Thursday, July 27, 2017

MEGALs Reply to the Judiciary Committee

Janet Stocco
Legislative Analyst
Office of Policy and Legal Analysis

Dear Ms Stocco,

Please, convey my thanks to the Chairs of the Judiciary Committee, Keim and Moonen, for including me as one of the recipients of their important letter to Chief Justice Saufley. I was impressed that the committee which has oversight of the Judicial Branch would take this very direct oversight step, which I've often wondered about in the past, but never seen before. They are to be commended, and one hopes that "long journey begins with first step."

The Guardian ad litem complaint procedure would benefit from a detailed analysis of why no complaints from "consumers" ever seem to stick? Are the complaints naively formulated? Are they defeated in internal committee debate? Is the judgement of a complaint an "all or nothing" event in which there is no room for even minor "corrective action"? Is the committee unfairly balanced with "special interests" that are protective of GALs? One is tempted to ask, with a "perfect record" of complaint defeat, are all GALs in fact "perfect". One might further observe; with a complaint record suggestive of "perfection", do these "paragons" really need a complaint procedure? Is any procedure which never once scores a "hit" in its entire history, a waste of time and money?

I would suggest that a careful, formal analysis of this "phenomenon of apparent GAL perfection" by the Judicial Branch for review by the Judiciary Committee might provide enlightenment for the very perplexed public.

Yours for understanding GAL "perfection".

Sincerely,

Jerome  A Collins, MD

Saturday, July 22, 2017

ME Judiciary Committee to Chief Justice Saufley on GAL Review Board and Complaint

In what was a surprise move by the Judiciary Committee - a letter was sent to Honorable Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice of Maine's Supreme Court regarding the Guardian ad litem Review Board and Complaint process.

The recommendations made - while they do not go nearly far enough in our opinion - is a start. It also shows that consumers of these services who spoke out or wrote in had an impact on the opinions of this committee. Below is the letter which was sent:



July 18, 2017

Honorable Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice
Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Cumberland County Courthouse
205 Newbury Street
Room 139
Portland, Maine 04101-4175

Re: Guardian Ad Litem Review Board and Complaint Process

Dear Chief Justice Saufley:

As you may know, the Judiciary Committee this session considered and unanimously supported LD 457, An Act To Repeal the Sunset Date on the Children Guardians Ad Litem Law. As the title suggests, this bill repeals the sunset provision in Title 4, Chapter 32, the comprehensive law enacted by the 126th Legislature to reform the statutes, rules and procedures involving the court-appointment, compensation, and oversight of children's guardians ad litem in guardianship, adoption, divorce, parental rights and responsibilities, and child protection proceedings.

At the public hearing on LD 457, we encouraged to learn from Chief Judge E. Mary Kelly about the reforms the Judicial Branch implemented after the enactment Of Title 4, Chapter 32: the development and adoption of the new Maine Rules for Guardians ad Litem governing the qualifications, standards of conduct, and appointment of guardians ad litem as well as the procedures governing oversight of guardians ad [item by the Guardian ad Litem Review Board, a new, independent unit of the Board of Overseers Of the Bar. We are satisfied that these reforms were necessary responses to address the concerns that led to enactment of Title 4, Chapter 32.

We were troubled, however, by the testimony we heard and received indicating that some parties in court proceedings where guardians ad litem have been appointed remain frustrated by the perceived lack of accountability enjoyed by guardians ad litem. Individuals who testified against LD 457 expressed confusion surrounding what they view as an overly complex and impersonal Guardian ad Litem Review Board Complaint system as well as dismay that the heavy representation of rostered guardians ad litem on the Review Board prevents complainants from receiving a fair evaluation of their grievances. We therefore respectfully request that the Judicial Branch and the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board consider implementing the following changes to the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board and the complaint process:

  • improve the balance in board membership between rostered guardians ad litem (currently 8 members) and members of the public (currently 4 members);
  • clearly inform complainants both on the complaint form and on the board's publicly accessible website that board staff are willing and able to assist complainants both with filling out the complaint form and with understanding the complaint process; 
  • remove question C. 1 from the complaint form, which inquires whether the complainant is aware of any past complaints against the guardian ad litem; 
  • require board staff to immediately acknowledge receipt of all complaints in writing; 
  • ensure complaints are processed in a timely manner, with periodic updates provided to complainants to keep them informed of the status of the complaint; and 
  • provide a written explanation to the complainant of the reason for dismissal whenever a complaint is dismissed at any point in the complaint process.
Thank you for considering these recommendations. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Senator Lisa Keim
Senator Chair


Representative Matthew W. Moonen
House Chair

To review a copy of the actual document please follow this link.



Monday, May 29, 2017

Change Takes Dedication and Perseverance

Change Takes Dedication and Perseverance

Family Court is one of the most in-humane institutions ever invented by humans. There is no quick fix to bringing about change. It takes education of those who can bring about change and there will be those (lawyers, Guardians ad litem and other court vendors) who will be there every step of the way to tell those same people that there is no problem.

For 10 years Peter Szymonik has been standing up to the Family Court system in Connecticut. It takes this kind of dedication to bring about change. On May 22 Peter went before Connecticut's Judiciary Committee to give testimony on the appointment of Barry Armata as a judge.

Please watch the video of testimony give by Peter:

Judiciary Committee Public Hearing on Judicial & Workers’ Compensation Commission Nominations Followed by Committee Meeting - Video

MeGAL has been working since 2012 to bring about change in Family Court system. We encourage you to be involved in the process by contacting your representative and start to educate him/ her with what the problems are.

Guardian ad litem -  Felicity Myers

 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Will Your Complaint Against A Judge Work?

An important question about any quality assurance (QA) program, such as the Judiciary Responsibility and Disability Committee, is:

"Does it work?"

To which we would add:

"And for whom?"

For the public users of court services? For Judges themselves? For the Judicial Branch of government? For Lawyers who use the courts? Here are some reflections on these "QA" issues that suggest quality protection is the M.O. of the Committee; rather than public quality assurance:

1. Can any honest probe of one judge's performance avoid tarnishing (or bringing to question) the performance of other judges? Part of the power of the judiciary comes from its unassailable, sacrosanct role image as honest, incorruptible, dispassionate, objective, fair, impartial, knowledgeable about the law and above the fray of whatever contention appears in their courts. A successful consumer complaint "dings" this vulnerable image and suggests that the product, as a whole may not be as advertised. The inevitable questions follow. Is this a "one-off" situation, or are there other product defects?

2. A successful complaint about a judge would be highly likely to attract the attention of other dissatisfied "consumers of court services", who have had the same judge, and complaints might start to come "out of the woodwork". Once there is a precedent of allowing exposure of and sanction for bad judicial behavior, the precedent can be applied to other similar cases. 

3. Apart from "just one bad judge", public complainants may start to examine similar behaviors in other judges. Transparent documentation of new complaints might embolden members of the bar to get into the act and use their legal skills to zero in even more incisively.

4. An open "hunting season" on judges along with better transparency about complaints and their handling would destroy forever the "sacrosanct" judicial image, an important marketing device which maintains public confidence (and lawyerly confidence) in judges.

So how do legitimate, worrisome complaints get handled by "the powers that be"? Dismissal can be "a many splendored thing." The 100% solution.

1. Dismissed. Because the legal complaint was not not well formulated, failed to specify the exact judicial canons or to cite the exact law that may have been infringed upon. In other words, you may have "something", but "WE" set the rules of the game, and "WE" enforce them.

2. Dismissed. For lawyers complaining, there is the above issue, but there are also various potential accusations of "disrespect" of the judge.
  • Too candid in criticism = disrespect. 
  • Too forceful = disrespect. 
  • Too persevering = disrespect. 
  • Too zealous in building a case = disrespect. 
Are you planning on practicing in this state? Will you ever again expect to appear in this judge's courtroom, if he/she is exonerated? Will you be "sanctioned for disrespect/contempt" with referral to the overseers of the bar - with an impact on your license - for disrespect? There are NO rewards for lawyerly zeal in complaining about judicial bad behavior.
3. Dismissed. But working behind the scenes in the "murk" of the Judicial Branch, the offending judge is subsequently "transferred" (for no particular reason), say, from Portland to Ft Kent. All the potatoes you can eat, judge, and you're just a stone's throw from Canada.

4. Dismissed. But the judge "retires", and moves out of state or goes back to being a lawyer.

5. Dismissed. But the behind the scenes maneuvers at the Judicial; Branch lead to someone(?) making an unpublicized decision not to request judicial re-appointment when reappointment time comes up. Now you see him/her; now you don't! 

It all bears a striking similarity to another totalitarian institution, and the now, long passed, Catholic Churches opaque handling of dysfunctional priests: retire, transfer, send away for therapy, move out of the country or to another jurisdiction. Judges appear to be the "new priests"? So far the Boston Globe's Spotlight hasn't assigned its star investigative reporters to this situation.

Do you still want to file a complaint?

In the past 30 years there has not been one successful complaint against a judge - that we are ware of.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Examined - A Parents Right to Free Speech

While this appeal does not center around a Guardian ad litem that has failed. It could have.

In an unusual case the Tennessee Court of Appeals indicated that some of the restrictions placed on the Mother regarding communications were vague or broad.

As an example the Mother was restricted from mentioning the Father at all on social media. This meant that the most benign reference would land the Mother in trouble.

What is even more interesting is that this was a Family Matters case and the Mother was Pro se.

For more details please follow these links:

Herston Law Group - Parent’s Right to Free Speech Examined in Nashville, TN Child Custody Modification: Gider v. Hubbell

Court of Appeals - SINAN GIDER v. LYDIA HUBBELL

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Kinship Providers Cri du Coeur

The expressive French phrase, 'un cri du coeur', says it all about the Picchiotti bills on behalf of kinship providers of custodial care for their grandchildren. These bills are truly a cry from the heart of good people, begging the Maine legislature to correct the daunting legal struggles they've had to go trough in Maine's courts to provide loving care for their grandchildren. These children have ended up in "kinship care", because of the gross dysfunction, neglect or abuse of their natural parents.

As one might say, "There ought to be a law!" Or, more reflectively, "Where has the law been?"

Listening to the intelligent, very well-crafted analyses of some of these bills by the Judiciary Committee analyst on Thursday, one had to concur with her astute reviews. The bills were frequently flawed with regard both to structure and content. And ... after very thoughtful discussion by the committee members, "OUGHT NOT TO PASS" was a logical committee decision. The bills were often described as:

  • Redundant: covered by existing laws.
  • Partially redundant- overlap with existing laws
  • Unconstitutional or challenging to the constitution
  • Apt to create confusion in the courtroom's analyses
  • There were other critiques of these bills that added to the "flawed status"


BUT... the grandparents 'cri du coeur' remains and cannot be silenced by very logical analysis a proposed law. The needs of these Maine children for loving care from a "kinship provider" don't evaporate, because a bill OUGHT NOT TO PASS.  

FURTHER, we'd say, "Redundancy, overlap, courtroom confusion and other critiques of the Picchiotti  bills don't answer our critique: IF THERE ALREADY ARE LAWS IN PLACE TO HELP THE KINSHP PROVIDERS AND THEIR GRANDCHILDREN, THEY MUST NOT BE WORKING. Or certainly not working as they should?

We smell a rat. A large rat!

All is not well. The Committee needs to dig deeper and understand why the bills were very seriously proposed.  Something isn't working for Maine Children and families. We need answers. We need corrective action.


MeGAL is working to bring about change to the "Family Court" system since 2012. We do so through the education of parents who are caught in the process as well as our representatives who are unaware of the issues involved in "Family Courts". For more information please email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Felicity Meyers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We Support Rep John Picchiotti's Bills For Kinship Providers

We strongly support all of Rep John Picchiotti's bills. All of them are very  much needed by those children who have been abandoned by parents, or whose parents are  determined to be "unfit". The bills fill a gap in healthy  support systems for children in the care of (non-parental) kinship providers. They also provide much needed public support to the dedicated kinship providers themselves. The bills address issues that have cried out for attention for a very long time.

THE PICCHIOTTI BILLS:

LD 063 An Act To Ensure Complete Investigations by Guardians Ad Litem - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill requires that a Guardian ad litem should do a complete investigation and report on standardized, court approved forms that list topic headings the GAL tasks to be investigated and outcome of investigation. Reports must be provided to both parties well in advance of hearings. Tasks assigned by judge must comply with GAL role. We do not support the aspect calling for removal of the SUNSET CLAUSE - in this bill, and Rep Picchiotti tells us that it was put there in error by the Revisor's office. He plans to explain its removal to the Judiciary Committee when the bill is presented on Thursday, March 23rd at 1 pm.

LD 363 An Act To Make a Child Living with a Custodial Relative Caregiver Eligible for State-paid Legal Services - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill aims at giving children, living with kinship providers, legal protection and legal representation in custody disputes between parents and de facto parents (foster kinship).  Guardians ad litem do not provide formal legal court representation to children in litigation situations. They gather information for the judge.

LD 429 An Act Concerning Guardians Ad Litem and Determinations Regarding the Best Interest of a Child in Custodial Relative Caregiver Cases - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. Act considers when the child's best interest is reviewed.  Giving custody to a relative must be considered.

LD 147 An Act To Amend the Maine Parentage Act - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill prohibits a child support order from requiring payment of child support from the 'de facto' parent to another parent of the child if the 'de facto' parent became a 'de facto' parent due to the unwillingness or inability of the other parent to provide care for the child.

LD 282 An Act to Support Caregivers when Children Have Been abandoned by their Parents - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This concerns caretaker relatives who take custody when a child's parents have abandoned them without formal guardianship or power of attorney. 'De facto' parents may petition the court to be appointed guardian. The law would amend factors for the court to consider in the child's best interest: parental participation in child's life, parental capacity, disposition of parent to uphold a normal parent-child relationship

LD 362 An Act to Allow Relative Caregivers Standing in Court - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill specifies that a relative caregiver involved in a child protective proceeding has an unconditional right to intervene in the proceeding.

From our perspective these several bills correct the severe legal disadvantages that dedicated kinship providers have faced in their efforts to provide good homes to the children of parents who are "unfit". Often these children are their grandchildren. That they have not been considered by courts as providers of child care "in the child's best interest" is hard to understand; that they do not have standing in court is another illogical injustice to them and the children they care for; that they might be "hit on" for child support is simply unbelievable; and that the children in these cases have no legal representation is a failing of the courts to protect these vulnerable children.

Representative Picchiotti and the Kinship Provider group deserve enormous credit for bringing these issues to public and legislative attention. We sincerely hope that the legislature acts in favor of these bills.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

We Are Asking the Sun Set On LD 872

To: Members of the Judiciary Committee for Thursday, March 23rd at 1 pm

From: Jerome A Collins,  Maine Guardian ad litem Alert

Re: LD 457, the "Sunset" Bill, sponsor: Rep Matthew Moonen


We strongly oppose this bill. The sun should set  on the law, a the law itself  specifies, in October, 2017..

The original version of this law was conceived by Sen David Dutremble and me over a long afternoon, in 2012, at my kitchen table in Kennebunkport. We based our action on the facts that (a) nothing was happening at the Judicial Branch to reform the GAL program, (b) we were both hearing heartbreaking complaints from numerous victims of the GAL program that was the result of no program oversight or management, (c) there already existed a "blueprint" for GAL reform waiting to be activated in the form of the nationally respected 2006 OPEGA Audit of Maine GALs. We expanded the focus of the 2006 OPEGA report to cover all GALs, wherever they worked: Probate, Children's Protective or Divorce and Custody.

The Dutremble bill, LD 872 was born in the grass-roots, nourished by the legislative process with extensive emotional public hearings and signed into law by the Governor in late Spring 2013. It was a "people's bill" all the way. It solved "people problems" in family courts. It was a solution that grew out of long neglect by the Judicial Branch of their GAL program; it corrected a problem for vulnerable groups, who were forced to use GALs.

As not uncommonly happens, with laws created by the Legislature with strong citizen input, the Judicial Branch worked over the "Dutremble Law" using their preferred process, committees composed of "stakeholders": family court lawyers, GALs and family court judges - all with significant conflicts of interest. The law was radically  transformed from "people friendly" to "family bar and GAL-friendly". It is NO LONGER THE PEOPLE'S LAW; IT IS A LAWYERS' and GAL's LAW.. THIS RE-WORKED LAW IS NOT THE ONE WE WORKED TO CREATE. It may have the same name and number but it is a very different "creature".

The centerpiece of this "new" Judicial Branch law is the GAL complaint procedure, safely tucked into the Overseers of the Bar.
  • The complaint procedure is said to be a substitute for actual oversight and nonexistent management. It is not either.
  • The legislature had called for a "user-friendly" GAL  complaint procedure. It is now about as de-humanized a process as one could imagine.
  • The current procedure provides pages of legalistic instructions, but no human help.
  • The steps in the procedure are carried out by mail (US postal service). No names of those making decisions appear.
  • The consumer making a complaint fires of a complaint into a nameless, faceless, bureaucratic "black hole".
  • 100 % of consumer complaints have been dismissed without any corrective action of the mildest kind being taken. This is in the tradition of all previous complaint procedures that go back for years.
It is unclear whether these consumer complaints are viewed as legal complaints (breaking the law) or vocational complaints (competence). Once a complaint is dismissed, however, the GAL's name is cleared and removed from the record. The complaint never happened. We'd suggest that the Judiciary Committee members do a "walk through" of this process to get a feel for it. We'd also suggest that they obtain information about professional complaints from the Bureau of licensure, a very different process, a different more humane approach.

There are many other details I could mention, if I was allowed the time, but they are covered in our extensive rebuttal to Chief Judge Mary Kelly's report to the legislature. Here are the troubled topic headings:

  • Consumer satisfaction survey: We dare you to ask for data.
  • Financial ceilings for GAL services: Just motion the judge you need more time (and money) and the ceiling lifts.
  • Reporting information systematically and computer friendly - Rep Picchiotti's bill attempts to fill this missing piece.
  • Management and oversight of GALs - Sorry, it's covered by the GAL complaint procedure. It is? How?
  • Enforcement of GAL Rules and Standards - Sorry it's embedded in the GAL complaint procedure. With 100% dismissal are GALs "perfect"?
  • Data for any aspect of the law? What's data? Or. The numbers are "confidential", proprietary, secret.
  • Double talk: not intentionally. We have to protect all parties, but numbers how can they hurt anyone except the Judicial Branch?
The Maine legislature needs to ask itself: Is this the law, you sent to the Judicial Branch in 2013? We say it has had radical surgery at the JB since 2013? We say it is now very consumer-unfriendly. Do you want to inflict it on the people of Maine? If you can't decide, if you are confused by the opposing views on this law, you need an outside, objective OPEGA study to examine the problems and give you recommendations for action. We are told that Rep Moonen has already communicated to the Government Oversight Committee (and OPEGA) that an OPEGA study would be "premature", that the Judiciary Committee needs time to review Chief Judge Mary Kelly's report (and our rebuttal report?). It is unclear to us whether Moonen was expressing his personal views aimed at stalling OPEGA, or whether he expressed the sentiments of the Judiciary Committee as a whole. If the latter, this would close further public discussion of the "sunset" bill, until you review the opposing reports and decide where to go in resolving the questions raised. We are not afraid of any OPEGA analysis, are you?

It;s an airtight system

Jerome A Collins
MeGAL

If you are unable to attend on Thursday (and even if you are) we encourage you to submit written testimony to the Judiciary Committee. In submitting testimony please send to the following email address:

susan.pinette@legislature.maine.gov


And ask that your written testimony be distributed to all members of the committee.







felicity myers GAL