Monday, June 4, 2012

“Healthy disagreement, debate, leading to compromise has always been the American way.” Donald L. Carcieri

Upon review of Thursday’s events, like most of the attendees, we found that the Judicial Branch’s hearing on May 31st was a rewarding experience. They have heard - and are hearing - us. At the hearing they listened carefully, many of us spoke and offered a variety of diagnoses of the GAL problems, as well as proposing an amazing range of ideas for fixing them.There was a good human feeling, coming from a respectful process.  But … though we say it was a  very good beginning, we’d also say, “We’re not home free yet!” There is work to be done on an actual plan for reform.

The meeting on Thursday from 4-5:30 was well attended.  It is hard to estimate numbers, but we’d guess from the crowding in the hearing room somewhat over 50.  We know of many people, who wanted to attend, who had to work or who were too far away to make a round trip. It was a mixed crowd. Lawyers, GALs, and “consumers”, in a range of socioeconomic status. It was a Maine crowd of people who were all deeply concerned that the broken GAL program in Maine needs an overhaul. There was excellent testimony giving different opinions, reflecting the different perspectives of the speakers.  Consumers were very candid about systems problems, but respectful and focused.  Lawyers and GALs had  the different “takes” of each of their groups on the problem.  We have to say it was very interesting and very educational for everyone, both for participants and for Justices.

At the end of the meeting, in a conversation with Chief Justice Saufley, we learned that the Judicial Branch is seeking out-of-state consultation on the Judicial Branch’s GAL systems problems. We gathered that consultants are already engaged and about to start on their assessments. There are a number of issues that concern Chief Justice Saufley, which she touched on very briefly. The roles and functions of GALs are presently somewhat amorphous and  ill-defined. They need clarification and control of “mission creep” (non-statutory GAL role expansion). Saufley is deeply concerned about the punishing costs of GAL’s services, which can impoverish families and which may take money for future education of children and retirement. In another context (not the Thursday meeting), Saufley stressed the importance of updating information systems and data collection and use in management. We were pleased that many of  the concerns Saufley expressed were also concerns which Maine Guardian ad litem Alert expressed in its May 15th, 2012 report to the Chief Justice.

We deeply appreciate the mere fact that this hearing was held, that so many people attended and participated, that the press has helped to highlight the issues, that the legislature has given a charge to the JB and that the Chief Justice and other Justices are responding with energy, openness and all due speed.
But we are wary of counting our chickens before they are hatched, and we strongly feel that consumers need to be involved in the planning process at the Judicial Branch.  We don’t want to be reacting to a “done deal”.
This has been a great start and we certainly have gotten the attention of those who matter most in the State of Maine. But to relax before changes are implemented would be a huge mistake.

If you have questions or concerns please contact us at, on our Facebook page Megalalert or comment on our blog

Please send your ideas for the improvement of the guardian ad litem system to:


  1. It was an excellent turnout for the hearing. We were helped by a very nice editorial in the Portland Press Herald the day before, which had 41 comments, virtually all describing serious problems with GALs. People were up for it.

    We must have consumer representation on the Judicial Branch's planning committee. We have an important perspective on the problems and can help planning to fit humans in a divorce/custody situation. We have also seen and experienced the illogic of current operations that are oppressive.

    1. We are encouraging everyone we have talked with to ask to be on the committee. It is not so much what "is in the best interest" of the child as it is about the safety of the child. Not all GALs are a problem and the problem may not be with the GALs themselves but with the system that created and supports them.

  2. The Judicial Branch has informed us that they will accept input from the public on GAL reform up to July 1st.

    1. This is true. They (Judicial Branch) have extended the deadline. In addition we hear that the comments will be posted for review.

  3. Chief Justice Saufley spoke about:

    1.) The amorphousness of the GAL role and "mission creep".

    2.) GAL fees and invoices being in need of attention so they don't impoverish families.

    3.) A streamlined complaint process about GAL problems.

    4.) Out of state consultants to take a fresh look at Maine's GAL program and make proposals.

    5.)Modern computer systems for tracking GAL ac tivities for oversight and management.

    What do you think? Do you agree? What can you add to the list?

    It's "fish or cut bait" time! Get your suggestions out there, or don't complain!!

  4. Let's take the above issues one at a time:

    1.) The amorphousness of the GAL role and "mission creep".

    Any job that has no supervision and no oversight becomes a victim of the role-holders ideology, personal habits, filling in the blanks when he/she doesn't know or isn't certain, the rough edges of the job holder," bad hair days", laziness, etc. With oversight and supervision these things get corrected, or ... in many job situations there is progressive discipline.

    Progressive discipline usually consists of (a) a warning or admonition, (b) restriction of practices by requiring that the role holder operate under direct supervision, (c) temporary or permanent loss of privileges. There are variations in this process, but the basic is that there are steps, a progression. In public systems there is frequently public transparency, which notes who has been disciplined and at what level.

    This transparency of the actions taken and the generic reasons why is of critical importance for "assuring quality" for the public, for service users, "consumers", families and children in the case of GALs

    . "Mission creep" is an unauthorized (non-statutory) expansion of the GAL's role. Sometimes this may be because the GAL steps into a vacuum in his/her work situation. There is something that needs doing and a GAL just steps in out of a good heart; other times "mission creep" is about personal grandiosity, a small time power trip: "We ARE a court appointee!" We can do as we like! In other situations an inappropriate relationship may develop with clients. sometimes of a romantic, sometimes of a spiteful nature. These are all undesirable because they corrupt the official GAL role and distort fair play for all concerned.

    Can you relate to any of these things that concern others? Get your recommendations to the Chief Justice on the Judicial Branch web site. Speak up, or ... shut up! Don't be afraid!