Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lawyers, Divorce Industry Like Mike - Should You?

We try to stay clear of partisan politics. After all, children's welfare in divorce and custody shouldn't be a partisan issue. So we try to remain "non-partisan",

BUT ...

Quite frankly, from the perspective of our Family Court, and Guardian ad litem (GAL) reform concerns, we "Don't like Mike" - that is Mike Michaud, one of ( 3 ) candidates running for Governor of Maine. In fact we would say to our GAL and Family Court reform friends, "Vote for anyone else for Governor, but not Mike!"

It's nothing personal, Mike, its your "special interest" lawyer friends, supporters and the fundraisers who we don't like! It is Maine's divorce industry that is "hell bent for election," divorce bar lawyers raising money for "Mike" like it is going out of style and the other, so - called "impartial" divorce industry people silently cheering for "Mike". They are hoping that he wins and that his gratitude for their support will preserve the very lucrative 'status quo' in our creaky, old, dysfunctional, Family Courts.

ASK YOURSELF - WHY DOES THE DIVORCE INDUSTRY SO AVIDLY SUPPORT MIKE MICHAUD? Why are lawyers, law firms and the judicial branch supporting Mike? The financial investment they are making in Mike Michaud is an investment in keeping the family court as we know it. It is an investment in their retirements, their children's education and their way of life.

Take a look at some of Mikes supporters:

Michael Asen Esq (MittelAsen) - has helped fund raise for Mike on several occasions - 07/25/2014; 08/11/2014; 08/14/2014;

Michael Asen Esq has also been quoted by the Portland Press Herald as saying “My highest priority is making sure we don’t have another four years of this governor.” in an August 12, 2014 posting and referring to Gov. Paul LePage. Remember Gov. Paul LePage signed the Dutremble bill LD 872 "An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine" which the Judicial Branch hated as did lawyers and Guardians ad litem. Michael Asen Esq is also the chair of fund raising for Maine lawyers who like "Mike".

Diane Dusini Esq (MittelAsen) - has helped raise money for Mike on at least one occasion - 08/11/2014. It should be noted that is also the President of the Maine Bar.

Stephanie Cotsirilos - former Wall Street Lawyer - has helped raise money for Mike Michaud - 08/11/2014.

Robert Gips Esq (DrummondWoodsun) has helped raise money for Mike Michaud - 08/11/2014.

Neil Jamieson Esq (Prescott Jamieson Nelson & Murphy) has helped to raise money for Mike Michaud - 07/21/2014; 08/11/2014.

Brett D. Baber Esq (Lanham Blackwell & Baber) has helped to raise money for Mike Michaud - 08/11/2014.

Janis B. Cohen Esq. has helped to raise money for Mike Michaud - 08/11/2014.

Elizabeth Scheffee Esq. (Givertz Scheffee & Lavoie, PA) has helped raised money for Mike Michaud - 08/11/2014.

Richard S. Berne Esq. (Law Office of Richard Berne) - is helping Mike Michaud with campaign contributions - 08/11/2014.

WHY DO THEY LIKE "MIKE"?  You can bet that it isn't just out of the goodness of their hearts, and it isn't because the divorce bar wants our kind of Family Court or Guardian ad litem reform.  They expect that "Mike's" "pay back" for their financial bucks will be strong support for the "divorce bar".  Keep lawyer privilege!  Keep our family courts as they are - a gold mine for lawyers and the Divorce Industry. Keep consumers out of this unregulated "industry".  "Mike" has a political  reputation for being an obedient,  good, ol boy. The divorce bar and their good friend, Senate President Justin Alfond ( 07/21/2014; 08/11/2014; 09/23/2014 ), are banking on a tight relationship with "Mike". Alfond is reported to have already told Senators in his caucus, enough already with GAL reform; the lawyers don't like it!

WE'D BET THAT MANY WITHIN THE JUDICIAL BRANCH ARE ALSO SILENTLY SUPPORTING  "MIKE" TOO (and not just their "prayers and good wishes"!). He is their kind of guy; supporting the interests of the "divorce industry" and will not supporting Family Court or GAL reform - just exactly as they are.

DO YOU SUPPORT THE "DIVORCE INDUSTRY"? A vote for "Mike" supports the divorce industry and perpetuates our victim-hood in Family Courts. Use you precious vote thoughtfully, carefully and in the best interest of our children. Your vote can make a difference. Please, friends, anyone but "Mike" for Governor of Maine, please!

We'd also say, check out where our candidates for the Maine Senate and House of Representatives stand on our reform issues. We're splitting our vote on these candidates depending on whether they support our family court and GAL reform positions. For us, it's not about Republican or Democrat; we call ourselves "Childocrats"!

JOIN THE CHILDOCRAT PARTY TOO!

MeGALert is a grassroots organization and like minded people who have a vested interest in the states Family Court process and reform. Please feel free to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Judicial Branch - How Do Pro se Litigants Feel About Their Court Experience?

With the non-response response from the Judicial Branch we reach back out asking whether or not the Judicial Branch has interest in the Pro se problem in Maine.


From: J M Coll <jacol1@xxxxxxxxxx.net
Sent: Sep 30, 2014 11:46 AM
To: Mary Ann Lynch <mary.ann.lynch@xxxxx.xxxxx.gov
Cc: "ddusini@xxxxxxxxxx.com" <ddusini@xxxxxxxxxxx.com, "Villa98staterep@xxxxx.com" <Villa98staterep@xxxxx.com, "ddutrem1@xxxxx.com" <ddutrem1@xxxxx.com, Beth.Ashcroft@xxxxxxxxxxx.Xxxxx.gov, Governor@xxxxx.gov
Subject: Re: Our 'Pro Se' conversation on Wednesday

Mary Ann Lynch, Esq
Media Counsel
Maine Judicial Branch

Dear Mary Ann,

Thanks for your very prompt reply to my e-mail (on a Saturday morning, no less!). It is useful to get an official Judicial Branch position so quickly.

About the content of your reply, what can I say?

Your response to my e-mail is masterful. You “defend the J.B. fort valiantly”, but in all fairness, I wasn’t intending to attack the “fort” in any way - either in our very brief phone conversation, or in my subsequent e-mail to you. The email was intended as a simple clarification (expansion) of points in our conversation that you asked for. You suggested “a proposal”, if I recall. Despite disclaimers by me that my remarks are not a "proposal", you seem to have over determined them as such.  In my opinion, a position statement or an actual proposal about ‘pro se’ reform issues would need many inputs from many people - not just you or me.

The tone and focus of your reply, however, deflects attention from the serious ‘pro se’ epidemiological questions that I actually raised in the email, and that need answers to be used as “tools” for any serious problem solving. So ...  let me repeat the questions:

  • WHAT SHOULD THE GOALS FOR  ANY ‘PRO SE’ CORRECTIVE INTERVENTION BE? 
  • WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MAINE’S FAMILY COURT ‘PRO SE’ PROBLEM?  
  • DOES HAVING A LAWYER MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUTCOME OF DIVORCE AND CUSTODY?  
  • HOW DO ‘PRO SE’ LITIGANTS FEEL ABOUT THEIR COURT EXPERIENCE?  
  • HOW DO FAMILY COURT JUDGES FEEL ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH ‘PRO SE’ LITIGANTS? 
  • HOW DOES THE DIVORCE BAR SEE THE ‘PRO SE’ PROBLEM?

I am reasonably certain that neither you nor anyone in the Maine Judicial Branch currently has answers to the above vital problem-solving questions. I am sure there are opinions and anecdotes, but no actual hard, working data.

I also suspect that these questions, and their use in data collection and subsequent use of such data in targeted problem-solving, may appear to be an unfamiliar problem-solving model to the Judiciary, its “stake holders” and to the usual problem solving ‘modus operandi’. They are a classic population-oriented, conceptual approach used since the 19th century in assessing and planning for issues in question for large, under served, at risk populations. With all due respect, I would contend that a “stake holders” committee is not a tool for solving an ever expanding epidemic of ‘pro se’ representation. Perhaps a legislative audit might be able to seek data and suggest remedies. Please, note in the previous sentence, the key word,” perhaps”! “Perhaps” you and your colleagues might wish to propose another approach to the same problems at hand.

As for your worry about “violation of the separation of powers”,  I hope I don’t appear to be someone, who - in a public conversation - would (God forbid!) ask the Judicial Branch Media Counsel to violate either the US or Maine Constitution! Legislative audits of Judiciary functions have been done by other states who revere the constitution every bit as much as we Mainers do. In Maine, we have the brilliant precedent of the 2006 legislatively approved audit by OPEGA of the Judiciary’s Guardians ad litem program. As I understand it, any of the 3 branches of government may propose a bill. You/your branch of government submitted a bill in 2013 dealing with GALs, using Senator Valentino as sponsor. It was hardly a unique event! As a firm believer in our constitutions - state and federal - I think we could study the epidemiology of ‘pro se’ and how to correct it without creating a constitutional crisis! “Where there's a will, there's a way”!

The "child's best interest" question that you raise, is another item that needs serious study and correction. In my opinion and that of many others, this one concept is the root of much that is wrong about family courts. It is the heart and soul of a lawyer-directed, inter-party competition, generating all of the most malignant contention in a divorce. It is the powerful driver of “billable hours” and thereby out-of-control lawyer’s bills! It serves “No one’s best interest”, least of all the child! If it requires legislation, what’s wrong with proposing it? What’s wrong, one suspects, is that if a corrective law were passed, the family court bar would metaphorically speaking  “go on food stamps”. That’s why the ‘status quo’ is so hard to change. But let it not stop us from trying!

Calling the divorce bar the “divorce industry” may offend you but is not far off the mark or disrespectful when one  does a detailed, “connect the dots” study (as we have done) of how members of this powerful group operate to preserve a very lucrative, privileged  ‘status quo’.

It would be helpful to get an expression of interest from you about a legislative audit of ‘pro se’. Any interest at the Judicial Branch? Or should we pursue this along other avenues?

Sincerely,

Jerry Collins

If you have had an issue with the court system we encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com. Or find us on Facebook.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Pro se Problem in Family Courts - The Judicial Branch Response

September 26 a follow up email was sent to Mary Ann Lynch with the Judicial Branch regarding a conversation which took place on September 24, 2014 regarding Pro se problems. We published that email on Sunday September 28, 2014 so the public could read about the very real concerns of Pro se representation in the Family Court system. That letter/posting may be found here. There were several points that were emphasized in that letter to the Judicial Branch:

1. What should the goals for any Pro se intervention be?
2. What is the nature of Maine's Pro se problem?
3. Does having a lawyer make a difference in outcome of divorce and custody?
4. How do Pro se litigants feel about their court experience?
5. How do Family Court judges feel about their experience with Pro se litigants?
6. How does the Divorce Bar see the Pro se problem?

The points were made as some possible questions that could be asked in trying to solve the Pro se problem. They were not intended as a proposal but as a means to start a conversation about planning.

In response to that email and as a follow up to the conversation - we have the following email from the Judicial Branch.

From: Mary Ann Lynch <mary.ann.lynch@xxxxxx.maine.gov>
Sent: Sep 27, 2014 7:25 AM
To: J & M Coll <jacol1@xxxxxxxx.net>
Cc: "ddusini@xxxxxxxxxx.com", "Villa98staterep@xxxxx.com", "ddutrem1@xxxxx.com"

Subject: Re: Our 'pro Se' conversation on Wednesday

Thank you for your follow up. Your letter raises issues you did not raise in our conversation on Wednesday. For instance "defining custody-50/50" fundamentally changes the current law, that is,   "the best interest of the child standard."  I suggest this type of question is a question of what the state law should be, and the resolution lies fundamentally with the Legislature. It would a violation of the separation of powers for the court to become involved in efforts to change amend the substantive law. If your goal is to change the substantive law on family issues, you should bring these issues before the Legislature.

You also did not mention in our conversation Wednesday an audit or study to be done specifically by OPEGA. As you may know, the Court currently is reviewing the report of the Family Division Task Force. These recommendations are before the Court after a year of study and 8 public hearings conducted all around the state.  This report contains proposals and recommended changes to the court procedures governing family law matters. The Task Force report focus is on improving public service by, among other things, eliminating court events that cause unnecessary delay, and improving procedures to promote prompt and more effective resolution of family disputes. The comment period just closed, and the Court is now considering the report and the comments. It is premature to undertake another study, before the court has acted on the recommendations now before it. More fundamentally, an audit by OPEGA raises substantial separation of powers issues.

Your discussion of the significant challenges presented by people proceeding without lawyers, most likely because they cannot afford lawyers, is a subject that the Court has worked mightily over the years to address, (with proposals to the Legislature to provide civil legal services to low income Mainers and to encourage lawyers to provide free legal services. Indeed, in the next few weeks lawyers across the state will be recognized for providing free legal services to their fellow Mainers.). But the problem is not just one experienced in family matters.  It is a problem that cuts across every civil docket in our courts. Any study of the issue needs to address all civil dockets, not just family matters.  We welcome a renewed interest in this problem.

Finally, I do not think the continuing disparaging and pejorative characterization "of the divorce industry," is particularly helpful or productive.  I suspect I will be accused of stifling discussion. That is not my intent. My intent is to accord all involved with respect.

Mary Ann Lynch


If you have had issues in Family Court as a Pro se litigant we ask that you contact us at MeGALert - MeGALalert@gmail.com

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Pro se Problem in Family Courts

Mary Ann Lynch
Government and Media Counsel
Maine Judicial Branch

Dear Mary Ann,

It was a pleasure to talk with you by phone on Wednesday afternoon and to share a few thoughts about the very troubling 74% ‘pro se’ problem in Maine’s family courts. 74% is a powerful number that speaks to a socially unacceptable differential status of citizens/voters in the face of  justice. My purpose in calling you was  to be a “catalyst” for broad based problem-solving concerning the ‘pro se’ phenomenon. It seems to be growing numerically by leaps and bounds, despite valiant, well-documented efforts by your associates to contain it.

To me, as a former public health planner, there appears to be a lack of data about the nature of this problem that would be a vital necessity in designing a strategic intervention to reduce this unacceptable 74% number. The problem of ‘pro se’ numbers also appears to suffer (paradoxically) from well-intended attempts to try to solve the ‘pro’ se’ problem with inadequate problem definition. It puts “answers to the problem” before adequate “problem definition”, and thereby places the cart in front of the horse. Without wishing to disparage the ongoing work being attempted by those associated with the Maine Judicial Branch and the Maine Bar, I would suggest that there are some serious planning questions that need research and study before seeking answers.

Here, in brief, are a few of my thoughts, a recap and elaboration on our earlier phone discussion:

WHAT SHOULD THE GOALS FOR  ANY ‘PRO SE’ INTERVENTION BE? In any thoughtful, large scale, organized government plan, one needs clearly stated goals to aim for - and to keep the movement towards goals on target. I would suggest- tentatively- that the aim for the ‘pro se’ problem should be to reduce the incidence and prevalence of ‘pro se’ as a phenomenon in Maine family courts - “to move the “numbers needle” backwards”. To use a public health conceptualization, one might say ‘pro se’ is a growing epidemiological problem. What is the “epidemic” about, how is it spread over Maine’s “at risk” populations, who is vulnerable, what factors are causing it, what exacerbates its growth, what diminishes its growth and what “interventions” might well organized data suggest would be most effective? To that end, I suggest a sample of some very generic questions that an epidemiologist might ask before intervening in any epidemic.

WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MAINE’S FAMILY COURT ‘PRO SE’ PROBLEM? Beyond anecdote, who are the 74% of people who do ‘pro se’’ in Maine’s family courts? What sort of demographics do they represent? What ages, occupations, education levels, financial status, duration of marriage, number of children, geographic locations, previous marriages/relationships, health/mental health status?  What are the reasons that they are  doing ‘pro se’?  Financial reasons (examples)? Or other reasons?  All of these data would be useful tools in shaping rational problem-solving. Without such data, solving problems can only be based on anecdote, guess work, personal impressions, prejudice and bias. Bad information, as everyone knows, leads to bad answers!

DOES HAVING A LAWYER MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUTCOME OF DIVORCE AND CUSTODY? What is the statistical record for various types of outcomes for ‘pro se’ litigants? How do things go when one party has a lawyer and the other doesn’t? What factors favor what outcome when both parties have a lawyer? Are there statistics for law firms and lawyers showing records of wins and losses? How do ‘pro se’’, lawyers, and judges view the contest?

HOW DO ‘PRO SE’ LITIGANTS FEEL ABOUT THEIR COURT EXPERIENCE? Were they helped to do pre-court paperwork? Was the help that they received effective or was it confusing? Did they get help or coaching before going to court? From what kinds of helping sources? How do ‘pro se’ litigants feel about their courtroom experience?  Were they put at ease by the judge? Were they treated respectfully? Did they encounter judicial hostility or overt rejection? Were they listened to? How did they handle evidentiary challenges (“object, object, object!”) from opposing counsel? Were they included in all conferences and administrative issues? Did they feel that they received treatment in court equal to opposing counsel (if there was one)? Do they have ideas for simplifying the process for making it less time consuming, fairer and with happier resolution? How were they and their children impacted by the personal stress of the  ‘pro se’ experience and its  aftermath?

HOW DO FAMILY COURT JUDGES FEEL ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH ‘PRO SE’ LITIGANTS? What kinds of problems do they experience? What impact does ‘pro se’ have on courtroom procedures and process? What are the biggest challenges in this situation for judges? What would they suggest to solve some of the problems associated with ‘pro se’? Do they have suggestions that might diminish the incidence of ‘pro se’ ?

HOW DOES THE DIVORCE BAR SEE THE ‘PRO SE’ PROBLEM? Does everyone in a divorce and custody situation need a lawyer? What type of cases may not need a lawyer?  What about pre-court legal “coaching”? What about paraprofessional lawyers? What about defining custody as 50-50 in all cases- except proven abuse? What other ideas? What about disincentives for lawyers? What about fee caps on all cases, or needing certification from a judge to bill beyond a certain $$ figure?

Please, do not take the preceding paragraphs as any sort of concrete proposal. The remarks above are offered only as possible examples of epidemiological data for use in a very classic, rational problem solving process. The questions are more to get a conversation about planning going- or to say, we don’t want to go there, because...

To my thinking, all three branches of government should be involved in any such a conversation leading to a plan for action. The core issue at the heart of the ‘pro se’ problem problem is about how we are to treat Maine families and children in the throes of divorce and custody. It is a question about the well being of a  sub-population of huge importance to the future of Maine. Interest in the topic goes way beyond the interest and practices of one branch of government and one profession. Ideally all three branches of government should work on the issue and should sponsor the supportive legislation to enable the work. As to the question of who might  best do such a study or variations thereof in the interest of the public, my vote would be for OPEGA; others might have other choices. My personal aim would be to eliminate the dominance of “special interests” of stake holders from the “divorce industry”, who have been the dominant players heretofore. They don’t represent the people.

I hope this gives a bit more flesh on the bare bones we discussed on Wednesday? It is still skeletal!  It is just a beginning of a much needed larger conversation.

Thanks for your time, your always valuable perspective and your in depth knowledge of the Judicial Branch - and Maine government.

Sincerely,

Jerry Collins

CC: MeGALert

If you have had a bad experience in the Family Court systems or with a Guardian ad litem. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Public Comment: Report of the Family Division Task Force (FDTF), 2013

This is an interesting report in which the growing 74%pro se’ problem is acknowledged, but it seems to despair of a solution. Maybe in time. Maybe never. But - we’re thinking about it and working on it. It’s just that the thought and work hasn’t been successful in containing the growth of the problem, in designing an approach, much less, finding answers to the problem.

It is our impression that the  current status quo, financial incentives  to the Divorce Industry, are mammoth! Seriously analyzing the ‘pro se’ problem, a serious legislative audit or serious problem solving might, God forbid,  “kill the goose that laid the golden egg” for the Divorce Industry! After all, as quoted in the Family Division Task Force Report, 86% of family court cases have only ONE LAWYER (see page 20 - IX. Addressing the Increasing Unrepresented Population; A. Court Resources for Un-repsented Litigants: "The number of cases before family law magistrates in 2012 with one or fewer attorneys approached 86%")!

Imagine that one lawyer (in the 86 % of cases) opposing a ‘pro se’ party. As work, it is a ‘slam dunk’ as if ”like taking candy from a baby”. Very easy money. Two “champions” in the legal arena; one with a full armamentarium of legal weapons, knowledge of legal protocol and procedure - the other virtually naked and unarmed. Care to put a little money on the probability odds of the Pro se winning? We are not saying that ALL ‘pro se’ parties lose, but the “odds” are not in their favor in these situations. The playing field is tilted in favor of the represented party.

The ‘pro se’ party in cases we know of is totally frightened of the court, intimidated by the age old etiquette governing functioning in court.

Let’s consider a few generic issues: Unreliable help from the court in serving papers and in compiling other necessary paper work. No full understanding of the Rules of Evidence, Rules of procedure, no knowledge of how to frame the case for presentation, no courtroom experience in examining witnesses, no techniques for dealing with almost constant barrage of, “I oppose” actions from the attorney for the other side. These are just a few (of many) items to consider. Then there is the matter of self-esteem and feeling unbelievably stupid in the alien legal culture of a family court (and this is doubly a problem for foreign litigants). Add to the ‘pro se’ nightmare the minimization of the problem (with good $$$ reason) by the bar and judges who vary greatly concerning: impatience, anger, put-downs, scoldings and kindness, patience and the very limited “help” from the bench that can be offered without challenges of  impairing their  “judicial impartiality”, fairness, “due process”. It is about ‘pro se’ FEAR, EMOTIONAL PAIN AND FEELING VICTIMIZED  in our Maine Family Courts.

Sorry, but that’s our reality check for readers of this document, and, remember, you asked for “public” comments. You might say that this is a ‘pro se’ comment. We are not a lawyers and no lawyer shaped our expression of concerns.

The ‘pro se’ problem more than anything else demonstrates the extreme (and growing) breakdown of justice in Maine courts and the near shameless financial opportunity afforded any lawyer who opposes a ‘pro se’ litigant! It is no wonder the “divorce industry" isn’t rushing to correct this embarrassing problem!

WE SUGGEST: We would suggest that the Court, the Governor, the Legislature submit a bill in January 2015 for an OPEGA Audit of  ‘pro se’ in our Maine courts. Let OPEGA look at: the numbers of cases, the growth of the ‘pro se’ trends, the experiences and feelings of ‘pro se’ litigants, the outcomes of their cases, the public perception of attitudes of family court judges about ‘pro se’, judges recommendations for change.

We would also suggest that an audit consider the question of what value do family courts provide to those going through divorce and custody?  Are family courts adding anything to the welfare of our Maine children and families? Or are they taking away?

Idealistically, we would imagine that these questions and others should be of interest to all three branches of Maine Government and to those involved in divorce and custody actions.  It would answer the “problem vs no problem” debate with facts and evidence.



MeGALert is working to bring about change and reform to Guardians ad litem and the Family Court system. If you have been involved in the Family Court process that makes no sense we urge you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook for support and help.

Monday, September 1, 2014

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

Hon. Leigh Saufley
Chief Justice
Maine Supreme Court


Dear Chief Justice Sauflley,

I am responding to the request from the Judicial Branch for comments from the public  on the proposed “new” Rules for Guardians ad litem. In my opinion, they are badly off the mark, if their aim is to help the majority of those public consumers, who might use them to understand how GAL’s function and how to make a complaint about a GAL’s defective performance. Perhaps unintentionally, they seem to distort the aims of the Maine legislature and the Governor who created the law in 2013. The Dutremble law was aimed at clarifying Guardian ad litem functioning with appropriate boundaries and protecting consumers of Guardian ad litem services from abuse by GAL practitioners. The proposed “new” Rules, as I read them, shift aim and focus of the 2013 Dutremble law, and, by proposed regulation seem designed to defend and protect Guardians ad litem, as members of “the legal guild”. Self-represented consumers of service are out of the picture altogether.

The proposed “new” Rules are lengthy (77 pages), often ambiguous and subject to many escape clauses. There are many statements in the Rules that are followed by exceptions to the rule. This oppositional duality throughout the Rules  neutralizes and confuses the intent, meaning and strength of the initial rule, and it probably reflects the anxiety of  “stake holders” on the working committee, who created the document. They may not want to be hampered or hemmed in by any Rules.

The section dealing with consumer complaints (see page 35 RULE 9. Guardian ad litem Review Board Complaint System) about Guardian ad litem services is written in complex legal language, full of references to other laws, unfamiliar to the general public. It prescribes a labyrinthine, multi layered procedure for making a complaint. Even relatively trivial, minor complaints must follow this protocol. As I read it and imagined using it myself in a ‘pro se’ effort, I felt shut out and stymied. The complaint procedure is written by lawyers for lawyers. It also proposes that all consumer complaints be managed by the lawyers'’ “guild”, the Overseers of the Bar, considered a formidable entity by most of the public. The complaint procedure is an airtight, legalistic, time-consuming, intimidating piece of work that virtually no untrained, unrepresented “consumer” will be able to use to complain about service. Preventing complaints from self-represented members of the public appears to be its purpose. Kill all public complaints with legalistic complexity. "Pro se" be damned, is the message I read!

The most troubling problem is represented by the authorship of the proposal “new” Rules for GALs. It appears to be the work of a “Stakeholder’s committee”, almost exclusively members of the powerful “divorce industry”. The authors show no consideration for how a ‘pro se’ (self represented person) is supposed to use the arcane, complaint “tool”. As you reported to me earlier this year, a startling 74% of family court users are ‘pro se’. It is being proposed by “stockholders”, who authored it, that this 74% majority be given a complex, “legal tool” that they will be unable to use in making a complaint about GAL service. The Rules, as a tool, by their complexity, would exclude the majority of public users from making a complaint on their own. Shouldn’t ‘pro se’ persons also be considered significant “stakeholders”? Their stakes are their children, their time and their life savings; not professional financial advantage. Their kids are priceless to them (and to all of us) and represent future, valuable human resources for Maine. Why are ‘pro se’ stakeholders denied a seat at the table that would reflect their proportional, numerical dominance in courts? It might be viewed as an exclusionary problem of vast proportions that needs correction in the interest of public fairness, and in the interests of reality. It is an awkward commentary on family courts in a democratic society.

We need to understand the present reality that Family courts at this time are no longer  the exclusively purview of an  elite, professional group of the legal profession when 74% of users are self-represented non-lawyers! It is time for everyone to awaken to these startling facts and address the  major, unstoppable systems change that is going on right now!

It also should be noted that the public complaint protocol is the only “quality assurance” mechanism for the public governing the actions of Guardians ad litem. Without supervision, with just 18 hours of “education”, with quasi judicial immunity, with no meaningful “oversight”, a complaint from a consumer is the only way to request  major or minor “corrective action” for a malfunctioning Guardian ad litem. If this procedure is so complex as to be unusable by non-lawyers, Guardians ad litem are essentially in a position of being granted secular infallibility by the Judicial Branch. One has to ask rhetorically: “Don’t GALs ever need some form of  correction; are they always “perfect?” Can’t one find a more responsible way to correct and improve their function?

My opinion is that the Judicial Branch needs to go back to the drawing board and begin again in writing new Rules for GALs. It needs to include proportionally the biggest group of players in family courts, the 74% ‘pro se’ users, on any planning committee addressing “officers of the court”. It needs to approach the whole issue of GAL management in a much less defensive, overprotective manner. It needs to listen to and care about the  systemic changes catalyzed by amazing numbers of ‘pro se’ representatives. The present document is “tone deaf” to ‘pro se’.  Is this its aim, or is it impossible for the Judicial Branch to escape the political influence and power of the divorce bar?

We sincerely hope this document can be rewritten in tune with current realities, and with participation of those who are major users of the GAL system. Would it help the Judicial Branch to overcome the powerful, internal, self-serving, lobbying politics of the “divorce industry Bar”, if there were to be  grass roots legislation empowering ‘pro se’ representatives on JB committees and throughout the family court system?

Your 74% ‘pro se’ statistic is a powerful number that  cries for legal fairness and appropriate democratic empowerment!

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins, MD
Kennebunkport, Maine

For further information on the Family Court and divorce industry crisis please email at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


For further reading:

2014-05-28 PROPOSAL FOR AN AUDIT OF ‘PRO SE’ REPRESENTATION IN MAINE FAMILY COURTS


2014-03-18 Maine Voices: We must work together to ensure justice truly is for all in Maine - a response

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?