Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why LePage's tax Reform Plan Rattles Lawyers

Under the current proposal lawyer's fees will be subject to the new expanded tax and the lawyer's are upset. They claim that by taxing their services - people (consumers/ parents) will not be able to afford a lawyer.

What?

Lawyer's concerned about their fees being beyond the reach of the average consumer. If there were such a concern Maine would not be one of the leaders in the country for Prose representation - especially in Family Courts. Almost 75% (74% to be exact as quoted by Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley) of parents in Family Courts end up representing themselves because they can no longer afford a lawyer. Adding a tax onto their services (lawyers) is not the problem for the average consumer in Maine especially in Family Court. It is the lawyers and court system they work within which is the problem for the average consumer. The adversarial process makes it an expensive proposition to be in court.

In four years we have been contacted by parents who were devastated by lawyers and the Family Court system. There was no concern for these parents that they were being financially devastated. No concern from these lawyers about the fees and billable hours which was ruining their clients. Which makes their (lawyers) concern about the tax unwarranted and unbelievable.

Should a lawyer express concern to you about the added expense of a tax on their services. Ask them what they have done lately to keep the cost of their services down for you.

MeGAL is working for reform within the Family Court system. For more details please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Or our phone - 207-370-9801 - and leave a short message.





Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 - MeGAL bills for Family Court and Guardian ad litem Reform

This year we are lucky enough to have ( 6 ) bills which have been sponsored for legislation. While we do not expect all of them to become bills/ laws - if nothing more this will be an opportunity to educate our representatives to the problems in our Family Court system. In 2013 we had several bills sponsored of which one became a bill ( LD 872 ). The following are bills which we know are related to the issues in Family Court. Look over the list and if you find others that should be a part of this list please contact us (see below):

LR 825 Title: An Act To Require Shared Parenting of Minor Children When the Parents Separate - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 826 Title: An Act To Ensure Accountability of Guardians Ad Litem - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 831 Title: An Act To Require That a Guardian Ad Litem Be Licensed - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 832 Title: An Act To Define the "Best Interest" of a Child - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 1436 Title: An Act To Provide an Audit of Pro Se Experience in Family Courts - Rep. Seavey of Kennebunkport

LR1658 Title: An Act To Move Oversight of Guardians Ad Litem to the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation -Sen. Dutremble of York

To find the bill listings please do a search based on the LR "Number". For example searching for "832" should bring you to " An Act To Define the "Best Interest" of a Child Sen. Dutremble of York". In addition there are a number of bills which may or may not pertain to Family Court Reform which may be found on page 77 under JUD - Judicial Dept

This is a pdf file which may need to be downloaded: 127th Maine State Legislature

Please feel free to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com for further information on becoming involved and/ or if you find bills that may be of interest as it relates to the Family Court. You may also find us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Maine - Child Trafficking American Style: How Cash-for-Kids exists and how to Stop It by January 16, 2015

Divorce Corp has asked for our help in trying to stop the - Cash-for-kids - that goes on between the states and Federal government. These videos encapsulates the problems that parents suffer through in the Family Court system. Towards the end Joe Sorge and Divorce Corp tell you how you can make a difference:

Director Joe Sorge (Divorce Corp) reveals how good intentions gone bad and a callous legal profession has catapulted the United States into the unenviable position of leading the developed world in single parent households. Six billion dollars per year of taxpayer money motivates some of the worst public policy imaginable, leading to the bankrupting of families, the imprisonment of wage earners, and the manipulation and misuse of children as a currency for separating parents and opportunistic professionals. The Federal Government has opened up a rare opportunity to comment on these outdated and dysfunctional laws. Joe Sorge makes an appeal to write to Washington by the end of the public comment period, January 16, 2015, to reform these misguided Federal regulations. A link is provided to Divorce Corp’s web site, showing recommended changes to the Federal Regulations, and suggested reform language to send to Washington.

A YouTube video may be found here: YouTube


Please share this video with your contacts and look for us on Facebook.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Brief History of Guardian ad litem and Family Court Reform

INTRODUCTION: We offer this abbreviated time line to share where we’ve been, what we’ve studied and what we’ve learned about Maine (and other states) Family Court systems  in the last 4 years or so.  Our MeGALert goals have always been: (a) Education of ourselves and others about the Guardian ad litem (GAL)/family court systems problems and (b) Corrective legislation. Our education has come to us from hundreds of Maine family court cases, from contacts and work with all 3 branches of Maine government and from study, study, study! We are well-informed consumers of family court services in Maine!

Enclosed is a skeletal timeline of our GAL/Family court reform activities with the Legislative, Judicial and Executive Branches of Maine Government. It gives perspective, but it leaves out a lot of important content for brevity. For anyone who is interested, additional content can be supplied easily, if needed to "fill in the blanks".

01. 2011-10-28 - MeGALert (Dr Collins) made contacts with Beth Ashcroft, Director, OPEGA to discuss the troubling GAL experience and problems of numerous persons in Maine. She suggested that an option might be to request an audit of the GAL program. We were interested in the audit idea, but, because we were novices at it, OPEGA kindly provided assistance to us in completing forms for a GAL audit.

02. 2012-02-12 - We attended a Maine State House Meeting of the Government Oversight Committee to hear our GAL audit proposal. It was sponsored by Sen Nancy Sullivan and Beth Ashcroft (OPEGA) presented the details. The Committee voted to forward the audit request to the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature with a request for prompt action.

03. 2012-03-08 - Meeting of the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature. The Chief Justice and members of the Judiciary were invited to speak. The Chief Justice stunned many in the committee room, saying that there was no GAL supervision or oversight, but offered to work on this and return in September, 2012.

04. 2012-05-15 - MeGALert issues a full, formal Report on Maine GALs from consumer perspective. We titled it, "The Power of the Powerless", after the concept of Czech activist, Vaclav Havel. It covered 18 pages and reported numerous structural and design problems with the Maine GAL program. Our Report was circulated to members of the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Executive Branches of Government, the press, media, the public.

05. 2012-05-31 - Along with other associates, we participated in a Judicial Branch public hearing and testimony on Maine GALs, at  the courthouse, Portland. Many members of the public, lawyers and GALs testified during a long hearing.

06. 2012-07/08 - Judicial Branch established two work committees composed of divorce industry stake holders. It included ONE “public member”, Jerome A Collins, MD.  (a) One committee of 20 members endorsed a highly legalistic GAL complaint protocol that was very “consumer unfriendly”, whether the consumer were to be  ‘pro se’ or with legal support. Dr Collins did a written “minority report” opposing the proposal and wrote an “op ed” piece (like the minority report) in the Portland Press Herald. (b) The second committee was composed of 15 stake holders from the divorce industry and one public member, Dr Collins. Dr Collins resigned with a long written explanation that the public interests were minimized in a rush to accommodate the “divorce industry” on every possible “correction”. A deterrent fee of $100.00 to file a complaint about a GAL seemed very “unfriendly” to complainants and unprecedented in other systems of a similar nature.

07. 2012-12-07 - A planning Meeting was held at the State House: Rep Dennis Keschl, Beth Ashcroft (OPEGA), Michael Cianchette, esq (legal counsel to Gov), Larry Tardiff, and Jerome A Collins, MD to plan for submitting a GAL reform bill, along the lines recommended in the 2006 OPEGA Report on Maine GALs.  Sen David Dutremble later joined this committee, Sen Roger Katz and Mary Ann Lynch had been invited but were unable to attend.

08. 2013 Spring - LD 872 went through numerous debates, discussions, revisions and rewrites in the legislature from March 28th till June 25th, 2013 when it passed both the house and senate and the appropriations committee.

09. 2013-07-08 - Governor Paul R LePage signs LD 872 into law in the presence of numerous MeGALert members who had been victims of GAL malfunctioning. The Bill indicated that the Judicial Branch was to come up with a proposal for a GAL complaint protocol that was “user friendly”.

10. 2012-15 July/ Jan - We have been active in many areas. First and most important, we try to support  the numerous people who contact us with hair-raising, GAL/ family court/ ‘pro se’ problems. We put people in touch with others with similar problems. We offer educational information about ‘pro se’ and other family court perils. To the extent we are able as non-lawyers, we support appeals of family court judgments. We talk and advise people in other states who have heard about us and who want to copy our m.o. We write on our blogs and provide “news” on our Facebook page. We testify verbally and in writing on all Judicial Branch proposals affecting family courts and GALs. Though in all honesty, it is a tough organization, and we have to say that while they listen, we have not been terribly successful in getting consumer-oriented “reform”.

BUT... we are very informed; we have learned a lot in 4 years; we know most of the players; we know the problems “in depth”.

Our Family Court System is badly broken and it is harming the divorcing families and children who are forced to use it. Fixing this broken system will ,mean educating or representatives.

To find out how you can bring about change. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A flawed complaint process for Guardians ad litem in Family Court.

A “Make-Believe” Complaint Process for Guardians ad litem in Maine Family Courts.

While there is little to no current data to tell us exactly what happens with consumers’ complaints about Maine Guardians ad litem, some have actually received action - in the past. We have talked with people who complained (years ago) and were - hold your breath - successful in getting  “corrective action” using the then existing complaint process. That was back then - before GAL immunity - over ten years ago.

In 2001, a bill, LD 164 HP 153 was submitted, which proposed that anyone serving as a Guardian ad litem and acting as the courts agent would have quasi-judicial immunity "for acts performed within the scope of duties of the Guardian ad litem". This bill in its final disposition was recommended to not pass - and it did not. In 2004, however, Guardians ad litem were given quasi-judicial immunity which did not take effect until 2005.

Since 2005 out of an estimated 150 possible complaints from consumers about their GALs, submitted to Maine’s chief judge - not one - zero complaints ever received  any “corrective action”.

What we have for the past 9 - 10 years is a broken, make-believe, complaint process.  Either it’s “make-believe”, or ... we’d all be forced to say, all Guardians ad litem are perfect and don’t ever need any correction or improvement. How could this be where the emotional toil of divorce is so high and a parents child(ren) is at stake.

It should be noted that any time a consumer of Guardian ad litem services takes the time to give feedback - or to complain - about the services, they are giving, what most organizations would consider, valuable information service. Consumers (parents) are telling our court system that there are apparent flaws in the product and/ or service that is being provided. While the complaints and feedback may not be flattering and may expose flaws within the system, complaints/ feedback would give Maine’s judiciary an insight into their service product flaws and an opportunity to improve the quality.  Or ... to prevent tragic internal abuses, public harm and scandal.

Businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Apple and Amazon want to know what the public’s thoughts are about the service they provide. They understand the cost involved in acquiring and retaining the good will of a customer, and that an upset customer can cause untold damage. In a closed system that operates with no competition, like Maine’s Judicial Branch, the concepts of customer service and customer good will and respect go right out the window.  It is an increasingly out of touch anomaly in a consumer driven society.

What are some of the problems that we see with our current and proposed court complaint process:

1. The use of an inflexible and out dated information system. The data that the Judicial Branch retains is on pieces of paper in boxes at widely scattered district  court houses. In order to access this data, one must go to a particular court house in person and deal with court clerks who are often busy, inefficient and feel put - upon - unless you are a popular lawyer. Further, there are limits as to how many records one may examine on a given visit without a fee. (As an aside please note that customer service is often a foreign concept as there is no reason for giving good customer service. My experience with court clerks is that they do not know the product, are rude to customers - unless as noted above a popular lawyer - and look down upon customers). The current date is not useable and/ or meaningful.

2. Any information that one may glean is fragmented, often hand - written and insufficient. There is no common integrated system to collect and process data. This makes it virtually impossible to properly analyze any outcomes of any complaint.

3. Because there is a lack of transparent data and systemic protocol for data collection about Guardian ad litem complaints, this impairs the ability to do a proper external analysis/review/oversight. What little fragmented data there may be for public review, is all but useless to tease out any meaningful data.

4. The inconsistent handling of complaints. While there is a published complaint process on the Maine Judicial Branch web site, it is more or less a series of descriptive steps, with no examples. With no examples the consumer has to do their best in crafting a complaint. Do I just tell the problem like it is (as the justices on the Supreme Court told us back in November) or should the consumer point out why there is a legitimate complaint by citing law and statutes? It is a guessing game.

You are provided instructions on where to file that complaint. Without how to instructions, some ‘prose’ people write pages and pages of their “story”; others try over and over, like a game of “20 Questions”.  Is this how to do it? How about this? It is a conundrum. There is no clearly defined complaint process and or procedures. No one to help a ‘prose’ or consumer of Judicial services.

Where do the Rules for Maine Guardians ad litem fit?  Are they the gold standard?  Oops ... !  Your case involved “judicial discretion” about the Rules, and the judge (with discretion) threw the Rules out the window! Sorry, complaint dismissed! No Rules, No instructions, No limits on judicial discretion! It all equals no real, functional complaint process!  None.

Functionally, it also means absolutely NO oversight of any kind for GALs.  THEY ARE PERFECT! Bad sports, whiners, complainers, get lost!

Until the Judicial Branch decides to take the complaint process seriously there will be a public user problem. The Guardians ad litem role will be an unsupervised, non-functioning, cruel imposition on the public, who are forced to pay for a product with NO “quality assurance” from Maine’s Judicial Branch whatever.

We, as members of the public, are asking the Maine legislature act so as to move the “oversight” of Guardians ad litem to the Bureau of Professional and Financial Regulation.  This would place complaints under the purview of an organization that is well set up to address public complaints on professions of various kinds and that has a strong “consumer orientation”. The current situation is a travesty.


For more information on what we are doing in court reform please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook. Our number is: 207-370-9801.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Santa - They Are All From Kids Who Want BOTH Parents



While the cartoon is meant to make light of the Family Court debacle – there is a huge amount of truth in the message.

In many cases throughout the state and country we have heard stories of parents being ripped away from their children by our courts. These are parents who are solid citizens, who have no background of drug or alcohol abuse. No history of mental illness. They do have a love for their children and fight for them when things appear wrong.

For this they are often punished. Take for instance the case of Dalton v Dalton which went before the Supreme Court of Maine. With this case the lawyer actually represented the client – and fought for Sarah Dalton. The opening brief slammed the Guardian ad litem and the Family Court Judge on the case (it should be noted that the ‘judge’ in question went on to get a promotion back in April. This promotion is not related to this case). The brief sited case law as to why the court was in error. In the end it came down to aggressive lawyering on the part of Sarah’s lawyer as being bad. The complaint on the GAL and ‘judge’ was wiped clean and the mother who was fighting for her children was punished as was the lawyer.

We heard from a mother who earns at the poverty level – pays the GAL bill and pays child support to her ex (who it should be noted allegedly works for a family business and is paid under the table. He has managed to purchase a brand new truck and lives in a house that cost over $350.000.00. The reportedly earns in the neighborhood of $5000.00 - it is amazing that someone in an income this low would be given the credit needed for the house and truck). She went back to court to try and get some relief from the crushing financial burden she has been encumbered with. The 'judge' (who it should be noted is one of the four worse in the state told this mother that because she earns more than the father she is responsible for payment. To add insult to injury the 'judge' took even more time away from the little she has with her kids. It should be noted that the mother is still struggling to make ends meet.

Then there is the father who has fought for his son against all odds. He is up against one of the worst judges in the state (this judge is different than the one mentioned above but is one of four who are the worst in the state). He has no history of mental illness nor does he use or abuse drugs or alcohol (it should be noted though that his ex does). Yet he has had to go through a battery of mental health and parenting tests – his ex has not - at a huge cost to him. He has been stripped financially and is working two jobs to meet the child support requirements - his ex does not work. He is living as close to poverty as one could without actually being in poverty. To add insult to injury he has had his son all but stripped away from his life – to the point where on the few occasions he has had contact with his child – the child cries because he misses his father.

The list – and the pain – goes on. Every parent should have the opportunity to be a part of their child’s life. Every divorce should start off with the idea that the custody is going to be 50/50 and that one or both parent(s) will lose or gain from there. If one side suggest the other needs testing – then both parents should be tested. There should be an equitable balance between the two halves of the divorcing family. It is not a game to be played out with the children as the prize. The only reason why a child should have limited and tempered time with one parent or another if there is cause for that. This should be based not on some ambiguous and ill-defined standard such as “the best interest of the child” standard. But on a standard which can be measured and tested – we like the term “is the child safe”. Is a child safe in the house of a drug addict with mental health issues? Or with a parent who holds down a job and contributes to the family? Is the child safe in an ever changing environment? Or one where a parent has lived for years?

In 2015 we hope that there will be more even-handed division of a child's time of divorcing families between their parents. A child needs the wisdom of both parents and their families. Not to be limited to one. That will only come about if the current family court changes or goes away.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Thank you for following us on Facebook and out blogs. Please feel free to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or call us at 207-370-9801 (ME). We hope you can join us in 2015 to bring about legislative change. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

DivorceCorp and MeGALert - Conflicts of Interest Within the Sordid Divorce Industry

Part 2 of the interview between Director Joe Sorge (DivorceCorp) and former psychiatrist and director of Maine Guardian ad Litem Alert, Jerry Collins. Part 2 exposes the conflicts of interest within the sordid Divorce Industry. Find out how the Judiciary in Maine handled the new law (LD 872 - An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine) which dared to spoil their insider dealings.


DivorceCorp - Family Law Report: Jerry Collins Interview Part2

DivorceCorp - Family Law Report: Jerry Collins Interview Part1


If you would like more information and become involved email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Divorce Corp - Backdoor Deals and Cozy Relationships between GALs and Judges

Director Joe Sorge (DivorceCorp) interviews Maine psychiatrist and director of Maine Guardian Ad Litem Alert, Jerry Collins. They discuss the backdoor deals and cozy relationships between the guardian ad litems (GALs) and other family court professionals. Families are forced to pay outrageous fees and often get little for their money.

Learn how Guardians ad litem demand excessive fees and are essentially unregulated in their practice. It is another shocking example of the corrupt practices in US family courts.

DivorceCorp - Family Law Report: Jerry Collins Interview Part1


If you would like more information and become involved email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Update:

DivorceCorp - Family Law Report: Jerry Collins Interview Part2