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Stormer making mark on probate court

2/21/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

New Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer said she wants the court to have more community outreach.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer doesn’t hesitate when asked about her experience so far as the new judge of Summit County Probate Court.

“This is a joy,” she said, adding that she “absolutely” plans to be on the ballot again in 2014 for the bench’s full six-year term.

“It’s problem-solving, and I enjoy that,” she said.

Probate court deals with issues of estates and property, guardianships, contested wills, adoptions and myriad other things that the judge said she is learning about every day. For instance, she noted she had just discovered that the probate judge is the one who allows a body to be exhumed from a cemetery, regardless of whether it’s because a family wishes to move it or it’s involved in a court case.

“You get little slices of people’s lives here,” Stormer said. “The cases are a bit different, but they are all [about] people. I’m dealing with similar problems; they just have different titles.”

Stormer was elected to the current unexpired term after more than 20 years on the bench in the Akron Municipal and Summit County Common Pleas courts.

A Democrat, she represents a change after Republicans held the seat for decades. Longtime Judge Bill Spicer retired in July 2011 after more than 30 years on the bench. Ohio Gov. John Kasich appointed Todd McKenney to replace Spicer, but when the time came for candidates to file for the 2012 General Election for the seat, fellow Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty was the Republican candidate against Stormer, who won the election with 53 percent of the votes.

Stormer, a Northwest Akron resident, said she has made some changes in the court’s staff since taking office. She eliminated the court’s bailiff and instead has a deputy court administrator who focuses on community outreach. She said she also eliminated most of the supervisors in the clerk’s office and now has one deputy clerk. She does hope to add some staff in that office because it is understaffed due to retirements that weren’t filled because of the county’s hiring freeze.

The court also went from having four full-time magistrates to two full-time and two part-time magistrates, and Stormer is taking on a third of the caseload, she said.

She said about an even number of staff members left on their own or stayed temporarily because of the change in officeholders.

“There were two magistrates who stayed who have a wealth of knowledge,” she said.

Stormer said McKenney was helpful with the transition, and she also attended a week of training in Columbus for new probate judges. But she had worked on some probate cases while in private practice, so the court was not completely new to her, she added, as the code has essentially stayed the same.

One of Stormer’s goals if elected was to bring more community outreach to the court. In the past few weeks, she rolled out a Help Desk pilot program that will allow those with questions to meet with one of two licensed attorneys for assistance with topics such as name changes and simple estate transfers. The desk is staffed Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and appointments are available by calling 330-643-2323.

“They are busy,” Stormer said. “We will decide in June if it continues. At this point, it’s been an overwhelming success.”

Another initiative the judge has is to start working in March on establishing a Citizens Advisory Board. She added that she will soon be looking for citizens to serve on the board.

Stormer’s other plans in the next year call for updating the court’s computers and case management system, which are all about 10 years old.

“That will allow us to do e-filing,” she said. “More and more lawyers are oriented to the computer.”

She added she also has had the court switch to email correspondence with attorneys rather than printed-and-mailed letters.

The judge said she is hoping that one area in which the court will be able to make a difference in the coming months is the ability to order those who are mentally ill to take their medication.

“Since [the shooting at] Sandy Hook [Elementary School], there’s been a lot of concern about people who are mentally ill and not doing what they should be doing in terms of their medication,” Stormer said. “The missing piece is, can we use the civil commitment process for parents to ask that their child be brought before the court? We have the power to do that, but it’s unclear how, and legislation is pending that will clarify that for judges.”

Stormer said she has had some surprises on the job. For instance, she didn’t realize how many wills are contested in Summit County. She said the court also deals with a lot of name change requests, many of which are regarding children that were born out of wedlock and wish to use their mother’s family name instead of their father’s.

Her favorite part of the job so far has been overseeing adoptions.

“Those are super fun,” she said. “I get to meet the kids and hear their story. That’s about as much fun as you can have as a judge.”

She said she hopes that the changes she is making can help change citizens’ attitudes on probate court.

“They shouldn’t be afraid of probate,” she said. “We’re here to help you.”

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