Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ohio Court Interpreter Guidelines

The Ohio Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Interpreter Services has published a “Handbook for Judges Using Court Interpreters” to consider in cases where interpreters are needed.

“The need for court interpreters in Ohio has never been greater,” Interpreter Services Program manager Bruno Romero said in the Court’s announcement earlier this week. “More than 25,000 interpretations involving more than 70 different languages are performed every year in Ohio, with Spanish as the most commonly interpreted language, followed by American sign language.”

Last year, the Interpreter Services Program developed & distributed a set of “bench cards” for judges working with foreign language interpreters and deaf & hard of hearing persons in the courtroom. The Court’s advisory committee said this handbook “offers detailed information on many issues surrounding court interpreters. Taken in tandem with the two bench cards, it addresses a unique topic on which judges should be fully informed so as to adjudicate applicable cases in a fair manner.”

(Press release here)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Transracial adoptions

An AP article this morning’s relates several leading child welfare groups urging an “overhaul of federal laws dealing with transracial adoption, and arguing that black children in foster care are ill-served by the so-called ‘color-blind’ approached meant to encourage their adoption by white families.”

At issue is the 1994 Multi-Ethnic Placement Act and revisions made to it in 1996. A report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, earlier this month, focused on domestic transracial adoption and assessed its use as a policy & practice approach in meeting the needs of African American children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their parents or placed with next of kin., according to the group. “While the passage of MEPA served a positive purpose in addressing discriminatory practices,” the report found, “more than a decade of experience illustrates that many of the assumptions underlying the development of this law and its subsequent amendment were not accurate and, consequently, the hoped-for outcomes have not been realized.” (Executive Summary)(Full Report)

Among the recommendations described in the report were:
· Reinforce in all adoption-related laws, policies and practices that a child's best interests must be paramount in placement decisions.
· Amend IEP to allow consideration of race/ethnicity in permanency planning and in the preparation of families adopting transracially.
· Enforce the MEPA requirement to recruit families who represent the racial and ethnic backgrounds of children in foster care and provide sufficient resources, including funding, to support such recruitment.
· Address existing barriers to fully engaging minority families in fostering and adopting by developing alliances with faith communities, minority placement agencies, and other minority recruitment programs.
· Provide support for adoption by relatives and, when that is not the best option for a particular child, provide federal funding for subsidized guardianship.
· To help families address their transracially adopted children's needs, provide post-adoption support services from time of placement through children's adolescence.
The Donaldson Institute report isn’t the first to reflect negativity on the matter. In September 1998 the GAO reported that “Implementation of the Multiethnic Placement Act Poses Difficult Challenges.” That report observed “while agency officials & caseworkers understand that this legislation prohibits them from delaying or denying placements on the basis of race, not all believe that eliminating race will result in placements that are in the best interests of children, which is a basic criterion for placement decisions.”

More recently, a Social Science Research Network paper by David Herring of the University of Pittsburgh, states “To date, commentators who have examined MEPA have focused their attention on identifying and weighing the benefits & harms of transracial adoption for minority children and communities. As a consequence, they have not addressed the impact of MEPA on foster care placement decisions in any detail…. This article uses behavioral biology research on kinship cues & social psychology to formulate a hypothesis that has implications for MEPA prohibitions on the routine consideration of race in making foster care placement decisions, namely that children placed with non-kin, same-race foster parents are likely to be safer & healthier than children placed with non-kin, different-race foster parents.”

Friday, May 09, 2008

Ohio Supreme Court upholds life sentence for rape committed as juvenile

The Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday held that the imposition of the state’s mandatory life imprisonment sentence for the forcible rape of an underage victim did not violate the defendant’s due process rights even when he was only 15 years old at the time of his crime, but hadn’t been prosecuted until he was 21. (Court Summary)

The case came out of Cleveland, Ohio, when, on November 12, 2004, appellant was charged in a 48-count indictment concerning events that occurred from June to August 1988, when he was 15 years old. The victim, a 9-year old disabled girl, had testified that she tolerated her being molested and hadn’t told anyone because the appellant had repeatedly threatened her, her family, and friends. The victim testified that she had not reported the incidents to police until 2004, when she happened to see an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the man being sentenced to prison in another case involving the sexual assault of a nine-year old girl.

While the Court acknowledged several U.S. Supreme Court holdings that criminal sentencing of juvenile offenders should reflect a diminished level of culpability – i.e., Roper v. Simmons, and Bellotti v.Baird – the Court here stated that its 2002 decision in State v. Walls “so essentially undermines the appellant’s position that he cannot prevail on his claim that his mandatory life sentence violates due process principles of fundamental fairness.”

In a concurring opinion. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, joined by Justices Lundberg, Stratton, and O’Donnell, noted a number of “troublesome” facts in the case, including the 16-year delay between the crime and its prosecution, a lack of physical evidence, and the imposition of a mandatory life sentence on a defendant who was 15 years old at the time of the crime.

Justice Paul Pfeifer, who had dissented in the Court’s 2002 Walls decision, again dissented, reinterating his view that the application of a mandatory life sentence for an offense committed by a 15-year old “Ignores the state’s distinctions between how it treats juveniles and how it treats adults.”

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Review of Ohio Workers' Compensation final settlement cases

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is trying to figure out the impact of the April 16th. Supreme Court ruling that sided with an injured worker with a low IQ and limited reading skills who broke his leg in a fall at a Galion factory back in 1997. (See Article)

In that case, State ex rel. Wise v. Ryan, the injury was incurred in 2005, there had already been surgery, and Wise was receiving temporary total disability when he was approached by his employer’s third party administrator purporting final settlement of his claim. Wise settled his claim but did so without the benefit of an attorney’s assistance; five years later, with that assistance, he sought to reopen his case – which is where the current situation ended up.

Central to the case is ORC § 4123.65, which was amended two years ago. Wise was given a standard form from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, which instructed the parties to “clearly set forth the circumstances by reason of which the proposed settlement is deemed desirable.” That portion of the form had been left blank. The Court found, too, that “the claimant had a fourth grade comprehension level, but the settlement agreement is obviously written in legal wording that is well beyond that which could be read & understood by a fourth-grader.”

“R.C. 4123.65(A)’s language is mandatory,” the Court said, “not permissive…. Moreover, the requirements of R.C. 4123.65 demand strict compliance.”

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ohio Supreme Court OKs consecutive sentencing from seperate courts

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously held, yesterday, that a trial court sentencing a defendant has the authority to order that the sentence imposed for the current offense be served consecutively to sentences previously imposed by another court for the same offense. ( Decision )( Court’s Summary )

Defendant in the case appealed a 2005 three-count felony conviction in Miami County, Ohio, received at the time when he was already serving a 10-year prison sentence for robbery and firearms convictions from Montgomery County in an unrelated case. His argument was that, in light of Ohio’s sentencing guidelines Foster, two years ago, which severed some felony sentencing statutes, state law now authorized prison terms for multiple offenses to be served consecutively only when those sentences are imposed by a single court and single proceeding.

The 2nd. District Ohio Court of Appeals rejected that argument, affirming the trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentences, but certified it as a question of law in conflict with an earlier, 2002 5th. District decision.

Justice Robert Cupp, in citing Stewart v. Maxwell [ 174 O.St. 180 (1963)], wrote: A long-standing principle of constitutional law is that the authority of the trial court to impose sentences derives from the statues enacted by the General Assembly…. Once the legislature has defined the crime and established punishment the trial court is to impose, the foregoing constitutional law principle further holds that, ‘in the absence of the statute stating otherwise, it is a matter solely within the discretion of the sentencing court as to whether sentences shall run consecutively or concurrently.”