Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bullying Judges - Affects Lives

Does this title sound like preposterous, science fiction fantasy? The very idea of anyone bullying a stern, sober, black-robed judge, sitting high on the bench of a district court room sounds like one, huge stretch, but consider the dynamics. Judges by and large work continually with the same group of courthouse lawyers, and see them individually on a frequent, regular basis. Any judge is outnumbered by the collectivity of lawyers who regularly use his/her court. Every profession has its grape-vine, its politics, its activists. Add to this scenario the fact that the bar-bench relationship in any district is almost totally below the public radar. No one knows the group dynamics of this very closed legal system. What happens when a strongly political, very vocal, well-placed, local lawyer is unhappy with his/her handling by a judge - or wants special treatment or advantage? Conversations with friends, comparing notes, disenchantment, anger enhancement, and, EUREKA: an out of sight, bar-bench campaign in which any judge will be outnumbered, out-gunned. These putative dynamics are just part of a conceptual skeletal sketch of potential bar-bench dynamics. Obviously, there may be endless variations on the theme, ranging from mild group pressure, to lobbying for different issues, to polite disputes, to warfare and gang mind rape. To campaigns: GET RID OF THIS JUDGE - TOO INDEPENDENT!  or ...KEEP THIS JUDGE, HE/SHE IS OBSEQUIOUS TO OUR INTERESTS!

Lest anyone think we have gone off the deep end and lead a rich fantasy life, we have to admit that we were totally numb to the possibility of the above dynamics, until we heard stories from several "reliable sources" who have witnessed variations on this bar-bench power dynamic. It speaks to many concerns that we have witnessed. Why do local lawyers so frequently win over visiting lawyers? Why do local lawyers rarely get a reprimand from a presiding judge for bad courtroom behavior?  Why do certain, very politically well connected lawyers so frequently get their way in court? We suspect that this bench-bar dynamic may be more pronounced in a small town setting where professional boundaries and friendships may render boundaries more difficult to maintain. It shed light on the 'Pro se' situation too. 'Pro se' versus local lawyer. No contest here for the most part. The dynamic favors lawyers

The bar-bench dynamic may explain some of the weird, off the wall  judicial decisions that we, as consumers experience. Failure to listen to professional consultants, acceptance of fraudulent allegations of abuse that fly in the face of facts, tossing evidence out the window and operating on judicial opinion and using judicial discretion on "steroids". When judges get bullied by members of a mafiaesque bar, justice suffers and consumers are victimized..

It is particularly troubling, therefore, to see calls for a "closer bar-bench" relationship in writings posted on the Judicial Branch web site.  Some would say, if this relationship were any closer,in some cases it would result in mind-body fusion! Where are the degrees of separation? Boundaries? Impartiality? Discretion? One suspects that all of these principles get tested, prodded and (sometimes) hammered.

An audit of courts and 'Pro se' might shed light on some of this. But then one needs to think about how to manage this unhealthy bar-bench system? Further study is obviously needed before prescribing any action. But there are concepts from other professional systems that might be considered. Rotation of judges from court to court to break up entrenched dynamics? R & R for judges stuck in these bar-bench trenches. A support system for judges to discuss local bar pressures and outright bullying. 'Sua sponte' complaints to the overseers of the bar against lawyers who "bully". Encouraging the public to attend bar-bench meetings and keep the process honest. Or ... totally out of the box, what about an Overseers of the 'Pro se', for the 74% majority who use family courts?


Sorry, on that last one, but we couldn't resist!

The current process needs the light of day, the fresh air of public observation and opinion and a deconstruction of these "systems".

MeGAL is a grassroots organization committed to bringing reform to our Family Courts and Guardians ad litem systems. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com of find us on Facebook.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Is McCarthyism Alive and Well in Maine Government - the Reappointment of Hon Patricia Worth

The unanimous vote by the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature (3-24-2015) to recommend the re-appointment of Judge Patricia Worth strikes many people as incomprehensible in many respects. Not only is it a bad decision but the process has many troubling constitutional features.
  1. We are told that Joshua Tardy, Esq., and/or others associated with him, conducted some sort of investigation of the court records of each person who testified against Judge Worth on Thursday, March 19th. If this is true, it sets a chilling precedent for others testifying before a legislative committee. Is it a new standard to investigate people who offer public testimony in a legislative hearing, or is it restricted to the Judge Worth hearing? As a rule, people can testify on almost any subject in legislative hearings without needing to be vetted by anyone. Do those testifying before the legislature now need to be "vetted" by the likes of Mr. Tardy? Where is the law, the precedent, the constitution on these issues? We suspect nowhere, AWOL!
  2. This investigations of witnesses was done without knowledge of those testifying that an investigation was a part of the deal, if they had the nerve and courage to testify. They were not told that their court records from the court they were complaining about would be provided by the court and used as evidence against their character
  3. It is a universally well-known truism that two sides to every question. Why did these reported investigations apparently aimed at proving testifiers to be liars, not allow those secretly accused a chance for rebuttal as a part of a fair process?
  4. It appears to us that that court records were used as the source of data. Because of the massive nature of family court records, The reviewer of 4-5 records would need an editorial “heads up” pointing to the “good parts”. One wonders who might have directed and focused the review? Good courts have good records; bad courts have bad records. Maine courts are notoriously primitive in their record keeping. Paper records in manilla files in cardboard boxes is the mantra for Maine's courts. Are these records accurate? Have all sides looked at them? Is it appropriate to introduce legalistic evidence-stacking like in a court trial - into a legislative hearing without warning or precedent? A legislative hearing does not usually function as a trial of any sort.
  5. Why are Mr. Tardy, the Governor and the Judicial Branch using such offensive techniques in a legislative hearing? In effect they are an attack on the credibility of witnesses; perhaps permissible in a court of law, but for a LEGISLATIVE HEARING? Do they want the public to speak out about judicial abuse? Do they want to intimidate people? Do they support the 'status quo'? Is the current ‘status quo’ of the family court system, a system Maine can be proud of? Is it the system they want?
  6. Is it Mr. Tardy's role, as the Governor’s Chairman of the Judicial Appointment Committee, to defend Judge Worth and attack any public criticism? Is this his mandate from Gov. LePage? Is this process appropriate to be carried out in a legislative hearing? Is this normal ‘modus operandi’ for a legislative hearing that an Executive Branch committee head should “vet” those testifying to legislators? Constitutional boundaries?
  7. Why hasn’t judge Worth ever issued a 'sua sponte' complaint of criminal abuse in the Tardiff case, if there is real abuse of his ex and their child as inferred by Mr Tardy? If Mr. Tardiff (one of those investigated) is really an abuser why just keep him on the rack and keep squeezing ever more money from him? Why does she reportedly violate state and federal guidelines for child support? Why no plans for reconciliation? What exactly is the danger this court sees from Mr Tardiff?
  8. Please, remember, Judge Worth is the only judge whose re-appointment is opposed in the 3 years since there was an grass roots entity doing public oversight. Why is she the only one opposed by that entity? What are her short comings in need of correction? Or are there none?
These questions beg for an audit of this court and this judge. Not an ersatz "trial" by innuendo of “victims” in a legislative hearing. Investigating those who testified was a violation of public trust in a legislative hearing and deeply offensive to those who had the courage to speak out with the hope of improving Maine's crumbling, dysfunctional family courts.

Does our government want the people to let it know of problems. Or is it happy with silence?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Case to Deny Re-Appointment of Hon Patricia Worth

The reappointment of a Judge is an important task. Judges are tasked with interpreting our laws in a fair way and are supposed to be consistent with their interpretation. Lawyers, Guardians ad litem and other members of the Divorce Industry are currently tasked with providing data on the Judge. These are people who work with the Judge and whose livelihood will be determined by this person in the future. Complaining about the judges conduct could come back to haunt them. Is there any incentive to point out a judges flaws by this group or is the incentive to tread softly?

The public ( Prose ) - who represent 74% of the those who appear in Family Courts are rarely if ever sought after for their opinion. Yet it is this group who bear the weight of a re-appointment of a dysfunctional judge. Today we have a Judge who is one of four Family Court judges who is on the verge of being re-appointed. But - not without a fight by many brave souls who have been victimized by the Family Court in Belfast Maine:


Senator Burns, Representative Hobbins, members of the Judiciary Committee

My name is Jerome Collins, and I am a resident of Kennebunkport.

In addressing the task before you of deciding whether to re-appoint Judge Patricia Worth you face a choice. Do you follow past practice and merely listen to the "all is well" message of the Governor's Judicial Appointment Committee?  Or do you heed the cries of the public who have actually appeared before this judge?  At one end of the spectrum are professional references from the "legal industry" that she serves.  At the other end are the anguished cries from a few brave souls who dare to speak the truth about the abysmal human practices that pervade her court, the cruelty of her decisions, and havoc she wreaks on parents and children.

The Governor's Judicial Appointment Committee does not hear those sad voices. It talks only with members of the legal profession - judges, lawyers, leadership of the Bar, the Overseers of the Bar, and the disciplinary committees of the profession.  We all know that the members of any one profession are reticent about being forthright about a colleague’s shortcomings. But that reticence has no place in this process, because the judiciary was not established to insulate and protect itself.  It was established to protect the rights of the people.  Therefore, the people must be made part of the process.

We believe the reappointment of any judge should include inquiry into the experience of non-lawyers in that courtroom. We are told that 74% of litigants in Maine family courts are ‘pro se’.  This is a powerful statistic; it is a glaring majority of unrepresented people, in courts, acting as their own “lawyer”. Their voices also deserve to be part of the process.  We know Judge Worth has told pro se litigants “don’t come back to this court without a lawyer”. We are concerned that she feels entitled to unilaterally inflict the financial burden of hiring lawyers upon the citizens of Maine. And we must wonder what other constitutional rights are being violated by her?

As a grass roots group, we suggest some questions that might be raised in a “people-focused” legislative  audit of the Judge Worth court. It reflects many issues that were not covered by the Judicial Vetting Committee. In our opinion, this esteemed Judiciary Committee, cannot be fully informed and make well reasoned decisions about Judge Worth (or other judges) without the answers to these questions about the actual nature of a given court.

Judge Worth’s position on the Judicial Responsibility and Disability Committee and her approval by colleagues on the vetting committee makes the answer to the consumer oriented questions below the only way the Judiciary Committee will be able to have fair  “oversight” in this matter.  We feel that the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature needs to act upon its constitutional oversight power and act to protect the people of Maine. We suggest an audit of the Worth court before any decision is made as to reappointment. 

Here are some ideas that might go into such an audit:     

  1. How many 'pro se' cases does Judge Worth see in her court?
  2. How many has she ordered (or the equivalent) not to come back without a lawyer?
  3. Do family court litigants (pro se and those with lawyers) feel intimidated by this judge?
  4. Does the judge help 'pro se' litigants, or do they feel harassed and bullied?
  5. How long does the judge take to render an opinion?
  6. Are her judicial opinions fractured into components that come out at intervals requiring multiple appeals (and the expense involved) if one disagrees?
  7. Does she accept as valid reports from Children's Protective, from clinical consultants, or does she offer opinions unrelated to professional opinions?  How often? Does she appear to feel she "knows better" than professional consultants? How often are her personal judicial opinions at variance with professional opinions?
  8. How often do aggressive attorney's appear in her court? How often would they receive a favorable judgment? Are they reprimanded for overly aggressive behavior?
  9. How does the judge treat litigants, 'pro se' or represented, who oppose aggressive attorney's? Who wins?
  10. How many appeals have been made to the Supreme Court in opposition to her decisions? Results?
  11. Does the Judge seem to have solid knowledge about the law and case law concerning Guardians ad litem and family matters? Does she rely on “judicial discretion” instead of law?
  12. How often does this judge offer suspended "jail" in family matters and for what offenses?
  13. How does she use supervised visits between parent and child? For what issues,  based on what evidence? Does she always have a plan for moving from supervised visits to regular visits and shared parenting?
  14. Does she show idiosyncratic interpretations of laws and regulations?
  15. How promptly does she respond to motions for findings of fact and law?  How often are these requests dismissed?
  16. Is she on the Judicial Disability Committee? Other Judicial committees?
  17. Have complaints been made against her practices as a judge? Does her position on the Judicial Responsibility and Disability Committee have a chilling effect on would-be complainants? Are lawyers and others intimidated?
  18. Does she have health issues that might impact her judicial functioning?  How long has she handled family matter cases?  Is she in danger of “burn out”?
  19. From CANON  3 (B.7) A judge shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person's lawyer, the right to be heard according to law. Does this cannon allow a judge to order a 'pro se' litigant not to ever appear without a lawyer?
  20. The legislature has stated that unless otherwise warranted the public policy of the state is to assure frequent and continuing parent/child contact after divorce and that the courts should encourage shared rights are responsibilities in child rearing.  Does Judge Worth routinely follow that policy?
  21. How many of Judge Worth’s cases are zero sum games when it comes to children: one parent wins and the other loses?  This result would not be consistent with the above legislative intent.  And of the winner/loser cases, are most of the “winner” cases handled by the same few lawyers?
  22. Finally, do parents in family matters before Judge Worth have rights that are equal to or less than parents in Title 22 child protection matters?

POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF A COURT AUDIT: A range of options for action. These are just ideas/examples some of which are obviously borrowed from other systems evaluating performance of professional workers.

  • This court is functioning well and is serving citizens of Maine according to the spirit and letter of the law.
  • This court needs more regular oversight from Judicial Branch authorities.
  • This court needs regular professional supervision of the judge’s actions to correct some judicial “rough edges”.
  • This judge shows deficiencies in the necessary knowledge, skill or experience (or intrusive personal factors)  to be a judge. These are in need of correction before continuing as a judge.
  • This judge appears to be showing signs of “judicial burnout” or other personal issues and is in need of R&R, transfer to another type of court, further judicial education, mentoring, or a move into some other function within the Judicial Branch system.
  • This judge is malfunctioning and should retire or be removed from being a judge.
  • Other ideas for corrective action.

To find out more about how you can bring about change in our Family Court please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Tardiff V Sullivan - Another Poster Child case for a Dysfunctional Family Court

We are pleased to be able to publish this brief, a public document and an appeal to the Maine Supreme Court. It is a horrifying story. It shows how a series of court actions have deprived a good man, a good father, a good citizen from all but limited, very expensive supervised visits with his young son. The irrationality of the family  court  process and  its  actions are stunning to most lay readers. The basic tactic in her wish for total custody, as we read it, is that the mother, the former spouse and her aggressive lawyer, simply allege, again and again, that the father is abusive to the child. This allegation  of child abuse  on their part seems made very forcefully, but with absolutely no evidence that we can see. In fact when the father, Larry Tardiff, has had professional evaluations (please, note, the plural) the professionals find no evidence that would suggest any need for protection of the child in his presence or any irrational anger in need of correction. NONE! Judge Patricia Worth, the judge in this case, seems totally bamboozled by the strongly proclaimed, ungrounded allegations of danger to the child by the  mother and her attorney. It's allegations - by themselves - as an incredible power tool in court. In our view, the judge is failing to look at the facts, failing to move beyond the noise, substituting her impressions for actual professionally grounded facts and seems to have a poor grasp of some of the points of law that she is using against Larry. It is an unbelievable nightmare for this man and his son from which there seems to be No exit!

It is also important for a reader to remember that in a criminal case of child abuse, normally there would be a planned program back to full parenting. Dare we say that Larry would be better off were he a criminal abuser? One senses that Judge Worth ought to be removed from this case. She seems to be in a rut and unable to think "outside of the box" in this case.

The appeal is a search for rationality, a search for a chance for father and son to have a normal parenting relationship, a search for an end to Judge Worth's ungrounded decisions. We shall be presenting the decision of the Supreme Court in another posting. In the meantime, read on as the suspense about a Supreme Court decision builds.

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The brief which was submitted to the Supreme Court may be found here. Please note that the name of the child has been redacted and that the pdf will need to be down loaded for the links to function properly.

If you have had issues in Family Court of with Judge Patricia Worth we ask that you contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com. Call us at 207-370-9801 or find us on Facebook. We are striving to being about reform in the Family Court system.

The case referenced in this brief: Sullivan v. Tardiff No. 10-FM-59


Saturday, March 7, 2015

What Can Happen When You Go Pro se in Family Court?


Over a year ago Sarah Dalton went to the Supreme because of what she had experienced in a very dysfunctional Family Court process.

Tuesday (03/03/2014) Sarah Dalton went to court Prose against her ex and Susan Bixby of MittelAsen (who was representing her ex). You may remember her case going before the Supreme Court of Maine last year (see links below).

When I talked with her on Monday she had prepared herself for the worst. She was going back  into the court which had given her such a hard time.

In a twist - Judge Moskowitz encouraged the two parties to negotiate out of court. They did and Sarah has gone from having a minimum of supervised visits to three days of unsupervised visits a week. In Sarah's own words this was "miles ahead of where we were" - not perfect but better than what she had.

What is even more amazing is that she accomplished this Prose and should stand as an example to the 74% who go into court that one can represent themselves and have a positive outcome.

2014-02-22 Child Custody - An appeal to Maine's Supreme Court: Dalton Vs. Dalton CUM-13-521

2014-05-04 An appeal to Maine's Supreme Court: Dalton Vs. Dalton CUM-13-521 - the Lawyers Debate

2014-05-10 An appeal to Maine's Supreme Court: Dalton Vs. Dalton CUM-13-521 - the Final Dance 

Support Family Court reform by contacting us at MeGAL at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.



Friday, March 6, 2015

LD 631 SP 224 Resolve, Directing the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation To Conduct a Sunrise Review Regarding the Proposal To License Guardians Ad Litem

A summary of this bill:

This resolve requires the Commissioner of Professional and Financial Regulation to conduct an independent assessment pursuant to the sunrise review requirements in the Maine Revised Statutes of the proposal to license guardians ad litem.

This bill may be found here: 127th Legislature

You may also find out about other bills relating to Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform here.

This Bill was presented by Presented by Senator DUTREMBLE of York.
Cosponsored by Representative SAUCIER of Presque Isle and
Senators: MILLETT of Cumberland, PATRICK of Oxford, SAVIELLO of Franklin,
Representatives: CHENETTE of Saco, MAKER of Calais.

If you would like to give testimony with regards to Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com; find us on Facebook or call 207-370-9801.

To see what bills have been proposed in the past please reference out GAL Bills/ Laws page found here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Management by Crisis - The Judicial Branch and Financial Shortfall 2015

Last week we had a sudden change to the Judiciary Committee schedule. The Judicial Branch was making a presentation to the Judiciary Committee for a supplemental budget of $1M to get through to July 2015. This is not the first time the Judicial Branch has gone back to the till at the last minute with hands out asking for more.

Most organizations have a budget to work with and it they miss the budget.... well there is trouble. The organization either fails or they look into why they have a shortfall and change to accommodate. As an individual it is the same thing. You anticipate what your expenses are for the upcoming month based on what you paid out in the past

When asked about the shortfall and why the Judicial Branch has a shortfall.... again - the spokesperson for the Judicial Branch answered "I don't know why".

Which should come as no surprise to anyone. Here we have an organization full of lawyers being run by lawyers . About the only thing that lawyers can do well and with efficiency is bill for services.

It might be time for the Judiciary to hire people who are professional managers and get past the management by crisis that we see year after year. Who can look at how things are run within the branch and bring efficiencies to the organization. Who would be able to say why there is a shortfall and make sure the Judicial Branch does not go back to the till again... and again with out held hands.

The management by crisis is but a symptom of a far greater problem that has infected the court system. We have seen it with the Guardian ad litem crisis and have seen it with the Family Courts. Our system of justice is crumbling down around us.

Support Family Court reform by contacting us at MeGAL at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

LD 349, SP 132, 127th Legislature An Act To Ensure Accountability of Guardians Ad Litem

Summary of this bill:

1. Removes the quasi-judicial immunity provided to guardians ad litem by statute;

2. Allows a cause of action and the award of punitive damages against guardians ad litem who falsely accuse parties of abuse or neglect or who intentionally exclude relevant information from reports to the parties or the court;

3. Requires the court to impose limits on the extent of investigations to be undertaken by a guardian ad litem;

4. Requires all guardians ad litem to have a minimum amount of completed course work in social work; and

5. Requires the court to set expenditure limits on guardian ad litem fees and any other costs incurred in investigations or the completion of the duties of the appointment.

The bill may be found here: 127th Legislature

You may also find out about other bills relating to Family Court and Guardian ad litem here.

This Bill was presented by Senator DUTREMBLE of York.
Cosponsored by Representative CRAFTS of Lisbon and Senator: PATRICK of Oxford, Representatives: FECTEAU of Biddeford, SHAW of Standish, SHORT of Pittsfield, VEROW of Brewer, WOOD of Sabattus.

If you would like to give testimony with regards to Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.