Thursday, June 14, 2012

Will the Judicial Branch "Shoe" fit Consumers?

This is the critical issue for all "consumers" of GAL services: who will be developing a blueprint for GAL reform?   Will the "shoe" get fitted to our actual, real foot as it is being designed, or will it be designed ''in camera' and handed out without a fitting after it's made? There are other closely connected questions: for whose needs will this particular "shoe" be designed? For GALs who have to work with it, or for "consumers", including children who have to experience it, or for district judges? Or for all three  entities? What are the overarching goals of any planning design for GAL reform?  How will "child's best interest" and "child's safety" balance out?  Our sense is that clear, carefully articulated goals of any GAL reform plans are the most important determining task for JB planners.  Everything is founded on goals, every planning action flows from them.

Our general feeling is that specific aims of a reformed GAL program are best determined in the actual planning process itself, by a fair, open process which encompasses diverse perspectives and diverse interests. But there are a mix of topics that, in our view, need consideration and explicit articulation in any planning process: legal goals, social goals, public health goals, child welfare goals, economic/cost goals, manpower knowledge, skill and experience goals, oversight and correction goals, public education goals and- not least- political goals.

We feel strongly that consumers must be involved in such a way that they will be able to support the design for reform that comes out of any planning process. Ideally, the planning design should be for and about consumers. It should be about them, their children, their families, their friends and their community.  A starting point  has to be the lives of consumers going through divorce- adults and children- that call for a public judicial service to facilitate this process in a safe healthy manner. 

In the current situation (the existing GAL program), consumers are the best spokespersons for saying where the "shoe" pinches- and how badly. We know where there are things that don't make sense, or that seem outright crazy. We know the dangers to children. We know the most troubling problems with a lack of GAL accountability and arrogance. We have details about the poor quality of statutory observance, inaccurate reports, bias and an array of things which exemplify dysfunction and which destroy faith in Maine courts.  We know where poorly trained GALs are way over their depth, spouting shallow judgments without any in depth clinical or legal knowledge, and hiding behind rigid dogmatism or formulas.   In short, in our combined experiences, we know "where the bodies are buried." We know, because some of us have been buried with them. The question is: does the JB want to know too; not for a display of acrimony- but for planning which avoids problem repetition and inadvertent harm to consumers?  Let's not do a replay  on the current GAL-dominated, GAL-centered program.  Any planning process has to begin  with careful problem definition before moving on to solutions to the defined problems.   As consumers we are "experts" on GAL problems!

There are several ways in which one can obtain consumer input:

(a) there is a "consumer's report, such as the Maine Guardian ad litem Alert Report, sent to the Chief Justice and many others on May 15th, and which has since "gone viral" throughout Maine.

(b) there is an open public hearing with testimony in which the JB made a very brave start on May 31st. Well done, we'd say!

(c) there is the creative use of a JB web site for public comment, problem definition and proposals for solutions.  To which we say: "Top shelf"!

(d) there might be focused interviews by consultants gathering data about perceptions of various people representing various "interests".

(e) in the final analysis, however, there needs to be some integration of all of this diverse, rich data into a framework that leads to goals and approaches derived from this complex data.

(f) there also needs to be planning for evaluation and correction of plans- after they have been implemented.

Any final 'blueprint" will always have a few rough edges, unforeseen issues, and adjustments of fit that need correction after a plan has been given a run for a while.  Any new GAL plan should have provision for a "1000 mile check up and re-tuning".

As consumer of GAL services - and with the scars to prove it -  we'd ask to be an integral part of all aspects of planning for GAL reform.  Not only do we represent a "political aspect" as one of the "interested parties" involved in this venture, but we also bring significant experiential knowledge that can't readily be gotten from other sources.  We have spent a great deal of time studying and analyzing Maine's GAL problem, we have talked with an ever growing number of consumers.  We have also looked at ideas outside of Maine as well.  We have collected a great variety of opinions from many sources.  We truly offer a perspective on the GAL problem that ought to be included in the core of planning.

And ...  we are highly motivated and backed by others who are equally avid  to see reform.  We truly want to see the best interest of Maine's children and families served well.  We want Maine to move into the forefront nationally and be recognized as a leader in this field.  It can happen, if we all are involved in and all owners of a plan for Maine's children and families.


  1. This makes the point clearly enough. Does the JB read this blog?

    1. We have no idea if anyone in the judicial branch is aware of this blog let alone reading it.

  2. Would just one consumer be enough?

    1. Thank you for your question. By one consumer I am guessing that you mean one on the panel? No one would not be enough unless there were only one GAL and member of the Judiciary. There has to be more to be able to offer balanced objectivity to the process. One would be more or less a bone thrown out by the Judiciary. I am willing to bet that the Maine Guardian ad litem Institute will have representation from its board members. They did the last time.

      What will be interesting is what will happen when after the recommendations are made and the process moves to the legislature/ senate. There are some powerful people there that are also GALs.

  3. Isn't State Rep Terry Hayes also a GAL and a MEGALI board member and she is said to be MEGALI's legislative liason? She has also been the "minority whip". What is her position on GAL reform? She would be a key player in the legislature and could round up "the troops" to act "in favor" or "against" any proposal.

    1. Rep Terry Hayes is a GAL and from what we have seen is a part of the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute. In addition any search on her will turn up her connection to the Maine Legislature as the Minority Whip. There have been several of us who have had conversations with Terry Hayes. These conversations have more or less had the same outcome - that the report by OPEGA was only concerned with title 22 cases and that there was a process already established for GAL complaints. These conversations that we are aware of took place back in December 2011/ January 2012. It should also be pointed out that any question to your representative will be in all likelihood deferred to Terry Hayes.

  4. Can the public expect Rep Hayes, minority whip, to issue a fearless call to investigate GAL abuse and recommend strong steps to stop it? Will she, as one of its board, urge MEGALI to weed out "rotten apples" in its GAL membership and report them to Justice La Verdiere for "corrective action"? She has an insiders knowledge and perspective and could be very helpful.

  5. The Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute only represents a portion of Maine rostered GALs. It is a voluntary organization and probably joined mostly by GALs who want to be the best they can be. A substantial portion of the rostered GALs are not members. So the "rotten apples" to which you refer may not be members at all.

    1. Hi Joe,
      Thank you for the comment it is appreciated. You are correct in stating that the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute only represents a portion of the GALs that are rostered in the state of Maine. You are also correct in stating that the "rotten apples" to which we have referred may not be members. The key word here is may. It is safe to say Joe that there are "rotten apples" involved with the institute and there are a number of them.

  6. Although this is not the place to name names, nor is it our intent to do so, there are names associated with MEGALI that we hear with some frequency and acts that appear to us to be malpractice, ie, failure to follow statutes, ethical issues, inappropriate relationships, neglect of mandatory safety reporting, fighting with clients, dishonest billing.

    How's that for starters? We are seeing a bunch of consumer complaints in great detail. In our opinion and that of many others there is a failure of the system to take appropriate "corrective action" frequently enough.

    Maine's complaint system offers no help in filing a complaint, no criteria, no hearing which consumers may attend and minimal feedback about judgement. NH, on the other hand has a better system, more user friendly.

  7. Although the writer says that GALs join MEGALI "to be the best they can be," does MEGALI have "entrance requirements" for membership? Do they attempt to screen out "rotten apples"? Are they open to receiving complaints from consumers about GALs who are MEGALI members? Do they have an open protocol for handling complaints? Can any GAL in Maine join?

    Does MEGALI ever pick up malpractice issues involving GALs in group supervision? How would they handle GAL malpractice?

    Answers to the questions above might be said to reveal an organization that is concerned with"quality assurance" of its membership for the public- or not. Our impression is that MEGALI is a classic trade organization, aiming to expand its membership, aiming to promote the "special interests" of its membership, spouting pious expressions of concern about quality and rushing to support/defend members, if they face malpractice concerns.

    We could give examples!

  8. MEGALI does nothing that we would recognize as offering quality assurance to the public/clients about their members. Their so-called peer supervision makes use of our confidential case histories without our permission or our informed consent. It has no clearly defined, job-related goals that re-enforce a GAL's job description. The content is "stolen" from clients; the process model is "stolen" from classic social work supervision. GALs are not social workers, though we- and others- sense considerable role confusion. Peer supervision of the sort espoused by MEGALI used to be known in academia as "pat-a-cake" supervision. It's nothing very serious, no corrective action, no goal setting for the supervisee, no discipline- just "pat-a-cake"!

    The other aspect of MEGALI training has to do with the economics of being a GAL, a classic trade organization preoccupation. How to maximize profits. If GALs get annual mandatory training credit for this sort of economics training, God bless America! It has nothing to do with children and families. It has to do with GAL bank accounts.

    It is hard to accept MEGALI's self aggrandizing claims. They are almost totally about their "self-interest".

  9. Maine Guardian Ad Litem Institute and Terry Hayes are part of the problem, not the solution. They want business as usual including no clear process for filing complaints on GALs, no cap on GAL fees, no requirement to cross examine your expert witness (GAL) in court or when he or she writes a report and of course the best part of all, Limited Immunity. Family attorneys are scared of Guardian Ad Litems because they have too much power and you cannot question them as you will look like you have sour grapes or they feel you cannot go against the judge hearing the case since he or she appointed the GAL in the first place.

    Stick to the facts, if your a GAL assigned to investigate a case and you allow parental alienation, drug abuse (prescription or illegal), alcoholism, severe mental health problems, you are not doing your job and that is to advocate for the child. Enough of the best interests of the child, (that is lawyer talk for whatever the Guardian wants to do) lets look out for the safety of the child and where he or she would be more safe without the above factors in his/her life. Never reward parental alienation from another parent/grandparent with primary residence.

    Divorce in this state is an industry. My case is classic:

    She files for divorce
    Starts Parental Alienation (makes me hire GAL)
    Establish Child Support (Note: No visitation has been addressed)
    Put Divorce Case on Trailing Docket (Now you wait 18-24 months)
    Wear you out with fees from GAL and emails fees from attorney
    GAL taking inordinate amount of time investigating case
    You question this and now you are angry
    Ensure your child is in counseling (my child was 3)
    The longer the case takes, the higher chance the GAL will always recommend primary residence with the parent that has the child, because afterall, that is what he/she is used to. This is not in the best interest of that child alot of the time and definitely not for the safety of the child.

    Parents going through a divorce need to know some of this. I have spent 75K in lawyer and GAL fees and haven't even made it in the court room.

    The current process is definitely broken. I am one of the few that has even made my complaint all the way to Judge LaVerdiere and it was dismissed without even providing a reason nor was I given any due process by being able to see what the GAL wrote in response to my complaint, nor was I afforded a chance to be heard in from of a judge or any other governing body although it was crystal clear that my GAL broke several of the rules that were in the Rules of the Guardian Ad Litem Handbook and the state laws.

    Where do we go from here? Contact your legislature/senators and tell them this system is broken and we need to have a process for accountability of Guardian Ad Litems just like any other licensed professional in the State of Maine.