Thursday, April 5, 2012

What is the buzz on Guardian ad litems all about?

"I have been hearing a lot of buzz about guardian ad litems lately. I guess I didn't realize there was so many issues with them. Why hadn't I heard of this problem before?" a comment from a post made earlier today by Anonymous.

For most of us the term Guardian ad litem is one that most people will never have knowledge of. Guardian ad litem or GAL is a person who works within the court system and usually involved in custody cases. They are in a sense the eyes and ears for the Judge. Think of it this way, a Judge is only able to see a snapshot of the dispute. The GALs function provides the Judge a preview of sorts. Not the whole experience but hopefully enough that the Judge can get a sense of what is going on. There are rules and standards that the GAL operate under and management of the GAL during the investigation is in the hands of the judge that appointed him/ her.

GALs have been in the news lately because there is growing concern in the way they (GALs) are managed. Back in 2001 in the Final Report of the Committee to Review the Child Protective System - it was noted that there is no actual supervision or oversight of GALs other than the presiding Judge or through the complaint process. Back then there were 139 GALs registered. Today there are over 300 GALs registered and still no oversight.

The system as it stands is broken. The Chief Justice Leigh Saufley and The Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute recognize this fact as do several Senators and Legislators who have had personal experience. We have received emails from people who have also experienced frustration with a system that should be helpful but at times is not. There are scant statistics on how GALs operate within the system and no way of knowing if there are issues with an individual, group or system currently. As I said the system is broken and that is why you have been seeing news on the GAL industry. There are people who are concerned about the issue of oversight and management of GALs and are trying to fix the broken system. In the future there will be more as the issues are worked on by those involved.

1 comment:

  1. The problem is that the Judicial Branch in Maine keeps on adding GALs to their roster. Once they are admitted to the roster no one has any idea about what they are doing. Some may be doing a good job; some may be "rogues", bad apples.

    GALs have huge power and influence in court on child custody decisions, though they minimize this when questioned. Their most powerful influence occurs one on one with judges, behind closed doors in judge's chambers. Such meetings are called 'ex parte' and are frowned on but permitted by law in Maine, if the GAL subjectively feel it is "in the child's best interest". Unrecorded 'ex parte' conversations between GAL and judge can function as a sort of trial away from the main event, the actual courtroom trial. In an 'ex parte' situation a GAL presents her case and "markets it" to the judge with none of the normal courtroom opposition from opposing attorneys. It is a serious problem from Maine to California, and it seriously corrupts the legal process.

    The abolition of 'ex parte' is one of the things that ought to be a part of GAL reform in Maine!