the adoption filing.

However, the probate judge overruled that decision, noting the fundamental parental rights at stake and finding that the zero child support order represented justifiable cause.

Greg Iredale appealed to the First District Court of Appeals, which upheld the probate court’s ruling. The stepfather appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which decided to hear the matter. The Supreme Court also agreed to review a conflict on this issue between the First District’s ruling and a Fifth District Court of Appeals case, In re Adoption of A.S. (2011).

State of Ohio v. Susan L. Gwynne, Case no. 2017-1506

Fifth District Court of Appeals (Delaware County)

ISSUES:

When an appellate court reviews a criminal sentence under R.C. 2953.08(G)(2), can the court consider the “seriousness” and “recidivism” factors listed in R.C. 2929.11 and R.C. 2929.12 to reduce or modify a trial court sentence?

When a defendant waives the right to appeal as part of a plea agreement, can an appellate court review the merits of a filed appeal?

BACKGROUND:

In 2004, Susan Gwynne began working as a nurse’s aide in various nursing homes and assisted living facilities around central Ohio. She developed a drug addiction and was terminated from her assignments based on drug use and theft claims. Gwynne then began to wear her work uniform to facilities where she had worked and would take cash and other items from elderly residents of the facilities.

The practice continued until 2016 when the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department began to investigate her. Deputies searched her house and discovered numerous plastic bins filled with stolen items. Many of those items could be traced to 46 elderly individuals.

A Delaware County grand jury indicted Gwynne on 101 counts, of which 30 were second-degree felony burglary charges. The remaining charges were felonies and misdemeanors of lesser degrees. She faced a possible sentence of 320 years in prison if convicted of all the alleged crimes.

In September 2016, Gwynne entered an agreement with the state to plead guilty to 46 charges and to pay restitution to her victims. The agreement left Gwynne facing a maximum of 160 years in prison. As part of her plea agreement, she agreed to waive her right to appeal. Prosecutors recommended to the trial court that she receive 42 years in prison.

In November 2016, a trial court sentenced her to both consecutive and concurrent sentences on the 46 counts for a total of 65 years in prison. Within a month of the sentence, Gwynne appealed to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, arguing the sentence was disproportionate to the crime.

The Fifth District ruled that the prison term imposed by the trial court for each charge was warranted. However, the court found the total sentence was “clearly and convincingly contrary to law.” The Fifth District reduced the sentence to 15 years.

The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office appealed the Fifth District’s decision, arguing that since Gwynne waived her right to appeal, the Fifth District was without jurisdiction to consider the case. The state also argued the appellate court is restrained by R.C. 2953.08(G)(2) in the information it can use when modifying a trial court’s decision, and that the court didn’t follow that law when it changed the sentence. The prosecutor appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

State of Ohio v. Shawn E. Ford, Case no. 2015-1309

Summit County Common Pleas Court

ISSUE:

The Ohio Supreme Court will consider the automatic appeal of Shawn E. Ford, who was convicted for the March 2013 felonious assault of his girlfriend, Chelsea Schobert, and the April 2013 murders of her parents, Margaret and Jeffrey Schobert. The trial court sentenced Ford to death in June 2015.

BACKGROUND:

The weekend after Chelsea Schobert’s 18th birthday in March 2013, she, Ford, and a few friends celebrated her birthday at the home of one of Ford’s friends. Schobert was injured and hospitalized. She, Ford, and the two friends initially told police she had been hurt during a drug deal in Kent.

While Schobert was hospitalized, her parents decided she shouldn’t have contact with anyone except them.

On April 2, 2013, a contractor working at the Schoberts’ home in New Franklin Township, south of Akron, discovered Schobert’s parents dead in their bedroom. Both died of blunt force trauma inflicted with a sledgehammer, found in the bedroom. Jeffrey Schobert also had been stabbed. Some personal items were stolen, along with a vehicle.

That same day, police arrested Ford, then 18, for falsification in his statements to law enforcement about the assault on Chelsea Schobert. An inmate housed with Ford in jail contacted police and told them Ford had shared information about the Schoberts’ murders.

Ford and a juvenile were charged in the murders. Ford was indicted on 11 counts, including the aggravated murders of Margaret and Jeffrey Schobert, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and the felonious assault on Chelsea Schobert, along with death-penalty specifications.

The friends with Ford and Schobert the night of the assault testified at trial that there was no drug deal in Kent. Ford assaulted her, they stated, and one said he saw Ford get a knife. Schobert testified, also saying that Ford attacked her.

The state argued that, 10 days after the assault, Ford and the juvenile accomplice went into the Schobert home and beat Jeffrey Schobert to death. They then waited for Margaret Schobert to arrive home and killed her.

After jury deliberations began, two jurors were excused for different reasons, and alternate jurors took their places. The jury found Ford guilty on all counts. Following the trial’s October 2013 mitigating phase, the jury recommended the death penalty for Margaret Schobert’s murder and life without parole for Jeffrey Schobert’s murder. The trial court agreed, imposing those sentences and an eight-year prison term for the felonious assault.

Because Ford was sentenced to death, he is entitled to an automatic appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. He has submitted 23 legal arguments to the Court asking to overturn his conviction and death sentence.

Date Published: January 23, 2019

 

Supreme Court of Ohio

 

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