Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Maine needs outside consultation for GAL reform

     In thinking about repairing a broken GAL system, we feel that one should start with a look at previous perceptions of the problem.  OPEGA's 2006 Report on Guardian ad litem Oversight is an excellent place to begin.  It is thoughtful, non-partisan and thorough.  It is very detailed and explicit.  In 112 pages it says that there is no oversight of GALs, and it details many complaints from the grass roots about the system.

     The 2008-9 Judicial Branch report on the same topic says much the same thing in speaking about the GAL oversight problem.  It was the work of a committee that had 7 GALs, several of whom were members of the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute board.  It proposed an elaborate investigative process that gently investigated problems and gently helped to repair malfunctioning.  It cost $500,000 and was understandably refused by Maine's legislature.

     There was also the report in 2009 by First Star, a children's advocacy group, and by The Children's Advocacy Group of the University of San Diego School of Law.  These collaborating organizations gave Maine- and 6 other states- an "F" in its legal protection of children.  Finally, there is Maine's Chief Justice, Leigh Saufley, who spoke at a hearing of the Joint Committee of the Legislature on the Judiciary, declaring that Guardians ad litem had no oversight and promising to come up with a plan for the legislature's Judiciary Committee by October.

     That there is a GAL problem of unknown dimensions is undeniable.  What to do about it and who the architects of reform might be are of huge concern to those children and families affected by the system and any future reform plans.

     We would recommend that the Judicial Branch seek formal, outside consultation from relevant professionals in those states, which are recognized as leaders in the legal protection of children.  The use of outside experts allows for extrication and detachment from the always enmeshed politics of a small state like Maine.  It might also bring the best thinking available to the problem-solving of a complex systems problem: GALs, their roles and functions, their legal boundaries, their management and oversight, and the systems and data collection that would functionally promote these aims.

     At all cost, we need to avoid another planning effort like that of the judicial branch in 2009. One in which the planners included 7 "foxes" working on  the security plans for the "hen house".


  1. This makes sense to have an outside source at least available to make suggestions to reform. Reform can not be made the way it was attempted back in 2008 when it was one sided. Meaningful change has to come from input from all sides.

  2. I would agree that Maine should get an F. Common sense and GAL's do not seem to go hand in hand. At least that was my experience. It seems that a GAL can do what they want and as they please. I one time vented to my lawyer about what I experienced. It made no sense and he told me that GAL's did what they want and went unchallenged. It was impossible to remove or discipline them. This in my opinion just seems wrong.

  3. The Maine GAL system is way too cozy with the Judicial Branch. GALs are major players on Judicial Branch Committees that have aimed at GAL change. The JB registers GALs, courts appoint them to cases, GALs in the legislature watch for reform proposals and aim to shape them, making for a very incestuous set of relationships throughout the system. Outside consultation would end the political incest games.

  4. If Maine got an F by 2 national raters, how can the usual players correct the system? They can't. But they can keep it cozy for the usual players. No more rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. At times the JB seems like a wholly owned subsidiary of MEGALI, the GAL lobby.

  5. Let's see. We want to reform oversight and abuse of the GAL role. We want to make sure that GALs follow legal statutes that regulate their role, we want to prevent "inappropriate relationships" between GALs and clients, we want to stop "mission creep" in the GAL's role, we want to stop 'ex parte' conversations with judges, we want confidentiality standards that mean something, we want financial reform of GAL's fees that cap fees and stop abusive charges. We want transparency of a GAL's activities, so clients know what they are doing. We want accountability.

    So should the Chief Justice put 7 GALs on her GAL reform committee, like in 2009? MEGALI Board members? Or should we look for help on this problem outside of Maine? Which state has the best GAL program? Can we take a look?

  6. There is a need to have people who have witnessed GAL abuse on any planning committee for GAL reform.

  7. There is a serious problem with the current GAL program. The Maine Judicial Branch "doesn't know, it doesn't know!" They register GALs and haven't a clue about what happens after that. Oversight? None at all! Problems? Driving blind, no reports, no statistics, minimal data. No one in the Maine JB actually knows the state of things. Toby Hollander, president of MEGALI is reported to have said, "Things aren't that bad."

    Compared to what?

  8. The excuse for no GAL reform and no oversight is NO money. Why isn't the Judicial Branch out there stating their needs via the media? Why don't they request legislation? Why don't they do a public report themselves on the problems? Why don't they get the message out to the people? Why so passive about problem solving?