Monday, July 18, 2016

Has Justice Donald Alexander Absolved Prolman’s Sins?

Justice Donald Alexander's decision in the Gary Prolman Overseers of the Maine Bar case suggests to many "civilians" that oversight of Maine lawyers is in free fall. Can lawyers do almost anything with no consequences? The Alexander decision is so far removed from public opinion and public common sense as to create widespread public disgust and distrust. In one fell swoop, Alexander gives himself, the Maine Bar and the Judiciary a very "black eye". His decision also raises very worrying questions about the law, lawyers, the judiciary and Maine's drug problem.

MeGAL to the Maine Bar:


Stephen Nelson, Esq
President Maine Bar Association

Dear Mr Nelson:

I am writing to you as president of the Maine Bar Association to express deep concern about Justice Donald Alexander's recent "absolution" of the "sins" of attorney Gary Prolman of Saco, (late of the federal penitentiary). The Alexander decision has raised much questioning about the oversight standards for lawyers amongst those members of the public, who have read reporter, Scott Dolan's, story on the topic. Others have read the actual 25 page decision itself, replete with gory details. Without exception, those with whom I have spoken are aghast at the decision. The detailed report of Prolman's unsavory, unethical, illegal activities that are well documented in the body of the Alexander decision, are challenging in the extreme to any public faith in Alexander, the Bar or Maine courts. We ask: is "oversight" of lawyers in free fall? On the topic of oversight, Justice Alexander appears to scorn public opinion. Many non-lawyers (and many silent lawyers) will read several, perhaps unintended, messages from Alexander's decision: (a) that Prolman must be a gigantic political powerhouse within the profession with an intimidatingly large, lawyerly base of support, and (b) the consequences of not restoring his license might lead to an even more frightening problem for the Court: the opening wide of a window on the drug culture of Maine's legal professionals at all levels. Better to keep Mr Prolman licensed and on the "bar team" than suffer the potential consequences of his enmity and that of his "friends".

In his decision, Justice Alexander's reasoning and use of the law seem to readers without a legal background like an abuse of the tools of the law. To many of us Alexander appears to minimize Prolman's illegal and unethical activities. His decision focuses on 2012 when Prolman's house of cards started to collapse, as the "feds" entered the picture. Alexander passes quickly over the lengthy chronicity of the drug and alcohol problems and other associated unethical and illegal actions. And he "absolves" Prolman of his "sins", restoring his license, because he is perceived as repentant. How else would he present and how does Alexander know that the "leopard has changed his spots"? It is more like the actions of a priest hearing confession than a Maine Supreme Court Justice reviewing "oversight" actions of the Overseers. The reasoning is legalistic, but utterly confusing. Non-lawyers sense a legal "shell game" is being played on them.

There are many examples of Alexander's reasoning that seem inadequate. The decision claims that Prolman's self-admitted, extensive drug and alcohol use ONLY affected his business judgement. "That there is NO evidence that his drug and alcohol use affected his law practice or his relationship with clients." This un-grounded opinion demonstrates, a "junk science" theory of brain function. Prolman's frontal lobes, while "under the influence", were apparently uniquely able to segregate "bad judgement" and "normal judgement" into two separate, airtight compartments, a bad one for business, and the other compartment, a normal one for his practice and his clients. It is "junk science" in the service of rationalizing an irrational  decision. With all respect, how does Alexander know that Prolman's practice was unaffected? Has he measured (or sought to have measured) the "half-life", or morning after effect, of alcohol or drugs on professional mental functions? What is the actual cognitive impairment factor, or does he believe Prolman immune to this usual sort of impairment? AA or NA or clinical psychiatry, all experts in addictive illnesses, would point to permanent structural changes in the brain's micro anatomy that always accompany chronic substance abuse. These change translate into actual functions. What happens to judgement, to intellectual functioning, to memory, to ability to calculated, to mood, to irritability? Answer: "not good things". Or … if not blind drunk or drugged, can an addicted lawyer just get by with clients, with "fake it till you make it"? More to the point, is that an acceptable public standard? There is a need to remember the inconvenient fact that addictions are never truly cured. They may go into remission for varying periods, but a "slip" or a fall off the wagon or full recurrence are common. Professionals would say it is the very nature of the higher risks associated with these conditions. Alexander's decision seems to ignore the professional science of addictions.

The conclusion that "reinstatement was in the public interest" is another unsubstantiated personal belief in Alexander's decision. Why is reinstatement in the pubic interest? How has Alexander arrived at this risk-laden conclusion? Mention is made of many letters supportive of Prolman from attorneys (and judges?). In this complex case with layers of intrigue and many twists and turns, one has to ask: who were the lawyers who wrote such letters? What was their relationship with Prolman? Many who read this statement wonder: Were those endorsing him "birds of a feather"? Did they fear that a Prolman without a law license might shine a spotlight on unbecoming actions of others in the profession? How many top shelf lawyers would consider writing a reference for this man? Members of the public can sense enough to know a whitewash job when they see it, and this case seems to requires a shipload of whitewash. The "public interest" in restoring his license, to us, implies that legal skills of any kind are in such short supply that Prolman's skills badly needed. We'd ask further: Is there any residual damage to his brain functioning, due to toxic death of frontal lobe brain cells from chronic alcohol and drug use? As one example, would he still be able to pass Maine Bar exams? Do those attorneys, interviewed by Scott Dolan, who strongly disagreed with Alexander's decision, support relicensing Prolman, or would they demand "witness protection" in return for their testimony? Even Scott Davis, counsel for the Overseers, backed off of an appeal. "The conclusions were not clearly erroneous; consequently, no good basis for appeal" was the quote reported in the newspaper. "Conclusions not clearly erroneous." Really? The Bar just fell in line. But the pubic remains unconvinced.

The Maine Bar earns a giant public credibility problem with this case. This judgement is a terrible advertisement for the functional integrity of bar oversight of its members. However adroitly the law is used to rationalize an admittedly very awkward decision, it isn't convincing to the public, and it adds to public cynicism and loss of faith in the legal profession. It is about damage to public trust that the profession is policing itself "in the public's interest". We suggest that building and maintaining public confidence in lawyers requires a system of true quality assurance. This is not an academic consideration. The legal profession, more than any profession is central to law enforcement and to whether we can all work together, as citizens, to eradicate the drug epidemic that so besets our state and our country.  As leaders, the legal profession needs to face the drug culture within the profession and move to correct it, honestly, courageously, or the "infection" will continue to spread in pervasively damaging ways both to the profession and to society. We propose a state government commission that would assess the scope of the drug problem in the legal profession, which is so strategically placed by its nature to influence the systemic drug problem in Maine for better or worse.. Many would gladly support enabling legislation for this project.

Dr Jerome A Collins
Kennebunkport ME


Addiction is not something that can be turned on or off. It does not just appear as is suggested by Justice Alexander. Addiction and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is something that grips your life in all areas. Did Justice Alexander make the right decision? MeGAL encourages you to research all aspects of addiction and how it may affect your lawyer, GAL and judge. We would also encourage you to become involved in the process of Judicial reform/ change by talking with your Representative. we can be contacted at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Further resources regarding the addiction of lawyers:

2014-01-07 17 Statistics on Drug Abuse Among Lawyers

2015-07-23 Lawyers struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems at a heightened rate

2016-02-04 High Rate of Problem Drinking Reported Among Lawyers

2016-07-12 'I Could No Longer Live with Myself': Lawyers Reveal Their Struggles with Alcohol ( to reaf the who article you will have to create an account)


Monday, June 20, 2016

Did Overseers Issue Warning to Lawyers Who Call Attention to Child Abuse?

June 17, 2016

Beth Maloney, Esq.

Dear Beth,

We all understand that after the brutal morning you had to endure today, there was no room for small talk or rehashing or socializing. We did want you to know that you have our deepest respect and admiration, as a person, as a lawyer, as a citizen.

The court and the Maine Bar may have won this battle - they have a monopoly in legal weapons - however, in our opinion, they badly lost the war in the court of public opinion. The display of punitive collaboration between the Maine Supreme Court and the Overseers of the Maine Bar erased all pretense of boundaries between them. In their campaign to make you an example to all Maine lawyers who might fight judges, who enforce the abuse of children and families by a Guardian ad litem, they joined forces.

It was not pretty to watch, and it must have been sheer hell to go through. But the Overseers zeal in adding unprecedented "overkill" touches, like a link to the cases and their restriction of your practice of family law, were advertising to others but exacted from you. In earlier days, bodies were left hanging as a warning to others, "Nota bene"! Let this be a warning to any lawyer who might be tempted to call attention to "child abuse" by "officers of the court". Courtroom child abuse doesn't matter; the dignity of the court (even at its most undignified) is what counts. Image before facts!

Despite the "show trial" in Augusta this morning, we continue to admire your enormous courage, your total integrity and your fearless, total honesty - today and always! It troubled us to watch the unprincipled use of force to bend you to do their will: "Comply, or lose your license". But like the "show trials" in totalitarian countries, those involved lose more than they gain. The public feels disgust, contempt and a deep identification with the victim. Also a deep sense of personal shame, as a citizen, that this is my government in operation, punishing the wrong person.

We wish you well, the very best, even if we are terribly sad that Maine has lost an incredible family court lawyer. Paradoxically, your treatment by the Overseers and the ensuing intimidation of other lawyers may make 'pro se' the best option in Maine's family courts.

Best wishes for the future!

MeGAL



Previous post which are related:
2016-06-18 Did the Overseers of the Bar Protect the Public or Kill the Messenger?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Did the Overseers of the Bar Protect the Public or Kill the Messenger?

"Kill the Messenger" is the message we heard in the complaint before the panel at the Overseers of the Maine Bar in Augusta on June 17th at 9 am.  

As non-lawyers, we have been appalled by the Maine Supreme Court's handling of a lawyer, who tried to appeal lower court abuses in the contentious case of Dalton v. Dalton. To this untrained reader, the Supreme Court's "first team" (Saufley, Mead, Alexander, Gorman), while appearing to keep their own hands clean, wrote a decision, which essentially gave a blueprint to the Board of Overseers of the Maine Bar for a 'sua sponte' complaint against the lawyer in question. To public readers, this decision looks like the Court was giving hand signals to the Overseers to end to this lawyer's career in law. And… counsel for the Overseers, has essentially followed the Court's blueprint. He delivered a "petition" which many readers would say was a call to the Overseer's complaint commission for licensure death.

It is a powerful "shock and awe" move for the judiciary and its affiliates, and a Maine lawyer's career hangs in the balance. What did she do that got her in this powerful judiciary line of fire? What are the charges (crimes?) against her that provoked this kind of "nuclear" response from Maine's highest court and the legal minions at the Overseers? Murder, rape, arson, bomb threats, physical/child abuse, theft, psychotic behavior in court, lies, slander? None of these are in question, or the complaint and request for sanctions would most likely have been less stern. The Overseers claim in their policy statement on their web that their -

"purpose is not punishment, but protection of the public AND THE COURTS from attorneys who have demonstrated by their conduct that they are unable, or likely to be unable, to discharge their professional duties."

Our impression is that this case, both in its own right and in the lessons it carries for the profession, is about protecting the courts - not the public. We would add, in our view, it is about protecting courts from themselves and serious errors in judgement at all levels - bottom to top - in this case.

In a nutshell, the sanctioned attorney challenged (a) a Guardian ad litem's use of flagrant "junk science" in Dalton v Dalton to determine custody (and mandatory treatment of a young child) and (b) the court's unquestioning endorsement of this GAL's primitive clinical voodoo. Two "officers of the court", in effect, used witchcraft to make significant decisions with lasting emotional impact on a mother and child. At issue is the GAL's unlicensed, unauthorized, totally bogus diagnoses of "Post traumatic stress disorder" in a child who was involved in a custody dispute. The Guardian ad litem, a Social Worker by underlying profession made this medical/psychiatric diagnosis without recognizing 2 inconvenient facts: (a) Social Workers don't make medical diagnoses of any kind, and (b) Guardians ad litem at the time she made the diagnosis were not supposed to use their underlying clinical profession in their role as "officers of the court". She compounded her errors by referring the child to a clinical colleague for "scream and hit therapy", a professionally discredited "therapy" that has no scientific recognition. Nowhere in this entire clinical transaction was there a use of a medical clinician qualified to obtain a clinical history, conduct a physical and neurological examination, order and review laboratory and clinical tests, consider a differential diagnosis, consider various treatment options and then - only then - institute appropriate treatment.

The entire mistreatment ought to be a shameful embarrassment to any civilized, enlightened society. It is a tragedy for the child and her mother to be forced into this situation and ordered into an unrecognized form of  treatment. It is court authorized clinical experimentation. Forced treatment is always to be questioned; forced submission to a discredited therapy is frankly, court ordered child abuse and has no place in a free democratic society. It is an unbelievable totalitarian nightmare that is wrong by any standards one might apply.

But what is the bottom to top judiciary system to do with this admittedly "awkward", indefensible situation?  Distract public attention with "sound and fury"! It infers that the court was fine; it was the lawyer, who was abysmally lacking in knowledge of her profession. Her actions in court "attacked" the judge though witnesses say that she never raised her voice. She used- gasp, shudder- "leading questions". Though "leading questions" and many of the other supposed professional "crimes" listed by the Supreme Court (and later by counsel for the Overseers), got corrected on the spot in the lower court at the time, the damage to the law one gathers is incalculable! Were the consequences of the Supreme Court decision not so serious, one would be tempted to laugh at their predicament: having to defend clinical "witchcraft" as basis for custody in the lower court. But a mother and child have been impacted by this "witchcraft" and the career of an attorney hangs by a thread because she called it "witchcraft". There is the additional worry about the precedent of using "junk science" and "witchcraft" as acceptable standards in family courts.

As "grass roots" observers, our concerns in this case are several fold: (a) Junk Science as a basis for judgement is beyond wrong and needs some correction, such as a 'sua sponte' complaint about the "officers of the court" at all levels of this case for using incredibly abusive standards (b) The attack on a lawyer who had the courage and decency to say truthfully, "The Emperor has no clothes!" The example of an irrational attack by Maine's highest court and by the Overseers on this lawyer will send a terrible message to other family court lawyers: don't you DARE tell the truth about malfunctioning of "officers of the court". "Yell therapy" is perfectly OK if a GAL and judge approve it. Scientific opinion be damned! (c) The blind support of the Supreme Court defending "junk science" and out to get the asker of "leading questions" ( and the like)  is all too reminiscent of the movie, "Spotlight", and the abusive power plays it documented.

It is an "access to justice" situation 'par excellence', if our most courageous messengers to the court "get killed" when they deliver an honest but unwelcome message.

In our opinion there is a relatively immediate need to correct the abusive judgements of the judiciary at all levels in this case, so we can correct the shame of it. We would also propose a well-chosen (not just lawyers and judges) Maine Family Court Commission to study the terrible symptoms emerging from Maine's family courts, the growth of 'pro se' litigants, to diagnose and correct problems, including re-design of the system and to propose legislation. "Scream therapy" has no place in court mandated treatment (OR ANY LEGITIMATE TREATMENT PLAN) for child or adult!

MeGAL is working to reform "Family" Courts and the vendors the court system use (Guardians ad litem) through educational means and legislative action. We would encourage you to get involved in the process to bring about change. You can do this by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Court of Public Opinion and Connecticut’s Broken “Family” Court System

Social media exploded this week with public outrage over the Brock Turner rape case and the horrific ruling made by Judge Aaron Pesky, who has been harshly criticized for his far too lenient sentencing. Over 1,000,000 people nationwide have signed an online petition demanding this judge resign. In addition, prospective jurors being called by the court system are refusing to serve this judge on his cases.

We need this same kind of outrage focused on our state's very troubling “family” court system and the people who operate it.

"Family" court judges in this state, showing complete disregard for the complaints from thousands of parents, legislators, mental health professionals and attorneys calling for reform - continue to operate one of the most dysfunctional, inefficient, ineffective, costly, damaging and yes, corrupt “family” court systems in the country.

Connecticut remains dead last when it comes to enacting much needed operational and other reforms. As a reflection of this, over 85% of all parents in our “family” courts now appearing Pro Se and without proper legal representation. This as their cases continue to be allowed to drag on for months and even years, due to solely judicial negligence and their very troubling and concerning judicial orders and rulings.

This dysfunction, lack of any oversight, and failure to address judicial and attorney misconduct, causes over 11,500 cases to be returned to the “family” courts each year – when there are only 3,400 new custody cases filed in this state each year ( - Chief State Justice Rogers.) This reflects a critical and terminal operational dysfunction on the part of our Judiciary – not a problem with “a small number of disgruntled litigants” as some have tried to portray.

This as citizens and parents across the state continue to be routinely jailed by Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges for committing no crime. This as Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges operate as private debt collectors for a very small group of well-connected divorce attorneys and Guardian ad Litems. This as she and her “family” court judges continue to ignore all due process and basic civil, Constitutional and parental rights.

Her “family” court judges continue to fail the state, fail its citizens, and fail the best interests of the public, families and children – by failing to rule quickly and effectively. They instead prolong cases and ignore ongoing abuse and neglect of children by improperly outsourcing their judicial authority to a small group of well-connected Guardian ad Litems taking hundreds of millions of dollars from parents with complete immunity, with no oversight of any kind, and with no accountability of any kind, while offering no positive or beneficial outcome, of any kind.

“Family” court judges, who under Judge Bozzuto’s watch, Chief Court Administrator Carroll’s watch, and Chief State Justice Rogers’ watch and approval from their silence – continue to operate well-orchestrated "Kids for Cash" and "Pay Per View Parenting" programs designed to prolong custody cases solely to enrich a very small group of attorneys, best interests of families and children and THE PUBLIC be damned.

Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges continue to operate de facto and unlawful Debtor’s Prisons, by SHACKLING and JAILING PARENTS for committing no crime other and for not being able to afford to pay the small armies of “court appointed experts” Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges force onto custody cases for no valid reason or cause.

Who are these attorneys? Their names can be readily found by looking at the membership of the now disbanded AFCC in this state, and among the select group of private attorneys who have been invited to the highly secretive annual Judge’s Meeting coming up on June 24th.

We encourage as many legislators as possible to attend this annual gathering of judges and to ask them some very hard questions in regards to how and why our “family” courts continue to operate in this manner.

“Family” court judges who routinely look away, ignore, and often encourage the abuse and neglect of children, by refusing to enforce their own parenting orders, by denying access to justice by improperly requiring the filing of “Motions for Request for Leave” in “family” court cases – even on Emergency Ex Parte motions filed to protect children, and by routinely and diligently separating children from their fit and proper parents for no valid reason or cause, especially if a parent dares ask why they can’t have equal access and time with their child. And most notably, targeting parents with children who have autism or other special needs and disabilities.

If the Brock Turner case were before a Connecticut “family" court judge, the judge would have labelled both Brock and his victim as being "high conflict" even though only Brock committed a crime.

The judge would have then ordered his rape victim to attend "conflict management" sessions with Brock at $250-$500/hour so an “evaluator” could try and "resolve any differences" she may have with her attacker.

If they had a child, the “family” court judge and GAL would assign custody to Brock because of "his stable background" and force the mother and victim to spend thousands of dollars to fight to protect her child from him and to a parent in her child’s life. This would cost her tens of thousands of dollars and years in court – with no proper outcome or resolution.

She, as a victim, would become one of the 11,500 custody cases returned each year to our broken and dysfunctional “family” courts, and be attacked and prevented from filings motions by Judge Bozzuto’s “family” court judges for daring to come back to the court and to ask for the court to do the right thing.

Such is the actual state of affairs and “justice” in our state’s broken and dysfunctional “family” courts. And this is not exaggerated in any way.

This happens each and every day in our state's "family" courtrooms. If any of you doubt me and the thousands of parents who have been subjected to this and witnessed this firsthand – please, go sit in on any custody case in any “family courthouse and just watch.

All of this as Chief State Justice Rogers, Governor Malloy, and the Judiciary Committee continue to just look the other way at what Judge Bozzuto and her "family" judges engage in and practice - because there is money to be made and federal dollars are involved.

Social media exploded this week as the court of public opinion chimed in on the Brock Turner case. The same focus and social media attention is being brought on our state’s broken and dysfunctional “family” courts – as we the PUBLIC, will and can no longer accept or tolerate the status quo in our state’s broken “family” courts, and as this movement is growing very quickly nationwide, and in fact, internationally.

We demand far better. Our children and families and state – deserve far better.

And it is simply unacceptable on for any reason or on any level that our Legislature’s Judiciary Committee has not presented a single piece of much needed reform legislation in now two sessions. You should all be ashamed.

If not now, when; if not us, who.

- Peter T. Szymonik, the CT Coalition for Family Court Reform


Peter Szymonik is involved with "Family" Court reform in the state of Connecticut. We have known and worked with Peter for years often exchanging ideas on the issues relating to "Family" Court. While Peter is writing to those in his state of Connecticut what he is writing about can be applied to any state. If you have been involved in a case where the court system has failed we encourage you to become involved. Contact your representatives and educate them and others as to what the issues are. If you live in Connecticut you can help with reform by contacting Connecticut Family Court Reform (on Facebook). Or you may contact us at MeGAL to put you in touch with others in your state.


Additional Resources:

Biographies of Supreme Court Justices Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers

2015-04-10 Rogers Pledges Court Improvements As Critics Express Displeasure

Connecticut Family Court Reform

FB - Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform

Family Matters

Ct Judge Bozzuto retaliates Pay GAL $9,600 or go to jail

If you would like to Judge your "Judge" - The Robing Room

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lawyers shall not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice

There are two high sounding, phrases that stand as sentinels guarding the probity of the adjudicative process. We are told that lawyers must:

… avoid conduct that undermines the integrity of the adjudicative process….

And

…. not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice….

For the public there is a problem in translating what these phrases mean. Specifically, how much are these ideas a matter of opinion, and what are examples of a lawyer's activities that might "prejudice the administration of justice" or undermine "the integrity of the adjudicative process".

Some components of these 'dicta' are obvious even to casual readers. No one would argue that it is a bad thing to try bribing a judge, to present false evidence in court, to lie or to encourage a client to lie, or to doctor evidence "etc. Less obvious to the public is that the erstwhile professional sins of "moral turpitude" are mostly thrown out. The legal profession seems to view the notion of sleazy behavior, or "turpitude" as old fashioned and poorly reflective of the diverse values of a diverse, multicultural society. There are also more nebulous concepts having to do with how vigorously a lawyer may represent a client. How "vigorous" is "too vigorous"? We'd ask, in addition, how does one measure "not vigorous enough"?  From what we read - apart from "psychotic" behavioral manifestations directed at a judge, "vigorous", in this context, seems hard to define and appears mostly subjective. There is another equally nebulous issue - that of protecting officers of the court, which to non-lawyers seems like the first step on a very slippery slope. Protection of them from what? One can understand a need to protect their professional dignity, to protect their person, to protect them from slander or ungrounded verbal assault. Beyond these considerations how are unpleasant facts, if presented honestly with civility to be considered?  If they are protectively excluded, isn't there a danger to the integrity (or the reality) of justice? Should court officers be protected from themselves? It renders any notion of accountability a charade.

When a judge makes an error of judgement, when a judge makes an error in law, when a judge abandons civil behavior, when a judge ignores the malfunctioning of a "court officer" and takes no corrective action, when a judge fails to accept evidence and acts in ways that favor one party, should everyone involved in the case "protect" the judge?  As citizens, we hope not, or justice is in integrity free fall. Yet the evidence that these issues get any real correction is scant at best, as far as pubic awareness is concerned

There are formal, professional avenues for complaining about these kinds of judicial mischief. In the opinion of many they are all "protective" of court officers. While they accept complaints from the public, they largely protect the "court officer" from any widespread vulgar public view during a review and judgement about the complaint. They are without the kind of public transparency that one would see for similar legal complaints about politicians, religious leaders, doctors and most other professions. The "court of public opinion" is firmly, politely excluded. Some would say that these officially approved avenues for making a complaint about an officer of the court are ultra protective of "court officers". The bottom line proof of protectiveness can be read in the numbers. Look at statistical outcome measurements. Judges are virtually never found guilty of any form of judicial malfunctioning. Either they are paragons, or the system is "rigged", and an "imperfect" court officer is rendered "perfect" by the complaint procedure itself. Likewise, Guardians ad litem who receive public complaints are virtual "saints in the church". The numbers alone tell the story. A low incidence of complaints from the public and virtually total exoneration of all complaints is used by the judiciary to claim "no problem". But consumers know "officers of the court" are far from perfect.  It is near universal public belief that the "deck is stacked"; a complaint will go nowhere, and the time and money spent in pursuing a complaint is a waste. Worse than a waste. A "court officer" who goes through the standard complaint protocol and comes out "squeaky clean" is vindicated. The alleged malfunctioning never happened (or had no merit) and the one filing a complaint is perceived as a "crank".

There is also another potential escape from accountability - an unsubstantiated claim of diminished professional responsibility caused by mental illness, medication side effects, alcoholism on the part of a wrong-doer. This is an "escape hatch" used by politicians finding themselves in trouble, but lawyers can use it too. After accolades for "courage" in self-diagnosis, there is a quick round of counseling and all is forgiven. Not to say that "officers of the court" are immune to the afflictions of alcohol, drugs and mental illness, but how does the public know about the nature and validity of such claims?  And…. even with valid claims and valid treatment, who determines "fitness for (professional) duty" after treatment? Is alcoholism (according to AA) ever truly cured? What about recurrences of a major mental illness? Are public 'caveats' ever forthcoming about damaged legal professionals who may exit a remission while continuing to work?
 
At the present time, the public has the impression that the system of oversight for "officers of the court" described above is very shaky indeed. It is totally counter-culture to what Americans demand for the policing of other major professions. Its archaic privilege is increasingly questioned and increasingly difficult to justify. The numerical growth of 'pro se' litigants, who are under none of the  professional conventions to handle "officers of the court" protectively, may be the catalyst that cracks open the system, while oversight groups like the overseers struggle to hold onto conventions. Two tracks: "do it yourself" and "follow the guild". One has protective standards; one has none. One has conventions; one has none. Two systems of justice - how  does this impact justice - and the adjudicative process?


MeGAL is working to bring reform to the Guardian ad litem and Family Court systems. We do this through education and legislative process. If you would like to get involved we encourage you to contact us, your state representative or find us on Facebook.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Has Lawyers in Libraries Worked to Bring Access to Justice to Consumers?

May 11 MeGAL wrote to Justice Andrew Mead regarding the tools being used to improve access to justice within the judicial branch and the courts they are charged with managing.  The follow up email had one driving question – while a program may be well intention and yet not achieving much – what is the reason for continuing without re-evaluating the goals of the program itself.

Does the Judicial Branch understand the scope of the problem – who lacks access to justice and why? The Lawyers in Libraries program has been functioning in one form or another for a number of years. This year’s Law Day sparked the questioning of the success of this program as it relates to the consumers of judicial services. Has 10-15 minutes with a lawyer once a year brought about a drop to the numbers who are seeking access to justice.

Our reply back to Justice Andrew Mead:

From: J M Coll
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 1:25 PM
To: Andrew Mead
Cc: Stephen D. Nelson Esq; SenDavid Burns; Mary Ann Lynch***; Day,Avery T; gkesich; jharrison; sdolan
Subject: Re: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?

Justice Andrew Mead

Dear Justice Mead,

When any program is well-intended but not achieving much, most people would say that taking stock or re-evaluation is in order.

I would add that it would be money well-spent for whoever is tasked with improving "access to justice", to get some outside, consultative expertise on how better to improve "access justice" with limited  manpower and financial resources. There are many sources who might suggest quality consultative entities, which could be helpful. The NCSC would be one  that is undoubtedly familiar; the US Department of Justice is another. There are any number of universities with a capability of providing consultation on goal determination and designing an intervention. What one is looking for is how to get the answer to a number of important questions:

1.) Exactly who is lacking access to justice in Maine? What are the numbers and demographics of such a population group or groups? What is the nature of their "access" problems? If one can't define the population needing "access to justice" any planned action is wasteful of resources and a blind "shot in the dark". This is an absolutely vital piece of information, if one desires to design a target intervention of any kind.

2.) There is also the matter of defining goals in measurable terms. For most interventions - with a defined population in need- a common aim is to reduce numbers of such a population over a defined period of time, say annually. The design of intervention should be defined  by how best to reach such a populations in need in a manner that is cost-effective, given time and budgetary limitations.

3.) Regular formal evaluation of effort is the 'sine qua non', the backbone of any targeted program. Is it working? Are numbers receding? What "fine tuning" might give even better results?

I firmly believe that everyone in Maine would want to support improved "access to justice". It is a foundational American belief. I'd suggest that it would not be out of place to propose legislation that would allocate money for formal consultation and program design, as mentioned above. I would personally support such legislation and work for it, and I suspect many others would too.

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins, MD

What has the success of Lawyers in Libraries been to date? We do not know and neither does the Judicial Branch nor the Justice Action Group (JAG). While the program is well intention - it reaches such a limited segment of the population and for such a short period of time that we question the value of this program. There were a fair number of people associated with MeGAL who sought out legal help to see what Lawyers in Libraries could do. While every lawyer that they came into contact with was polite and helpful all of them lacked any experience with handling Family Courts. Many of those who went out ended up talking with the lawyers beyond the 15 minutes allotted - there was limited attendance from those seeking equal justice. All of them were seeking greater access to justice – no one felt that they received an increase to justice. The information provided in the handouts while useful – all could be found through a google search or by looking on the Judicial Branches website.

To date we have not received a response from Justice Andrew Mead or from JAG.

MeGAL is working to bring about reform to our Family Court system. We do this through educating the public and out representatives and encourage you to do the same. If you would like to become involved please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


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2016-05-17 Does Lawyers in Libraries work at bringing Access to Justice to those in Need?


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Does Lawyers in Libraries work at bringing Access to Justice to those in Need?

Maine has a lawyer-sponsored program that has been pulled together by various groups called "Lawyers in Libraries". The idea seem to be that as a consumer you could make an appointment to sit down with a lawyer and receive legal help/ advice/ consultation/ referral. This years program had 22 libraries from across the state participate. Most had a volunteer lawyer available for two hours and appointments ranged from 10-15 minutes per scheduled client. In some cases consumers could get more time if no one showed up after your time.

This is one way that lawyers and Maine's courts are trying (Claiming?) to bring Access to Justice to those who need it. In Maine it is estimated that over 113,000 in 2015 had issues with accessing justice of which 17,065 are in Family Courts alone. It is a huge task to bring these people the tools they need to have a fair and equitable "access to justice".

Lawyers in Libraries (L in L) has been promoted for several years now and we wanted to know how effective the program has been with reducing the numbers of unservered populations and bringing access to justice to those in need. We wrote to Justice Andrew Mead the following:



From: J M Coll
Sent: May 11, 2016 9:39 AM
To: Justice Andrew Mead , "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , SenDavid Burns
Cc: Mary Ann Lynch*** , Avery.T.Day, gkesich, jharrison, sdolan
Subject: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?

Justice Andrew Mead
Maine Judicial Branch
Justice Access Group

Dear Justice Mead,

We've been watching with interest last weeks unfolding of the "Lawyers in Libraries" program.

It  has been touted in some quarters as a component of a larger "access to justice" strategy that aims to address the large numbers of Mainers who are excluded from "access", because they go to court 'pro se', or on their own. Our team of observers have looked at the Maine program and have pooled their observational data about six such "L in L" programs in Maine libraries this past week. With all due respect, we have to conclude that the Maine program in its present form, in our view does virtually nothing to improve Maine citizens' "access justice". The "L in L" program is extremely unlikely to lower this state's statistics of those who lack legal support for "access to justice". Let us be more specific in our observations:

1.) The program goals are unclear. Is the program's aim to polish the professional image of Maine lawyers as nice people with a charm "offensive" in a community setting? Does it aim to provide service to unserved populations of Mainers and thereby to reduce 'pro se' statistics? Does it aim to market private legal services to the public and improve the private practices of lawyers who might not yet have a "full practice"? It is hard to measure success or failure quantitatively without specified goals.

2.) The present "lawyers in libraries" program is not a population-oriented approach, which would define the demographics of Maine's underserved populations, target them and aim a intervention, or a series of interventions, at recruiting them for appropriate legal service. The goal would be reducing incidence and prevalence of the problem in the target population. A 'pro se' population in family courts who are 75% 'pro se' (17,065 people in 2015), would be one good example of a legally unserved population. Were one truly wishing to reach this population, one would need to define it demographically, decide where (which locales) best to make contact and how best "to speak" to such a population. One might use a targeted marketing campaign, such as is very common today in many large businesses which want to reach unserved new markets.

3.) From our examination of "lawyers in libraries" in several towns across Maine, we observe that "volunteer" lawyers do not appear in many town libraries. The "L in L" lawyer volunteers (out of 3,100 Maine Bar members) are few in number ,and there is a limited donation of time. In several libraries there is only one lawyer for 2 hours at the end of one day. For example one Maine city of 21.000 population had one 2 hour session scheduled from 5:30 - 7:30 pm for the entire week, a fairly frugal, lawyerly service donation. We have to ask,what miracles of law are accomplished in 10 - 15 minute appointments, over 2 hours, with even the most skilled lawyer or the most fast talking client? Typically volunteer lawyers spoke briefly at the start of the scheduled time, and there are handouts of "legal resources" which list free and low cost services, such as are posted on the Maine Judicial Branch web site. Public attendance in some instances was a total of 3 people, but notices, advertising this program, in several instances, seemed to be last minute postings in the newspapers or the paper's online version. The volunteer lawyers seemed pleasant enough, but because of their areas of special practice, were often less informed in other legal issues beyond their practice interests. They could only explain and provided very general information but avoided any direct legal advice. For those Maine libraries with no program, we wonder why? Is it because of lack of interest on the part of the majority of the 3,100 Bar members? Is it due to negative feeling on the part of Bar members about the value of the program? How is "access to justice" improved by the "L in L" program? Most importantly, does this effort have any impact on the statistics?

4.) We have to say that the "L in L" program does no harm, but we'd ask, does it do any good for the public who seek access? In our opinion, this program has serious problems of focus and design. If it desires to reduce the huge statistical problem of "lack of access to justice", it is embarrassingly inadequate and superficial. To learn from this past week's experience, do any of the program's sponsors plan a post-program evaluation? Besides our assessment, does the "access to justice" committee intend to do any form of program assessment? We suggest, based on our observations, that you need either to re-design this program top to bottom, or scrap it  With regret, we have to say, as the "L in L" program stands at the moment, it does nothing that we can see to improve badly needed "access to justice" in Maine.

Mainers are still waiting for "access to justice".

    Sincerely,

    Jerome A Collins


Within about 30 minutes Justice Andrew Mead replied back:



From: Andrew Mead
Sent: May 11, 2016 10:13 AM
To: J & M Coll
Cc: "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , SenDavid Burns , Mary Ann Lynch*** , "Day, Avery T" , gkesich, jharrison, sdolan
Subject: Re: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?

Dr. Collins -

Thank you for your note. I will pass your comments along to the New Lawyers Section of the Maine State Bar Association. The New Lawyers Section has taken over the administration of the program.

My original vision for the program was to have volunteer lawyers available on a given day--perhaps the first of each month--at every public library in the state. The lawyers would be available to give generalized advice and refer folks to legal services organizations and private lawyers as appropriate. The program would be directed at individuals in the poverty and modest means economic categories, but no one would be turned away from the sessions. The overarching goal is to connect more people with legal representation.

Unfortunately the scope of such a program renders it administratively unfeasible without the creation of a fully staffed organization to run it. Accordingly, the current program, limited in scope as it must be, continues to evolve as a pilot program. The biggest challenge is getting the word out. Most folks who would benefit from speaking with a lawyer simply don't know that lawyers are available to meet with them in some libraries on Law Day.

It is my hope that the program will continue to gain traction as public awareness grows. The lawyers and the libraries continue to be committed to it. I agree that the current Lawyers in Libraries program is a very small initiative in contrast to the enormous need, but we need to pursue every possible avenue to improve access to justice. For the individuals who did connect with legal services as a result of the Lawyers in Libraries, the program was a success for them.

It is my hope that the New Lawyers Section will continue this initiative (which it undertook only very recently) and grow it to the point where public knows that libraries can be the crucial link between folks who need legal representation and the lawyers who can serve them.

Thank you for your continuing interest in access to justice issues.

A. Mead



Lawyers in Libraries was developed as a result of the "Khoury Report" which was commissioned by the Justice Action League (JAG). As part of the recommendations Lawyers would volunteer once a year on Law Day in libraries to offer legal service and in certain circumstances legal advice. This was part of a plan to bring access to justice to a growing number of consumers who were in desperate need of legal help and guidance.

It is not known how effective the Law Day - Lawyers in Libraries is. Simple math shows that for 2015 an estimated 900-1000 could be helped for the time allotment of 15 minutes per client. Is 15 minutes once a year enough time to help consumers who need greater access to justice? Or is this a way for lawyers to find new clients who need legal representation?

MeGAL is working for Family Court reform. In 2015 there were 17,065 people in Family Court who struggled with access to justice. Who for what ever reason could not afford to hire a lawyer or keep one through to the end of their case. If you have had issues with Access 2 Justice (A2J) we encourage you to contact your representatives to let them know. You should also get involved with change and can start by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Will Parents (Pro se) Be Given the Same Educational Experiences as Lawyers - We Asked

We have sent several letters to the Judicial Branch regarding the course which was being offered by the York County and Maine Bar to its members. We asked whether or not the Judicial Branch had any plans to give the same type of educational experience to parents ( especially those who are Pro se ) as they would benefit from the wisdom of lawyers, Guardians ad litem and judges who spoke on April 29, 2016.

The Judicial Branch's response follows. Please keep in mind that this is an un-edited version:























The non-response from the Judicial Branch is in itself a response to the concerns that parents - especially those which are Pro se - continue to be discriminated by various forms of legal entities. That we do not deserve the same knowledge as lawyers, Guardians ad litem and Judges.

In 2015 there were an estimated 17,065 parties who found themselves in Family Court as a Pro se lawyer/ litigant. It would be safe to say that almost all of these people would benefit from the same kind of guidance and education that the privileged lawyers and Guardians ad litem received during the educational session. To be able to learn from judges what you need to do to win your case would have been worth the time.

We encourage you to educate our representatives with the experiences you have had in Family Court. A dysfunctional, adversarial system that has in practice no checks and balances. If you would like to become involved or have a story to tell please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.