Login | February 21, 2019

Mahoning County judge receives several awards

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 10, 2019

Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Robert Rusu Jr. has spent a large part of his time on the bench working to protect those under guardianship.

In 2018, several organizations paid tribute to his efforts to protect his wards.

On March 23, Judge Rusu received the Ohio Association of Gerontology and Education’s (OAGE) 2018 Practitioner of the Year Award.

Then in October, as the year was winding down, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Retirement Services Inc. awarded Judge Rusu the Outstanding Senior Advocate Award and Help Network of Northeast Ohio presented him with the 2018 Dee Elias Award.

“I was very surprised and very honored to receive these awards,” said Judge Rusu.

“There are about 1,400 wards living in Mahoning County and it’s imperative that we are able to keep track of them,” he said.

Judge Rusu’s work to ensure the health and safety of the court’s wards began shortly after he took the bench in July 2014 when he discovered that the court did not have up to date records on some of the wards who were under guardianship.

He said the problem occurred because a number of the appointed guardians had not been filing the required annual reports, which contain important information such as the ward’s address and health.

In an effort to remedy the situation, the judge reached out to Youngstown State University Graduate Director of Gerontology Daniel Van Dussen., to see if some of his students might be able to help locate the wards and provide updated information to the court.

“He was happy to assist and the YSU students were able to track down over 100 wards,” said Judge Rusu. “Some were deceased and others had moved.”

The YSU students assisted Judge Rusu in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Since then he’s been working on creating a Guardian Angels program fashioned after the one that currently exists in Trumbull County.

“The program would utilize trained volunteers who would make regular visits to all of the wards in the county, keeping the court up to date on their progress and perhaps forging friendships at the same time,” said Judge Rusu.

Judge Rusu said he hopes to have the Guardian Angels program up and running early this year.

Danielle Procopio, corporate director of marketing, sales and communication for Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Retirement Services said Judge Rusu’s exceptional and consistent work to help some of the county’s most vulnerable residents is the reason he was selected for the Outstanding Senior Advocate Award, which he received on Oct. 10, 2018.

“When he was in private practice Judge Rusu spent a good portion of his time handling elder law and guardianship cases, treating all his clients with genuine concern and patience,” said Procopio.

“He has also done a lot of work in the community to benefit the elderly,” she said. “He sat on the board of the Alzheimer’s Assistance & Referral Network in Youngstown and he’s done pro bono work with legal aid will clinics.

“As judge he has spent a lot of time making sure senior wards are in safe guardianships,” said Procopio. “He is also trying to create a Guardian Angels program, which will be a significant blessing to Mahoning County.”

Eight days after receiving the Outstanding Senior Advocate Award, the Help Network of Northeast Ohio (formerly Help Hotline Crisis Center) presented Judge Rusu with the Dee Elias Award.

The award is named in honor of former executive director Dee Elias and is given to individuals or organizations for their outstanding service to Help Network in the field of human services or law enforcement.

Help Network of Northeast Ohio Chief Executive Officer Vince Brancaccio said while the agency started off as a drug info line, iit now offers a wide range of services to those with mental health, substance abuse and other problems.

Help Network also runs a guardianship program for 180 mentally ill and developmentally disabled clients who are wards of Judge Rusu’s court.

“I first met Judge Rusu about five years ago before he became a judge at one of our recognition banquets,” Brancaccio said.

Brancaccio said Judge Rusu was “very humble” and engaged in the mental illness and addiction issues surrounding the community.

“He maintains that same caring demeanor as judge,” he said. “You can tell that Judge Rusu genuinely cares and wants to help the people who come before him. He is open to listening to concerns and considering input from the community’s social service providers.”

“Interestingly my mother-in-law volunteered at the Help Hotline in the 1980s and she became good friends with Dee Elias,” said Judge Rusu. “She would be very proud to know that her son-in-law received this award.”