Donald E. Miller Jr. is legally dead, an Ohio judge explained to Donald E. Miller Jr. this week in court.
The judge, Allan Davis of Hancock County Probate Court, had declared Miller dead in 1994, several years after he mysteriously disappeared, leaving thousands of dollars of child support unpaid. His ex-wife, Robin Miller, had requested the declaration at the time so she could apply for Social Security benefits for their two daughters.
In fact, Donald Miller, now 61, had simply drifted away to work in Georgia and Florida, he told the judge Monday in Findlay, Ohio. Now, he said, he wanted to apply for a driver’s license and needed to reactivate his Social Security number.
The judge noted that Ohio law does not allow a declaration of death to be reversed after three years or more have passed.
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“I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned,” Davis told Miller during the 30-minute hearing, according to The Courier, a newspaper in Findlay.
The newspaper called Miller “the most famous dead man alive.”
In an interview, Davis said the case was decided “in strict conformity with Ohio law,” but that it had led to “a bizarre set of circumstances.”
He suggested that Miller’s situation could lead the Ohio Legislature to rethink the law. In the meantime, he said, Miller can appeal the decision or take the matter up with the Social Security Administration, which might have a different view of the law.
“Every time you think you’ve seen everything,” the judge said, “something like this comes along.”
Robin Miller’s lawyer, James Hammer, opposed Donald Miller’s resurrection on the grounds that Robin Miller might have to return the several years of benefit payments she received for her daughters. “You just didn’t want to open a Pandora’s box of possibly having to return the benefits,” he said in an interview.
Robin Miller, a nurse who cannot work because of a disability, said she was not trying to be vindictive toward her former husband, but could not afford to repay the money. She first learned Donald Miller was alive when he showed up in front of her home more than a year ago, sitting at a picnic table with his girlfriend. “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ ” recalled Robin Miller, who has married again to a man whose surname is also Miller. “It was civil the whole time. We were both very nice.”
Francis Marley, Donald Miller’s lawyer, said his client, who is not giving interviews, probably could not afford to appeal the decision. He said Donald Miller simply wanted to be able to work with a valid Social Security number.
As for why his client, who told Davis he is an alcoholic, disappeared for so many years, the lawyer said that “he was just — I guess you would call it a man-of-the-road, free-spirit type.”
Had he ever encountered a case like this? “No,” Marley said, “but I’ve only been practicing for 43 years.”