Friday, July 25, 2014

1999 Proposed rules for Guardian ad litem

Anita St Onge - unofficial spokes person to address the committee

Terry Hayes, David Kennedy, Ken Altshuler were also mentioned as members who participated in drawing up the rules for GALs. This audio was provided to us by the Cleaves Law Library and dates back to 1999. The library has been helping us locate rules/ standards and guidelines that were in place prior to 2000.

It is interesting what the concerns were back then (these are stated in the first 3 minutes of the audio). The complaint process is mentioned and there is an interesting comment/ concern about how a complaint would filter down to the underlying profession of a GAL.




The audio may be found here. The format provided is mp3.


Please comment by either posing here or emailing us at MeGALalert@gmail.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maine Guardian ad litem - Proposed Repeal and Replacement of the Rules

NOTICE OF OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT

STATE OF MAINE
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT
NOTICE AND OPPORTUNITY FOR COMMENT

Proposed Repeal and Replacement of the
Maine Rules for Guardians Ad Litem

Comments due on or before September 12, 2014, at 4:00 p.m.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court invites comments on a proposed repeal and replacement of the Maine Rules for Guardians Ad Litem. The proposal comprises the work of both the Guardian ad Litem Stakeholders Group, chaired by Hon. Robert E. Mullen, and the Guardian ad Litem Task Force, chaired by Hon. Warren M. Silver. The Supreme Judicial Court has not yet undertaken a detailed review of the proposals, and the proposals are presented now for public comment to allow for the greatest amount of input and comment before the Court undertakes its review. Following the period of public comment, the Court anticipates holding a public hearing. The proposed rules are posted on the Court's website.

Any comments must be filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court by Friday, September 12, 2014, at 4:00 p.m. Comments in writing should be mailed to the address below. Comments sent via email may be in the text of an email or in an attachment to an email, addressed to lawcourt.clerk@courts.maine.gov. If the comments are in an attachment, the attachment must be a document in portable document format (.pdf). The Clerk's Office will acknowledge receipt of the e-mail via a reply e-mail.

All comments must contain (1) the name, mailing address, and telephone number of the individual submitting the comments; and (2) the name, mailing address, and primary telephone number of the organization (if any) on whose behalf the comments are submitted. An individual need not be an attorney to submit comments on behalf of an organization.

Dated July 16, 2014

Matthew Pollack
Executive Clerk
Maine Supreme Judicial Court
205 Newbury Street Room 139
Portland, Maine 04112-0368
(207) 822-4146

If you want to comment but want to do so anonymously we ask that you email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com and we will submit your comments with any identifying information redacted.

Further resources:
2013-02-08 Deputy Chief Judge Robert E. Mullen says that Guardians ad litem are wonderful

2014-04-19 Do the Maine Board of Overseers and Stakeholders have your Best Interest?

Friday, July 4, 2014

As a Guardian ad litem - What Would You Do?

Imagine you are a Guardian ad litem tasked with making a recommendation on a case and you have the following to deal with:

One member has just accused the other of molesting the child of this divorcing family. You recommend that the accused has only supervised visits with this child. The Family Court Judge backs up your recommendation.

But there is a twist

You see the accused has another child with another partner. What do you do?

1. You do nothing - that child is not a party to the divorce.
2. You recommend that the accused parent can only have supervised contact with both children because that parent poses a threat to both of them.
3. You have Child Protective Services come in and determine whether or not the accused is really a threat.

Tell us what you would do - Either add a comment here or click this link which opens up in a new TAB or window.

The results will be published on Monday 7/8/2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

According to Family Court - Field Trip to Bar Late at Night is Good for Child

File this under lack of Common Sense within the Family Court System -

As a parent if your four year old child came to you and told you she was scared of being in a situation your ex put her in what would you do? If your child was taken to an adult environment, a bar, late at night where there was loud music, alcohol and intoxicated adults involved. What would you do?  Would it make a difference if you were involved in a divorce and custody battle? It might.

Most parents would try to take some kind of protective action for their child. If a Guardian ad litem was involved – you would complain to them; after all, that is what they are put in place for. Clearly a child (no matter what the age) being put into an inappropriate adult situation is not in the child’s best interest. Nor does the child feel emotionally safe in these situations. Common sense would dictate that this child (or any child) should be protected and removed from this situation or environment.

The child in question told her father that she felt scared being in the bars to which she was taken by her mother. She witnessed fights and yelling, and her mom's boyfriend being pushed around. “Bad words” were often being said between people. When the father brought this to the Guardian ad litem's attention (the person who is supposed to be looking out for the best interest of this child) – the Guardian ad litem stated that the father simply did not trust that his four year old daughter was in good hands. The father, concerned for his daughters safety, continued to make his point and express his concern. His concern was not taken seriously by the Guardian ad litem. Instead of investigating whether or not the situation of a child’s late night visit to bars was good for the child, this Guardian ad litem continued to blame the father for trying to cause trouble.

How are we to believe, as this Guardian ad litem and the Judge would seem to be doing, that this little girl's 'best interest' was served by late night visits to bars that she found frightening? What about the child's emotional safety? Is this kind of place a good moral environment for children? To say the least of what this child is learning from the experience? We would say that common sense was not used by the child’s mother nor by the Guardian ad litem for that matter. Sadly, this type of poor judgment is frequently seen with quite a number of Guardians ad litem in the State of Maine. Examples like this are the reason why there is now - and has been - a very real need for Guardian ad litem and Family Court reform.

MeGALert is a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting parents who have been abused by the family court system. In addition we educate and promote reform through legislation - both here in Maine as well as nationally. We would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com and tell us your story. In addition we may be found on Facebook.

The Power of the Powerless - 2012 by MeGALert

Family Court Survey - We want your opinion regarding the experience you had in Family Court.


Friday, June 27, 2014

A Basic Tool Kit for Grass Roots Family Court Reform

We have been asked by many people how we got MeGALalert, our Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform program, started and what beginning grassroots activists should do to get going?  We grew our program, MeGALalert by stages and degrees, learning by trial and error as we grew.  We quickly set two fixed goals: (1) education of the public about the need for reform of family courts and Guardians ad litem, and (2) legislation to produce change.  We feel that you can’t have legislated change for these dysfunctional systems without an enlightened, aware public that will support and push for change.  Legislation also requires that we  educate legislators about the family court and Guardian ad litem problems, and also that we help voters connect with legislators and- as constituents/voters - express their views and their wishes. Family court systems  are not anything that can be “fixed” quickly, because there are huge systemic problems and powerful internal forces that support  the dysfunction of family courts, and that keep dysfunction alive, well and growing. Long ago, we were instructed by one sophisticated  lawyer: “Follow the money!”

What we are outlining is a well planned systems intervention in a massive system, and it cannot be done quickly or without a well designed strategy and tactics, nor can these be effective without tools for intervention in all parts of the system. Obviously, this is a complex undertaking. We are always glad to share our thoughts and our approach, but to do so would take more than a simple, single blog posting.  We’ll start by giving a brief list of important generic systems intervention “must have”  “tools” that you may find useful in changing family court systems:

1. A blog or two (or more) with different focuses that will serve multiple purposes: give news, present issues and problems, make proposals for change and allow for public "conversations".

2. A Facebook page dedicated to court reform in your state, which can present more short-term "reform news" and sharing.

3. Building a base of credible political supporters, larger numbers of both friends and “victims” of the family court system.  E-mail addresses (and list-servs) for this group are critical, precious, invaluable .  One rule to follow: ALWAYS BLIND COPY (bcc)  MASS MAILINGS FOR PRIVACY).  Telephone numbers and physical addresses are useful also.  We started with our family court story (disaster) in a local weekly paper that got the attention of other family court “victims” who contacted us - and the rest is history as the numbers grew and grew.

4. Once you get stared, a core group of friends with a "work ethic", who can be counted on to help with some of the "heavy lifting".  Volunteer manpower, which can stay on top of what's happening in state government that may impact on users of family courts.

5. Getting to know your State Rep and State Senator and continuously educating them on the court reform issues is critical.  Getting to know other legislators, especially those who have gone through divorce and custody horrors.  “Victims” of family courts in the legislature are “golden”.  You also need to know which legislators are your enemies and “frenemies” , Which legislators will sabotage your efforts and support the ‘status quo’?  HINT: look for legislators who are lawyers!

6. Getting to know your state Governor and your Chief Justice.   Governors can submit bills and can veto bills, but they too need education.  Justices often want changes in the courts but they are constrained by their political base: the state bar and state lawyers who live handsomely off of family courts.  They hear appeals form family courts and their judgments become case law.

7. Building relations with the all elements of the media.  Know reporters, feed them stories.  Many court reporters are intimidated about journalistically challenging the courts and getting “shut out” of court news thereafter, but sometimes your news may tempt them out of timidity.  Small, local, weekly papers, we find, are most open to reporting our experience - and people do read them. Give them stories. This got us going. Don’t forget social media in all of its many forms.

8. Organize intimate, small showings of "Divorce Corp", the DVD, it is very educational, packs a punch and ought to be a "must see" for legislators and government decision makers.  It is a great “tool” for quick information and attitude change.

9. Make your most important goal: public education about the largely unknown scandal that is family courts in America.  Without extensive education of the public you go nowhere.

10. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Keep everyone who writes to support you in the loop, up on the news - good and bad.  Answer ALL e-mails asap.

11. Don't worry about money or setting up a nonprofit.  We've done it with no money and no corporation. Money and non-profits have their own problems and politics. We've done it with PEOPLE, who are FRIENDS. The most successful movement that produced massive political change was created by Vaclav Havel, former, Czech president, Nobel prize winner, writer and political dissident.

Finally, don't be discouraged by setbacks.  It is going to be a long term project. Family courts have solid support of a huge, wealthy industry ($50 billion), the “divorce industry”, these lawyers, like the “robber barons” of old, are not going to yield quickly or easily. But ... we have human and moral "right" on our side, and, once we connect, there are more of US than there are of THEM! Vaclav Havel called it “The power of the powerless”.

In the long run, if we keep at it , like others before us who fought injustice...

"WE SHALL OVERCOME ... SOMEDAY..."

MeGALalert can be reached by emailing us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or by finding us on Facebook. There is no magic bullet that can be used to help you with the issues you and your family are facing. We offer support and help in dealing with the family court system.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alicia Napalan - Money means custody in Family Courts

By Alicia Napalan
West Plains, Missouri

Recently I went through a divorce. I was unable to afford an attorney, while my ex-husband was. I was denied legal aid, twice, due to a lack of funds. My husband was granted full custody of my four year old son. I have one weekend of supervised visitation. I have to pay him $100 per each visitation. As well as $3500 for his attorneys fees in 60 days. All because I was expected to have the same amount of knowledge in representing myself as someone who spent years in law school. I have a job, a car, my own place, I don't do drugs, and my son wasn't abused. Clearly, justice can't be done when one party is represented while the other is not.

In the large amount of time I spent in court, I saw crying mothers over and over, asking the judge what to do, and repeating that they can't afford an attorney. And the judge is only allowed to respond with, "you are expected to know, if you represent yourself. I cannot give you legal advice." The Legal Service Corporation is largely responsible for the funding for state legal aid programs. Even though the budget is 350 million, with supplemental funding from LSC, the total amount of legal aid available for civil cases is still grossly inadequate.

According to LSC's widely released 2005 report "Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans", all legal aid offices nationwide, LSC-funded or not, are together able to meet only about 20 percent of the estimated legal needs of low-income people in the United States.

I lost custody of my child, because I could not do enough research on my own, to stand up against an attorney who had been in practice for years. Hard solid evidence I had was not accepted by the judge because a lack of foundation. 90% of what came out of my mouth was objected to. All on top of the fact that I have social anxiety, and fear of speaking to people and crowds.

I'm requesting that Congress grant more funding for LSC so that more low income families may have a chance at justice. So those extra funds can trickle down to all State Legal Aid programs. It wasn't a piece of furniture I was fighting for. It was my child. And I lost him because I lack funds.

I'm terrified of the emotional Impact It will have on my child being away from me. If I miss my deadline to pay for my visitation, my ex-husband refuses to let me see him. And its getting increasingly harder to make that deadline because he is garnishing my wages for the attorneys fees the judge granted I pay him. I believe with an increase in funding for legal aid services, more families will have a chance at justice, and be spared the same hardships I'm going through.

Alicia Napalan can be found on Facebook. Alicia represents a significant problem that is growing daily. Access to Justice within the Family Court system. The national average of 'Pro se' representation is over 50% with some states over 75% of parents representing themselves (Maine 74%, Connecticut 82% and New York at 85%). This is a two tiered system of justice between the haves (those who are able to afford legal representation) and the have not's (those who are not able to afford representation). MeGALalert is trying to bring about reform to the Family Court system. If you are interested in helping then please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com of like us on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

PROPOSAL FOR AN AUDIT OF ‘PRO SE’ REPRESENTATION IN MAINE FAMILY COURTS


Wikipedia defines an audit as: "A planned and documented activity performed by qualified personnel to determine by investigation, examination or evaluation of objective evidence  the adequacy and compliance with established procedures or applicable documents and the effectiveness of implementation.



A performance audit is increasingly used in government agencies as an examination of success in satisfying mission objectives.



Auditing is defined as a systematic and independent examination of data, statements, records and operations and performances of an enterprise for a stated purpose.



The purpose is then to give an opinion on the adequacy of controls and to improve the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance processes."

This is the working definition we use when we consider asking for an audit of ‘pro se’ issues in family courts.  Is the growth of ‘pro se’ representation impacting the “normal” functioning of family courts?  If so, how, and what are the qualitative implications?

'PRO SE' IN MAINE COURTS WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED:  'Pro se' representation in Maine courts is a problem of amateur, ”do-it-yourself “ players trying to navigate the arcane complexities and traditions of family law in family courts.  It is an incredible challenge to amateurs that is repeatedly and despairingly acknowledged by self representing users of family courts and by sympathetic members of the Judiciary.  It is also acknowledged, as a problem by the Maine Bar, which - in spite of its good faith efforts to find answers to the 'pro se' problem - sees the problem escape those efforts and grow numerically ever larger.

'PRO SE' NUMBERS:  Most people don't know the actual size, the statistics, of the 'pro se' problem in Maine Family Courts and are shocked when the hear the statistics.  74% is the number recently reported (personal communication) by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley.  Justice Andrew Mead in an "op ed" essay in the Portland Press Herald reported 3/4 'pro se' representation in family courts (or 75%).  But we won't quibble over 1%!!   It is a big problem.  ‘Pro se” users are the majority “parties” in family courts- a big majority!

And ... this 74% percentage isn't static.  It keeps on growing despite efforts by the Bar and the Judicial Branch to reduce the numbers - to reduce its prevalence.  From the absence of  successful “solutions” and the failure to reduce the numbers, one has to infer that there is a problem in diagnosing the "disease" - and its dynamics -  or that the corrective "medicine" isn't strong enough or isn't working fast enough.  Because the numbers keep growing there is an need for an opinion outside of the Judicial Branch about the nature and scope of the problems and for proposals to correct them.  We feel that OPEGA qualifies, given their experience in conducting audits and given their enviable reputation for fairness and objectivity. 

NATIONAL 'PRO SE' PERSPECTIVE: The 'pro se' problem is by no means just a Maine problem.  The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) reports that growing ‘pro se’ representation is a growing problem for every state.  Connecticut and New York are said to have 82 and 83% 'pro se', respectively.  Some of the problem seems related to national "macro economics" and the economic problems of the last several years.  Some of it is related to the escalating costs of private  legal services, which quickly become a financial deterrent to middle class family court users. But we have to ask, regardless of abstract economic speculation, do we really want to end up competing with Connecticut and New York for bigger ‘pro se’ numbers? What are we waiting for? 

Like it or not, the 74%  'pro se'  problem proclaims a 'de facto', two tier user (and social class) system in our courts - the wealthy 25% have lawyers, and the middle class 75% “do-it-yourself”.  The questions for the public are: (a) what are the root causes of  this social discrimination, can causes be addressed and (b) should we just let the problem continue (and grow) uncorrected?

THE HUMAN PROBLEMS behind the 'pro se' number: are public users, judges, lawyers and others. Any audit needs to consider who uses family courts 'pro se' and otherwise. What are the demographics? What are other differentiating features? How do 'pro se' users feel about their legal adequacy in court? What "tools" do they use in representing themselves? What is their experience of judges?  What outcomes differentiate those with lawyers form those with none. Is there a differential with regard to Guardian ad litem experiences?

Likewise there is a need to evaluate how judges perceive the 'pro se' issue.  What are the professional challenges for judges dealing with 'pro se'?  What solutions do they improvise to address the problems?  What suggestions or recommendations do they have for improvement?  What "tools" does the Judicial Branch already provide those doing self representation?  How useful/adequate are these?

We have heard many lawyers claim that they see no problem with the current operation of the family court system.  On a personal/professional level this is certainly understandable, because in cases where they oppose a 'pro se' "lawyer", they have an extreme professional advantage in their own favor. It must be like "taking candy from a baby"! There may be other advantages too in this sort of uneven "legal combat", but an audit would look at all of the dynamics and, one hopes, challenge complacency.

THE DEMOCRACY "PROBLEM":  Clearly a two class court system in which those with money for a lawyers are favored and those without a lawyer to represent them are disfavored poses a huge challenge to a democratic society. It is an enormous embarrassment to all of us to ignore the inequality. It is an important issue that needs thoughtful evaluation to diagnose the nature of the problem and to recommend intelligent proposals for correction that will be democratic and constitutional.

AN OPEGA PERFORMANCE AUDIT, we feel strongly,  is the way to go for Maine’s children and families, who are forced to represent themselves in family courts!  We ask the Legislature, the Judicial Branch and the Governor, along with the “grassroots” to support legislation to begin problem analysis and problem solving of the ‘pro se’ issue.


We are trying to bring about reform to the Guardian ad litem role and Family Court system. We encourage you to become involved and to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hate Mail - a Tactic that Violates our Beliefs and Ethics

We've all experienced it.  We recognize it by the tension in our stomach as we read it, by its extremist perspective, by the writer's views on whatever the "hate" topic - close to ours in some ways, yet somehow a million miles away from us in style, approach, ethics and feeling.

The question for us is always how - or whether - to respond to this raw, affect laden expression?  Do we try to keep an open mind about the writer and hope that we may perhaps find common ground that will eliminate the gut-wrenching "hate", or do we spot entrenched danger signals that can never, never be corrected - and "bail out" asap?  Since we can't read the future, it is a judgment call based on the data at hand at the start of the process.  And judgment calls-in either direction - as we know, can be wrong!

But "hate mail" is also a healthy test of our personal, ethical, humane, stylistic "boundaries".  Where do we stand?  How far will we go?  What approaches and tactics proposed by the "hate mail" for "problem-solving" are unacceptable to us?  Which tactics violate our beliefs and ethics?  Solving a problem at any cost, with "no holds barred", with no goals other than stirring up raw emotion and more "hate", massive "hate" are not who we are, not what we are about.

We are activist reformers, yes, but we believe in the personal, human dignity of our opposition.  We assume that they have a right to their beliefs, as we do.  We oppose all tactics of human demonization by anyone involved in "conversations about change" or reform.  If we can't persuade by "telling the truth" (Vaclav Havel) in a respectful, forceful, courageous, humane way, we pollute ourselves.  We become something we don't respect or want to be.  We lose our "moral compass".  And thereby we lose our way and fail  miserably on a personal level.

One of our teachers many years ago cautioned us about the dangers of a successful movement.  "Prepare for predators", he said.  Prepare for those - who are less successful in their own efforts - trying to pirate part of our barque, without understanding the "total package", without recognizing that our "ship" only floats on decency, respect of others humanity, honesty, courage, ethics - guided by (we hope) a strong moral compass.

"Hate", distortion of facts and public humiliation of anyone  are not on our list and never will be!

Please contact MeGAL at MeGALalert@gmail.com if you have had issues with Family Courts and Guardians ad litem or find us on Facebook.