Sunday, February 22, 2015

Management by Crisis - The Judicial Branch and Financial Shortfall 2015

Last week we had a sudden change to the Judiciary Committee schedule. The Judicial Branch was making a presentation to the Judiciary Committee for a supplemental budget of $1M to get through to July 2015. This is not the first time the Judicial Branch has gone back to the till at the last minute with hands out asking for more.

Most organizations have a budget to work with and it they miss the budget.... well there is trouble. The organization either fails or they look into why they have a shortfall and change to accommodate. As an individual it is the same thing. You anticipate what your expenses are for the upcoming month based on what you paid out in the past

When asked about the shortfall and why the Judicial Branch has a shortfall.... again - the spokesperson for the Judicial Branch answered "I don't know why".

Which should come as no surprise to anyone. Here we have an organization full of lawyers being run by lawyers . About the only thing that lawyers can do well and with efficiency is bill for services.

It might be time for the Judiciary to hire people who are professional managers and get past the management by crisis that we see year after year. Who can look at how things are run within the branch and bring efficiencies to the organization. Who would be able to say why there is a shortfall and make sure the Judicial Branch does not go back to the till again... and again with out held hands.

The management by crisis is but a symptom of a far greater problem that has infected the court system. We have seen it with the Guardian ad litem crisis and have seen it with the Family Courts. Our system of justice is crumbling down around us.

Support Family Court reform by contacting us at MeGAL at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

LD 349, SP 132, 127th Legislature An Act To Ensure Accountability of Guardians Ad Litem

Summary of this bill:

1. Removes the quasi-judicial immunity provided to guardians ad litem by statute;

2. Allows a cause of action and the award of punitive damages against guardians ad litem who falsely accuse parties of abuse or neglect or who intentionally exclude relevant information from reports to the parties or the court;

3. Requires the court to impose limits on the extent of investigations to be undertaken by a guardian ad litem;

4. Requires all guardians ad litem to have a minimum amount of completed course work in social work; and

5. Requires the court to set expenditure limits on guardian ad litem fees and any other costs incurred in investigations or the completion of the duties of the appointment.

The bill may be found here: 127th Legislature

You may also find out about other bills relating to Family Court and Guardian ad litem here.

This Bill was presented by Senator DUTREMBLE of York.
Cosponsored by Representative CRAFTS of Lisbon and Senator: PATRICK of Oxford, Representatives: FECTEAU of Biddeford, SHAW of Standish, SHORT of Pittsfield, VEROW of Brewer, WOOD of Sabattus.

If you would like to give testimony with regards to Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why is the Divorce Industry Calling Us "Bad Sports"…. Again.

Once again, we are hearing from the Maine divorce industry a repeat of their 2013 analysis of consumer complaints about Maine Guardians ad litem (GALs) and Family Courts. To put it in a very small nutshell: "Whiners!",  "Losers!",  "Those with a bad result in court!"

And ... there is that timeworn, mindless 'mantra' that in a contested divorce somebody HAS TO WIN, and somebody HAS TO LOSE! It is the "has to" that functions as a "we rest our case"  conversation stopper.  It implies that there is no other way than an adversarial model of child custody dispute resolution, that all family matter cases split neatly into "good guys" and "bad guys", and that family court judges and their sidekick GALs are OMNISCIENT. Impartiality reigns. Please, move on.

It is hard to believe that these tired, worn-out articles of lawyerly faith are being dragged out once again in 2015 for the 127th Legislature. We thought that they had been laid to rest on March 28th, 2013, when members of the public testified before the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature, all afternoon and into the early evening. Judiciary Committee members were profoundly moved by the credibility of stories of horrifying family court and GAL dysfunction.  It was a "wake up call" for even the most skeptical legislator, and it lead to LD 872, a GAL reform bill, being passed into law and signed by the Governor on July 8th 2013.

But ... once more with feeling! Let's refocus the lawyer's stereotyped conversation.

To begin with, no one is asking the legislature  for a change in the outcome of their custody case, much as many are unhappy with the steps leading to their outcome. Please, note that there are 7 brand new bills before the Judiciary Committee that address GAL and Family Court issues.  None of these bills are about the outcome of a particular divorce or a group of divorces. None of these bills are about "whining", "losing", or "bad result". They are all about much needed structural reform for GALs and Family Courts. They speak to court dysfunctions in urgent need of repair. They implicitly speak to the impossibility of having a "good outcome" as the result of a badly broken, dysfunctional process. They may also speak to "deferred maintenance" by the Judicial Branch that badly needs repair. In addition, we would maintain that the beneficiary of the current dysfunctional 'status quo' are the lawyers in the 26% minority of family court cases which can afford to pay for a lawyer.

So much for "whiners"!!  Who is whining now?

Most of the bills deal with the grossly inadequate structural design issues, such as, 18 hours of GAL training for a job requiring high level professional skills, the absence (after 3 years of  hard work by the Judicial Branch) of a consumer friendly complaint protocol that will enable “corrective action” of recognized GAL dysfunction, moving the complaint procedure to the Bureau of Professional Licensing (after 3 years of no working plan by the Judicial Branch), eliminating quasi judicial immunity from GALs when they "improvise" activities outside of their written "Rules", disallowing judges to use “discretion” about whether Rules for Maine GALs are followed - or not. Judges, we feel, should follow the law like anyone else.

One of the most important bills in our opinion, is the bill calling for an audit of 'Prose' litigants in family courts. 74% of litigants in family matter cases cannot afford a lawyer and must go it alone in court. It is a terrifying situation to be alone in an unfamiliar legal culture advocating for your child. Beyond the immobilizing fear of combat in court, it is an extremely unfair situation.

For 74% of Maine people involved in family court matters, Family Courts are no longer an impartial court but the setting for a crude "gladiatorial fight". Unarmed combatants against fully armed lawyers. It is beyond "David and Goliath". There is an urgent humane need for Maine to move the "whiner"/"Loser/"bad result" conversation into a review of solid facts. What is the experience for 'Prose' consumers? How do judges and lawyers function with 74% of nonprofessionals in their courts? How can this situation be reformed? How can the horrifying 74% 'Prose' numbers be reduced significantly?

Without wanting to appear  "to whine" about it, we feel that an audit by an organization, like OPEGA, will give answers and eliminate lawyerly name calling as a foil for real answers.

Just call me a "bad sport", as they did in 2012.

MeGAL believes in educating and legislative process. If you would like to become involved in reforming our Family Court and Guardian ad litem system please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or call at 207-370-9801. We may also be found on Facebook.

For further reading relating to Prose litigants in Family Courts:

2014-11-12 Family Court , 'Quo Vadis? "improvement, reform or implosion"?
2014-09-28 The Pro se Problem in Family Courts
2014-05-28 PROPOSAL FOR AN AUDIT OF ‘PRO SE’ REPRESENTATION IN MAINE FAMILY COURTS
2014-03-18 Maine Voices: We must work together to ensure justice truly is for all in Maine - a response

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Did the Maine Supreme Court Make the Right Decision to Terminate Parental Rights?

The headline that the Maine Supreme Court upheld the termination of parental rights of a man who killed two in front of his son.

The father killed the mother of his children and a friend back on July 25, 2011. After the killing the father led police on a high speed chase. The oldest son who witnessed and testified - suffered greatly. The fathers parental rights were terminated back in 2013 to which the father was appealing the decision.

While we do not always agree with the court in decisions and policy - we believe they are correct in upholding the earlier decision. For more details on the story please follow this link to the article in Bangor Daily News.

Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail or call 207-370-9801 for issues dealing with Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. Find us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why LePage's tax Reform Plan Rattles Lawyers

Under the current proposal lawyer's fees will be subject to the new expanded tax and the lawyer's are upset. They claim that by taxing their services - people (consumers/ parents) will not be able to afford a lawyer.

What?

Lawyer's concerned about their fees being beyond the reach of the average consumer. If there were such a concern Maine would not be one of the leaders in the country for Prose representation - especially in Family Courts. Almost 75% (74% to be exact as quoted by Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley) of parents in Family Courts end up representing themselves because they can no longer afford a lawyer. Adding a tax onto their services (lawyers) is not the problem for the average consumer in Maine especially in Family Court. It is the lawyers and court system they work within which is the problem for the average consumer. The adversarial process makes it an expensive proposition to be in court.

In four years we have been contacted by parents who were devastated by lawyers and the Family Court system. There was no concern for these parents that they were being financially devastated. No concern from these lawyers about the fees and billable hours which was ruining their clients. Which makes their (lawyers) concern about the tax unwarranted and unbelievable.

Should a lawyer express concern to you about the added expense of a tax on their services. Ask them what they have done lately to keep the cost of their services down for you.

MeGAL is working for reform within the Family Court system. For more details please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Or our phone - 207-370-9801 - and leave a short message.





Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 - MeGAL bills for Family Court and Guardian ad litem Reform

This year we are lucky enough to have ( 6 ) bills which have been sponsored for legislation. While we do not expect all of them to become bills/ laws - if nothing more this will be an opportunity to educate our representatives to the problems in our Family Court system. In 2013 we had several bills sponsored of which one became a bill ( LD 872 ). The following are bills which we know are related to the issues in Family Court. Look over the list and if you find others that should be a part of this list please contact us (see below):

LR 825 Title: An Act To Require Shared Parenting of Minor Children When the Parents Separate - Sen. Dutremble of York

LD 349, SP 132 Title: An Act To Ensure Accountability of Guardians Ad Litem - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 831 Title: An Act To Require That a Guardian Ad Litem Be Licensed - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 832 Title: An Act To Define the "Best Interest" of a Child - Sen. Dutremble of York

LR 1436 Title: An Act To Provide an Audit of Pro Se Experience in Family Courts - Rep. Seavey of Kennebunkport

LR1658 Title: An Act To Move Oversight of Guardians Ad Litem to the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation -Sen. Dutremble of York

To find the bill listings please do a search based on the LR "Number". For example searching for "832" should bring you to " An Act To Define the "Best Interest" of a Child Sen. Dutremble of York". In addition there are a number of bills which may or may not pertain to Family Court Reform which may be found on page 77 under JUD - Judicial Dept

This is a pdf file which may need to be downloaded: 127th Maine State Legislature

Please feel free to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com for further information on becoming involved and/ or if you find bills that may be of interest as it relates to the Family Court. You may also find us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Maine - Child Trafficking American Style: How Cash-for-Kids exists and how to Stop It by January 16, 2015

Divorce Corp has asked for our help in trying to stop the - Cash-for-kids - that goes on between the states and Federal government. These videos encapsulates the problems that parents suffer through in the Family Court system. Towards the end Joe Sorge and Divorce Corp tell you how you can make a difference:

Director Joe Sorge (Divorce Corp) reveals how good intentions gone bad and a callous legal profession has catapulted the United States into the unenviable position of leading the developed world in single parent households. Six billion dollars per year of taxpayer money motivates some of the worst public policy imaginable, leading to the bankrupting of families, the imprisonment of wage earners, and the manipulation and misuse of children as a currency for separating parents and opportunistic professionals. The Federal Government has opened up a rare opportunity to comment on these outdated and dysfunctional laws. Joe Sorge makes an appeal to write to Washington by the end of the public comment period, January 16, 2015, to reform these misguided Federal regulations. A link is provided to Divorce Corp’s web site, showing recommended changes to the Federal Regulations, and suggested reform language to send to Washington.

A YouTube video may be found here: YouTube


Please share this video with your contacts and look for us on Facebook.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Brief History of Guardian ad litem and Family Court Reform

INTRODUCTION: We offer this abbreviated time line to share where we’ve been, what we’ve studied and what we’ve learned about Maine (and other states) Family Court systems  in the last 4 years or so.  Our MeGALert goals have always been: (a) Education of ourselves and others about the Guardian ad litem (GAL)/family court systems problems and (b) Corrective legislation. Our education has come to us from hundreds of Maine family court cases, from contacts and work with all 3 branches of Maine government and from study, study, study! We are well-informed consumers of family court services in Maine!

Enclosed is a skeletal timeline of our GAL/Family court reform activities with the Legislative, Judicial and Executive Branches of Maine Government. It gives perspective, but it leaves out a lot of important content for brevity. For anyone who is interested, additional content can be supplied easily, if needed to "fill in the blanks".

01. 2011-10-28 - MeGALert (Dr Collins) made contacts with Beth Ashcroft, Director, OPEGA to discuss the troubling GAL experience and problems of numerous persons in Maine. She suggested that an option might be to request an audit of the GAL program. We were interested in the audit idea, but, because we were novices at it, OPEGA kindly provided assistance to us in completing forms for a GAL audit.

02. 2012-02-12 - We attended a Maine State House Meeting of the Government Oversight Committee to hear our GAL audit proposal. It was sponsored by Sen Nancy Sullivan and Beth Ashcroft (OPEGA) presented the details. The Committee voted to forward the audit request to the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature with a request for prompt action.

03. 2012-03-08 - Meeting of the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature. The Chief Justice and members of the Judiciary were invited to speak. The Chief Justice stunned many in the committee room, saying that there was no GAL supervision or oversight, but offered to work on this and return in September, 2012.

04. 2012-05-15 - MeGALert issues a full, formal Report on Maine GALs from consumer perspective. We titled it, "The Power of the Powerless", after the concept of Czech activist, Vaclav Havel. It covered 18 pages and reported numerous structural and design problems with the Maine GAL program. Our Report was circulated to members of the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Executive Branches of Government, the press, media, the public.

05. 2012-05-31 - Along with other associates, we participated in a Judicial Branch public hearing and testimony on Maine GALs, at  the courthouse, Portland. Many members of the public, lawyers and GALs testified during a long hearing.

06. 2012-07/08 - Judicial Branch established two work committees composed of divorce industry stake holders. It included ONE “public member”, Jerome A Collins, MD.  (a) One committee of 20 members endorsed a highly legalistic GAL complaint protocol that was very “consumer unfriendly”, whether the consumer were to be  ‘pro se’ or with legal support. Dr Collins did a written “minority report” opposing the proposal and wrote an “op ed” piece (like the minority report) in the Portland Press Herald. (b) The second committee was composed of 15 stake holders from the divorce industry and one public member, Dr Collins. Dr Collins resigned with a long written explanation that the public interests were minimized in a rush to accommodate the “divorce industry” on every possible “correction”. A deterrent fee of $100.00 to file a complaint about a GAL seemed very “unfriendly” to complainants and unprecedented in other systems of a similar nature.

07. 2012-12-07 - A planning Meeting was held at the State House: Rep Dennis Keschl, Beth Ashcroft (OPEGA), Michael Cianchette, esq (legal counsel to Gov), Larry Tardiff, and Jerome A Collins, MD to plan for submitting a GAL reform bill, along the lines recommended in the 2006 OPEGA Report on Maine GALs.  Sen David Dutremble later joined this committee, Sen Roger Katz and Mary Ann Lynch had been invited but were unable to attend.

08. 2013 Spring - LD 872 went through numerous debates, discussions, revisions and rewrites in the legislature from March 28th till June 25th, 2013 when it passed both the house and senate and the appropriations committee.

09. 2013-07-08 - Governor Paul R LePage signs LD 872 into law in the presence of numerous MeGALert members who had been victims of GAL malfunctioning. The Bill indicated that the Judicial Branch was to come up with a proposal for a GAL complaint protocol that was “user friendly”.

10. 2012-15 July/ Jan - We have been active in many areas. First and most important, we try to support  the numerous people who contact us with hair-raising, GAL/ family court/ ‘pro se’ problems. We put people in touch with others with similar problems. We offer educational information about ‘pro se’ and other family court perils. To the extent we are able as non-lawyers, we support appeals of family court judgments. We talk and advise people in other states who have heard about us and who want to copy our m.o. We write on our blogs and provide “news” on our Facebook page. We testify verbally and in writing on all Judicial Branch proposals affecting family courts and GALs. Though in all honesty, it is a tough organization, and we have to say that while they listen, we have not been terribly successful in getting consumer-oriented “reform”.

BUT... we are very informed; we have learned a lot in 4 years; we know most of the players; we know the problems “in depth”.

Our Family Court System is badly broken and it is harming the divorcing families and children who are forced to use it. Fixing this broken system will ,mean educating or representatives.

To find out how you can bring about change. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.