Sunday, February 19, 2017

Has the Guardian ad litem Problem Vanished - It Has According to the Judicial Branch

September 2012 the one public member on the Guardian ad litem  Task Force wrote a minority report to the Judicial Branch regarding issues with the task force. February 15, 2017 the Judicial Branch present their final report on LD 872. In reading the report and only this report one would assume that the problems associated with Family Courts and Guardians ad litem have been resolved or under control. It is a glowing report which may be found here - GAL Report 2-2017. In reading this report please keep in mind that while the Judicial Branch may feel that things are running like a well oiled machine. We would like to point out that this report is more self serving than anything and there are still very serious systemic issues which have only been whitewashed over. What follows is the minority report to the Judicial Branch September 21, 2012 (which has also been included in the recently submitted GAL Report.


TO: GUARDIAN AD LITEM TASK FORCE
FROM: JEROME A. COLLINS M.D.
DATE: SEPTEMBER 21, 2012
APPENDIX C

MINORITY COMMENTS ON REPORT TO THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT BY THE JUDICIAL BRANCH GUARDIANS AD LITEM TASK FORCE

CONTEXT:

From my position as the only public member of the 19-member committee, the only one with no personal financial interest in the Guardian ad litem problem, my perspective on the problem is quite from that of the majority of the committee. While I believe that the chairing of the meetings was fair and friendly, there were decidedly biased undercurrents among the participants. "Is there a GAL problem?" is still a serious issue for many. Why not just tweak the current system, which works so well (for GALS?) another fairly significant position. And, "if 'they' want change, make them pay for it," was the surprisingly hostile position of one prominent family lawyer. I mention these few (of many) examples of bias that I felt, to indicate a strong interest on the part of a significant number of the committee in clinging to the 'status quo' to the greatest extent possible. This protective conservatism of the majority colors the document and colors my current opinion of it.

THE CURRENT DOCUMENT:

The document I received appears to be very sketchy. It pulls together many threads of issues that wore discussed in our three meetings, but it leaves unresolved very significant questions of detail. There are no instructions for users. There are no guided forms for users. There is no explanation users in clear language the process would work, the steps they would lake, the algorithm. It is not geared towards a citizen complaint made without legal assistance. In general, user-oriented supports arc absent, It desires imitate the NH complaint process but in our estimation it falls short. Without more fleshed-out detail the document is a "tabula rasa" on which one can project ideas but without solid grounding. leaves a great deal to the input of the Supreme Court, but disallows helpful guidance to the court and forces to give the court a blank conceptual check, when we've never done business before and don't know if we share common ground.

THE UNDERLYING CONCEPTS:

What exactly is the conceptual nature of a complaint regarding a Guardian ad litem? Is it a legal complaint between two adversaries about allegations of harm or damage, or is it vocational complaint about GAL performance to an oversight agency from one or more members the public, which questions whether this worker's performance meets publicly approved/regulated standards of practice? In our opinion, the current document attempts to merge the two ideas unsuccessfully at the expense or the consumer complaint. It strives to address the vocational questions, but in a heavily legalistic context that is apt to suffocate the consumer. Part of the problem is that GAL's vocational considerations lack a standard of practice, and GALs themselves lack an experience in how to judge standard practices of colleagues. The document makes no mention of training for all concerned in oversight that might teach these skills even the use of the court room concept of "standing" belies a legalistic bias, which would be unfamiliar find constricting to consumers.

This awkwardness can be in the questions raised in committee about "standing." In consumer protection agencies, the notion of "standing as traditionally applied in court (who may participate) doesn't apply. It is off-topic. Any member of the public with direct actual experience of a worker's malfunctioning may bear witness. It enhances agency oversight. This awkwardness and conceptual model confusion makes the creation of the new complaint process worrisome. In NH it, was found after an initial placement of the complaint process in the Judicial Branch the lack of experience of this branch in dealing with vocational issues and consumer protection necessitated a move to the licensing bureau. We feel that this is very apt to happen in Maine.

THE 12 MEMBER REVIEW BOARD:

This board with 12 members, two of whom would be from the public, with the other 10 being Guardians ad litem, to us to stack the decks wildly in favor of GALS. But it is a problem, not just in terms of numbers and composition. It also a problem of how such board would function in carrying out its duties. There is absolutely no tradition amongst the GALs in Maine or within their trade organization tor self-policing. There is little in the role or experience of GALs that prepares them to address consumer protection issues. Trade organizations , such as MEGALI, (and others) are well known for their tolerance or malfunctioning even as it approaches level of public scandal. Further what standards of practice would the panel be using? How would they judge a failing? Would any the panels have experience in assessing vocational functioning? It raises a host of questions about the knowledge skill and experience necessary to make critical vocational and consumer protective judgments.

In addition, there is also the very important question of attitude towards the public on the part of GALs, They see themselves us allies of judges and of the children they deal with. They are habituated to stand apart from the parties and exhibit independence. From our experience there is very often significant defensiveness to criticism on the part of these lightly trained GALs and of their trade organization. Some of these attitudinal biases surfaced during the recent Committee meetings. Examples: "Is there a. problem?"; "Do we need a new program?"

In our view board composition and hoard training the oversight role need to be reconsidered.

FINANCING:

In brief, it is our view, as a matter of principle, that the public shouldn't have to pay to make a vocational complaint to the oversight agency about one or their workers, be that oversight the responsibility of the Judicial Branch or of the Administrative Branch. It should be noted that there is currently no charge for public complaints by Maine's licensing boards. A fee to make a complaint sends a perhaps unintentionally off-putting message to the public: your complaint will cost you. It is a deterrent; we don't really want to know. One member of the committee expressed the issue with considerable animus: "Make them pay!", and suggested complaints were "an ego issue." It raises a serious question: Does the Judicial Branch Truly want to know about malfunctioning officers of the court in order to correct these situations? "Make them pay"' is not an attitude that encourages the public to assist the Judicial Brunch in its oversight.

GAL OVERSIGHT AND LICENSING BOARD OVERSIGHT:

Although it was mentioned m the committee, the jurisdictional conflict about a GAL whose actions appear to be malpractice of their base profession is not addressed in the current proposal. It is a serious consumer protection issue that a professional could avoid corrective action from complaints to their licensing hoard by needing to address GAL complaints at the Judicial Branch first. It is a serious problem, troubling to the public. There needs to be a corrective plan developed with the licensing boards.

WILL THE "NEW COMPLAINT PROCESS" BE USED BY PUBLIC?

At the moment, then is an unofficial, recent embargo by the public on GAL complaints. This action has arisen, because many people felt that the current complaint process was demeaning, always resulted in dismissal-even in the face of serious considerations. People also felt that the seemly inevitable dismissal whitewashed malfunctioning GALS gave no consumer warning of bad actors. Will the new process be used? Hard to say, but its use will definitely be limited without out' endorsement, Your limited "statistics" are apt to be even better!

I regret having to address so many problems on the eve of submitting a proposal to the Supreme Court, but so many ideas were presented in the committee meetings without clear direction-other than broad principle-being agreed on that seeing a written proposal surfaces many concerns. These are expressed here as clearly as possible; however, I'd be pleased to explain further, if appropriate.


MeGAL has been working for Family Court change for over five years. In 2013 and 2015 we had a number of bills submitted to help bring about this change. We continue to work for this change and in 2017 we are requesting an audit much like what was done back in 2006. We encourage you to become involved in the education of family, friends, co-workers and your representatives as to what the issues are. You may also contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Vendor Services Survey - Ending 2/15/2017

As part of LD 872 An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine the Judicial Branch was required to survey consumers of their vendors services.

If your case is finished you have an opportunity to take this survey as a way to give the Judicial Branch constructive feedback as to how their GAL vendor did.

The Judicial Branch is requesting parents and attorneys in completed Family Court/ Law and child protection cases to answer a brief survey about the experience with the Guardian ad litem's service.

There are four survey's available. The majority of those reading this blog should take survey two. A link to the main survey page may be found here.

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Services Survey

If you were a parent who was involved in a family law matter, please complete Survey Two entitled, "Survey of Parents Regarding Guardians ad Litem in Family Law Cases." - Survey Two

The Judicial Branch is supposed to be making a presentation to the Judiciary Committee on 2/15/2017. As part of that presentation we expect that the Judicial Branch will be showing what statistics they have collected on their vendors. The survey is 12 questions in length with opportunity to comment. It is an an anonymous survey.

MeGAL works to educate parents and family members as well as our representatives to the issues that infect our Family Court system. If you have had a problem or feel that something just is not right with your GAL or Judge we encourage you to email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Friday, February 3, 2017

On The ReAppointment of Hon Daniel Driscoll

Dear Committee Members

MeGAL, much like the Judicial Advisory Committee, conducted a survey on the re-appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll. We asked participants whether they thought the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll should have another 7 years as judge in our courts. The responses are anonymous to protect those who still may be involved in cases before Judge Driscoll.

While we had less than a week to collect responses comsumers of judicial services responded. Parents, grandparents, friends and lawyers voiced their opinion. Comments were welcomed but limited.

1. 9% of respondents approve of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll's reappointment
2. 91% of respondents did not approve or questioned the reappointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll.
3. Of those who responded we know that 19% were Pro se. Of the Pro se litigants almost 100% expressed in their responses that the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll had issues with handling a non lawyer in his court.

Some comments that were left:

1. My experience with Driscoll was not good. I was Pro se in his court and it was a nightmare. He kept telling me that I couldn't call witnesses, or entering in evidence. My ex had a lawyer and the lawyer was allowed to call any witness he wanted and the same with evidence.

2. I was as a Pro se litigant up against a lawyer in Driscoll's court. While warned that I should get a lawyer I could not afford one. It was hard if not possible to introduce evidence or witnesses during the trial. The lawyer had no issue. I think Judge Driscoll didn't know how to be fair and that is a problem. Did I receive justice and did my ex? My ex would say that justice was handed out. I would disagree. My story was not heard and was limited. I was prevented from telling it because I did not know how to act in this court room culture. I think Judge Driscoll tried but he just is not equipped to handle Pro se.

3. I was a Pro se litigant in judge Driscoll's court room many years ago. My case is slowly collecting dust.

At the time that I was going to court I had a deep disdain for the judge. Now I feel sorry for him because he, like many other judges in the Family Court system, are ill equiped to handle Pro se litigants. Pro se litigants in Family Court represent a litle over 74% of the cases. Of these cases 86% are Pro se litigants going up against a lawyer. As a Pro se litigant it is like a caveman or Roman Leginary going into battle against a modern day solider. We are scared and unknowing how to ask.

In court judge Driscoll gave the impression of not understanding what I was experiencing. My impression was that I was expected to know how to act in court, to know the culture of the court. He did not understand what I was going through in trying to plead my case to him. I was up against a lawyer and at almost every turn I was shot down either by the lawyer or by the judge when I tried to present evidence or witnesses. The lawyer by my perception at the time had no problems doing either. As a result I was crucified and lost custody and visitation with my children.

As a Pro se litigant I was not accustomed to the culture of the court. I knew how to get justice when I had an issue with let’s say Wal Mart, Hannaford or any number of businesses. The industry I worked in deals with people trying to get their issues resolved. To me the courts would/ should be the same. I did study cases and talked with others before going to trial. Because I am not a lawyer working in law how was I to know the tricks used. Imagine as a consumer you go to a store because you bought an item that proved to be defective. When returning the item and asking for a refund you ask the wrong way. For instance you ask for a refund on the purchase price. But because you ask of a refund and not a store debit back to your credit card the request is denied. Bad analogy but I hope you understand.

In looking back I was not prepared to go up against a seasoned lawyer and doing so in an environment that is still foreign to me. I had no choice in the matter. How to talk and address the judge or the opposing lawyer. How to ask questions within this culture. Judge Driscoll, in looking back, did little to help me understand why for instance the motion I just presented made little or no sense. Or the argument I am trying to make.

I believe at the time judge Driscoll had little to no guidance for dealing with Pro se litigants. It is my understanding that this is still the same. How can one who is giving the appearance of being impartial and just (as no one can push their bias aside) be a judge in situations that they are ill equipped to handle? How can someone pass "fair" judgment in situations that involve Pro se litigants up against lawyers?

I am asking that judge Driscoll not be re-affirmed until there is a time when he has the skill set needed to deal with those situations involving Pro se litigants. Thank you for your time.


The Judicial Advisory Committee in their surveys to vet any judge almost exclusivly seeks and receives the opinions of lawyers. Those who work within the judicial industry. The human element is lost on the committee. The pain that parents and families go through is lost and unrecorded. We ask that you consider what these people have experienced.

Tomorrow February 2, 2017 you will hear from judges, lawyers and possibly other court officials. They will tell you how great this judge is and has been. How great his court is. Yet - you will be missing the stories of those who lived through his court process. MeGAL asks that you weigh what your vote means to those future cases. Will they be fair, will they be just, will they be in the publics best interest.

Thank you for your time

Paul Collins
MeGAL
Rockland, ME

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Re-Appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll

Dear Members of Maine's Judiciary Committee,

Judges serve an important function within our society preserving the law. They do this by interpreting the law in a fair way and being consistent in that interpretation. The decision of reappointment should not be exclusive to lawyers, judges and assorted court officials as this leads to a legal professional perspective which does not take into consideration the real life experience of the public (consumers of judicial services). In re-appointing and doing so in a fair and equitable manner the views and experiences of the public (consumers of judicial services) of a judges service must be taken into consideration. Otherwise all we have is an “ole boy” network of approval. Every effort must be made to include the thoughtful input and experience of the people of Maine, who know from experience.

Without the actual human experiential dimension, any reappointment is just rubber stamping the judge back into the court. As our Judges are tasked with protecting and advancing our laws the current closed Judicial vetting system allows for the undermining of that task. Judges are not held accountable for their actions in this closed system. While it has been argued by the legal industry that complaints can be made against a judge by the general public. The process is alien and consumes a huge amount of their time and financial resources. The public (consumers of judicial services) is left with the feeling that their input is not wanted and it is better to leave things as they are out of frustration. Because of this dysfunctional system there is little recourse by the public to better the system. It results in a system that has and is slowly degrading, and judicial services becomes the tool of those who can afford justice over those who cannot. 

Are our Courts and specifically our Family Courts a public service for everyone - including the 74% who are Pro se. Or are they a publicly supported workplace for the Divorce and Legal Industry?

We see evidence that our Family Courts in Maine have a few Judges of questionable character. To be exact, there are four judges in our Family Court system, for whom we have very grave concerns about how they conduct themselves in their courts. One of these Judges is before you today and asking to be reappointed. While the decision to reappoint the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll may have already been recommended, we want to leave you with something to think about. Stop, look and listen then think:

If your decision is wrong, who will we (the public and your constituents) be able to hold accountable for the continued abuse, pain and suffering that families that we know, have gone through and will continue to go through?

Some before you on Thursday February 2, 2017 will be watching and commenting as the public and your constituents. They are risking much in being here before you.

Thank you for your time and efforts. It is time for an in depth audit of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll Family Court.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely

Paul Collins
MeGAL
Rockland, Maine

The above letter was submitted as testimony to the Judiciary Committee regarding the re-appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll,

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Consumer Survey On - The ReAppointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll

As a consumer of judicial services you have a unique opportunity to complete vetting of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll who is up for re-appointment. The Maine Judiciary Committee will be going through formalities Thursday February 2, 2017 at 2 pm in State House room 438.

The Maine Bar and Judicial Advisory Committee have sent out emails asking for the opinions of lawyers and have cleared the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll for the Judiciary Committee. Consumers were left out of the equation. Your views as consumers of Judicial Services are just as valuable - if not more so - than those of lawyers. Otherwise without actual human experiential dimension any reappointment is just rubber stamping the judge back into court.


Our survey is one question - whether you believe the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll should be reappointed. You then have the opportunity for comment before submitting. Wednesday February 1 2017 we will be submitting the results to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Our survey may be found here: Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll ReAppointment


MeGAL is bringing about change in our Family Court System through educating the public and legislative action. For further information please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com of find us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Are Our New GAL Rules and Complaint Process Working in Maine?


2016 was the first year that the new rules for Guardians ad litem were in use for consumers. It is also the first full year that these new rules and complaint process was in effect. For those who don't remember the old rules for Guardians ad litem (GAL) consisted of 14 pages of instruction and simply put that if you as a consumer felt a GAL did not follow the rules could file a complaint with the head Judge. The Judge would determine the merit of the complaint based on both sides telling their story and issue a verdict. The model is similar to the complaint process that just about every business in America uses.

Up to 2014/ 2015 there were no successful consumer complaint brought against GALs that resulted in any form of discipline.

The Judicial Branch determined that this old antiquated process needed improvement. In September 2015 the Judicial Branch unveiled their new and improved rules and complaint process. We as consumers now had 78 pages of legalistic rules to go through as part of this improvement. The portion that covered the complaint process alone covered 30 pages. In addition the process for filing a complaint became a multi layered process that is similar to the complaint process used by the Maine Bar.

So what happened last year?

24 Complaints were filed against Guardians ad litem using this new and improved process which resulted in the dismissal of 24 complaints. No GAL was disciplined in any way, shape of form. But it gets even better. As part of the improved complaint process if you as a consumer feel that the GAL Review Board got it wrong - you may seek review by a public member of the GAL Board. While we do not have a number for how many reviews were sought - we can tell you that none were successful.

100% of the complaints filed resulted in 100% being dismissed.

That is an amazing figure when one looks at how the Family Court system is set up - to encourage conflict. It is even more amazing when one experiences the personal bias of a GAL in a system which provides no actual oversight and management of these court vendors. In Maine we are truly blessed with this perfect system.

MeGAL provides support and education to parents, consumers and representatives about the issues which plague our Family Courts. If you would like more information we encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


For details on what members of the GAL Review Board have done since inception to help better GAL rules and complaint process we present minutes of their meetings:


2015-10-21 Organizational Meeting of the GAL Review Board
2016-01-19 GAL Review Board Meeting
2016-04-25 GAL Review Board Meeting
2016-09-16 GAL Review Board Meeting


Monday, January 16, 2017

Maine's 128 Legislature to Consider Bills Concerning Guardians ad litem

We are aware of three bills concerning Guardians ad litem which will be up for consideration in Maine's 128 legislative session. Currently all we have are the titles of three bills. They are as follows:

Under the heading of Domestic Relations / Child Custody - found in page 90

LR 688 An Act Concerning Guardians ad Litem and Determinations Regarding the Best Interests of a Child in Custodial Relative Caregiver Cases - Rep Picchiotti of Fairfield

Under the heading of Probate / Guardian ad litem - found on page 94

LR 383 An Act To Ensure Complete Investigations by Guardians ad Litem - Rep Picchiotti of Fairfield
LR 1937 An Act To Repeal the Sunset Date on the Children's Guardian ad Litem Law - Rep Moonen of Portland

We have written to both Representatives for a summary of these three bills to help us determine the impact on the consumers of Judicial Services - Maine's Families. More will be forthcoming on these bills,

MeGAL is working to bring about change to the Family Court process in Maine. We do this through the education of Parents and our Representatives of the issues regarding "Family" Courts and the vendors our courts support. If you would like more information we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

http://legislature.maine.gov/uploads/originals/128th-1st-regular-preliminary-list-of-legislator-bills-s-1.pdf

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pro se Civil Rights Abuse not Important Enough for Senator Susan Collins

In 2015 MeGAL approached Senator Susan Collins office for help in supporting the civil rights of Pro se parents who are being systematically abused by the justice system. It was pointed out that across the country over 50% of the "Family Court" cases are Pro se. Maine has the distinction of having 75% of court cases being Pro se.

As a Pro se litigant you are going into battle often knowing little or nothing about the rules of engagement. You are a caveman against a modern day soldier.

In June 2015 the process was started and in September of 2015 her office agreed to help and make inquires into this issue.

Almost two years later we are still being told that the office is working on the issue with the Department of Justice and that something maybe happening next month. This was the same canned answer given a month or so ago and the time before that. For all we know nothing has happened in the past two years other than being told that something maybe happening.

When pushed recently as to why Senator Collins did not go directly to Attorney General Loretta Lynch the staff person replied that the Senator only does that for "IMPORTANT" issues. Otherwise it is low level staff member to low level staff member for issues like ours. We asked if this meant that Senator Collins doesn't consider Maine and other families whose civil rights are being abused in Pro se "Family Court" cases as being important - we were told "Oh No. Every constituent is important! Everyone!".

Yeah sure they are Senator Collins.



That is why something is always going to happen "next" month.

MeGAL encourages you to contact Senator Collins to ask her why Pro se litigants whose civil rights are routinely abused by the system of Justice that should be protecting them. Why is this not important enough for her to pay attention to?

MeGAL is a grass root organization that is working for "Family Court" change and the management and oversight of court vendors like Guardians ad litem. If you are having a "Family Court" issue we encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Senator Susan Collins may be contacted by filling out this form