XENIA — There’s just one thing missing when an adoption hearing goes virtual.
The photo op at the bench, with the baby on the judge’s lap, peering up at him as he signs the papers.
“I miss not being able to do that, even though the adoption is final,” Greene County Probate Court Judge Thomas O’Diam said by phone.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, O’Diam’s court went completely remote and virtual March 24 with the help of Zoom technology, which offers meetings via video conferencing.
“It’s been going great. We are very, very pleased with it so far,” the judge said of the cyber court.
All hearings normally done in probate court — guardianships, estates, name changes and adoptions — are being done over Zoom, except for about half a dozen trials, which have been continued to future dates.
O’Diam said his office started discussing transitioning to remote work in early March.
“We have a lot of foot traffic in and out of probate court every day. We were concerned about that many people in the public coming into the office,” he said. “We were also concerned for our staff. I have an incredible staff, and some have young kids. We brainstormed on what we could do to keep the court running on full operations.”
The court first limited access to the physical office and replaced handlings with online functions, like accepting filings by fax and email. O’Diam said it took his staff, with help from Greene County’s IT department, 10 days and $142.32 to put the cyber court together.
“I was just amazed … I am incredibly proud of my staff. They’re phenomenal, putting this together and pulling it off,” he said. “Their enthusiasm is what really impresses me most. It’s not easy to pull this all together and get used to doing things remotely.”
Within 48 hours of the state issuing the stay at home order, everyone was at home working. A drop box was placed in front of the courthouse to allow residents to submit filings and payments. Marriage license applications and more can be found and submitted on the court’s webpage at www.co.greene.oh.us under Probate Court.
“The first thing we did, we contacted everyone who had hearings scheduled through the end of April and asked them if they wanted to continue or proceed with them using Zoom,” O’Diam said. “We have not had one person yet want to continue it. They all want to proceed with Zoom.”
The judge said hearings are basically business as usual — everyone connects via video and the paperwork is processed afterward.
“It’s going very, very smoothly,” he said. “I’m really, really happy with it.”
O’Diam said utilizing this technology now helps minimize what could be a backlog once the pandemic is over.
But more importantly, the court continues serving people.
“The most rewarding part about it is, at some point during each hearing, everyone is very thankful we were able to proceed. It brings a sense of normalcy to life,” he said. “The more we try to keep things normal, as reasonably normal as possible, everybody benefits from it.”
Everybody benefits — including the families involved in what the judge considers the happiest of all hearings — adoptions.
Last week, O’Diam presided over five adoptions, each with some Greene County link — whether through the parents, child, or private agency like Adoption Link in Yellow Springs.
Tuesday’s private adoptions included two adults being adopted by step-parents, plus the Wiecks, of Columbus, who added “sweet baby James” to their family. James’ new family members from all around the state logged into Zoom from their home computers to officially welcome James into the family.
“Adoptions are my favorite part of my job. I’m just thrilled that a child is able to get a permanent family. It’s just a really happy and emotional occasion,” O’Diam said. “It’s still that way for families, whether in person or through Zoom, they’re getting the finality they’ve been waiting months and years for.”
And when the coronavirus crisis is over, the judge promises families one thing. They’re invited back to his courtroom for a photo op.
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