Saturday, July 28, 2012

When is Burning a Child with a Cigarette Okay?

There is a case in Maine that has run its course through the system. The case is a perversion of Justice and the father has been put through the wringer by the Guardian ad litem.

The father recently filed a complaint with the head Judge – Judge LaVerdiere – in which he complained about the Guardian ad litem and the neglect this woman showed for the case and the child. This father was and still is upset with the medieval process that he and others have to go though with the Guardians ad litem assigned to their case. There is a shopping list of why this Guardian ad litem practiced neglect and bias – throwing any shred of common sense out the window and not looking out for this child's best interest.

1. This Guardian ad litem neglected the child’s safety. Several years ago in July it was brought to the GALs attention that his son was burned – it appeared that the burns were caused by cigarettes. In addition there were several large bruises on his shoulders that his son complained about. The father sought treatment for his son as any good parent would do. He also complained to the Guardian ad litem.

According to the rules for Guardians ad litem if a GAL knows that a child has been abused he/ she must make an immediate report to DHHS. In this case the GAL did not report and dismissed the fathers concern. In addition the father was accused of causing trouble – which could be true if a parents concern for their child is causing trouble.

2. Despite the fact that the father has no history of drug or alcohol use or mental illness he was forced to have mental evaluations done so that he may have limited supervised visits with his child. These visits are limited to once a week for a few hours. In addition he was forced to have an assessment done for anger management because the Guardian ad litem felt the father had issues in controlling his anger. This father did what any parent would do when faced with the threat at losing contact with their child. He complied. The Dr. doing the evaluation pointed out that the fathers perceived anger was justified considering the harassment he was getting from the Guardian ad litem. The Guardian ad litem chose to ignore the findings of this Dr – thus disrespecting the opinion of a professional and making a diagnosis of the problem. This Guardian ad litem (and this would also apply for any Guardian ad litem) has no authority to make a diagnosis – never. This Guardian ad litem under rule 3, 3.2, 12(a) is supposed to work with other professionals involved in the assessment or treatment of the parties involved. She clearly did not.

3. This Guardian ad litem showed bias against the father. In addition to the assessments the father was forced to take – this despite the fact he had no history of violence, mental illness or alcohol and drug use – the mother was never asked to do the same. The mother as part of her daily regimen of coping with life is on a mix of ten plus drugs that includes - Vicodin, Oxycontin, Ativan, Neurotin, Phenergin and Medicinal Marijuana. The child was placed under the mothers care despite the knowledge the mother was often incapacitated by these drugs. Is it any wonder the father may have shown frustration towards the Guardian ad litem's recommendations?

The Judgment of this Guardian ad litem is clouded. Both the rules and standards state that a Guardian ad litem must make well reasoned and defensible recommendation regarding the best interest of the child and be an independent voice, free of bias. In all three points it is questionable whether the child’s safety was taken into consideration. Certainly the 'best interest of the child' was ignored. These points and others were cited in the complaint to Head Judge LaVerdiere. He went through and weighed the rights and wrongs – and in the end decided, upon consultation with the Guardian ad litem, that this Guardian ad litem did nothing wrong. Well at least nothing that would warrant even the light slaps on the wrist that Maine's Judiciary has doled out to their GALs. You be the Judge and let us know if the Guardian ad litem was right or wrong.


For more information on the rules and standards please follow these links:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Late night bar hopping with a four year old

Is 'in the best interest' of the child according to one of Maine's Guardian ad litem's

As a parent if your four year old child came to you and told you she was scared of being in a situation your ex put her in what would you do? If your child was taken to an adult environment, a bar, late at night where there was loud music, alcohol and intoxicated adults involved. What would you do?  Would it make a difference if you were involved in a divorce and custody battle?

Most parents would try to take some kind of protective action for their child. If a Guardian ad litem was involved – you would complain to them; after all, that is what they are put in place for. Clearly a child (no matter what the age) being put into an inappropriate adult situation is not in the child’s best interest. Nor does the child feel emotionally safe. Common sense would dictate that this child (or any child) should be protected and removed from this situation or environment.

There is an actual case in Maine that has gone through the courts where common sense appears to have been thrown out the window. The Guardian ad litem in question is said to be one of the most senior Guardians ad litem in the state and is also a member of the Guardian ad litem Institute (the trade organization that promotes the interests of Guardians ad litem in the state of Maine). This Guardian ad litem has had criticism about her handling of other cases, in which there have been complaints against her. Her Judgment clearly seems questionable and; for that matter, the Judge who is reported to have agreed with this Guardian ad litem also seems off base.

The child in question told her father that she felt scared being in the bars to which she was taken by her mother. She witnessed fights and yelling, and her mom's boyfriend being pushed around. “Bad words” were often being said between people. When the father brought this to the Guardian ad litem's attention (the person who is supposed to be looking out for the best interest of this child) – the Guardian ad litem stated that the father simply did not trust that his four year old daughter was in good hands. The father, concerned for his daughters safety, continued to make his point and express his concern. His concern was not taken seriously by the Guardian ad litem. Instead of investigating whether or not the situation of a child’s late night visit to bars was good for the child, this Guardian ad litem continued to blame the father for trying to cause trouble.

How are we to believe, as this Guardian ad litem and the Judge would seem to be doing, that this little girl's 'best interest' was served by late night visits to bars that she found frightening? What about her emotional  safety? Is this kind of place a good moral environment for children? To say the least of what this child is learning from the experience? We would say that common sense was not used by the child’s mother nor by the Guardian ad litem for that matter. Sadly, this type of poor judgment is frequently seen with quite a number of Guardians ad litem in the State of Maine. Examples like this are the reason why there is now - and has been - a very real need for Guardian ad litem reform in Maine. Too much time has passed and too many families hurt by Guardians ad litem and the courts that 'manage' the Guardians ad litem. This should not go on any longer. Please contact us if you or your child have been hurt by the poor judgment and lack of common sense of a Guardian ad litem.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Open Letter From Chief Justice Regarding GAL Oversight

July 17, 2012
Open Letter From Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley

Re: GAL Oversight Review

I want to thank the public, interested parties, and stakeholders who attended the May 31, 2012, meeting regarding improving the Guardian Ad Litem complaint process, and I thank those who took the time to send in written comments as well.

The written comments that have been posted on the judicial branch web page are available at:

As mentioned at the meeting, the Maine Judicial Branch has obtained the assistance of the National Center for State Courts to provide the Branch with information on how other state courts investigate and resolve complaints against GALs. We expect to receive information from NCSC in the near future.

In the next few weeks, the Branch will form a Task Force to review the public comments, as well as the information received from the NCSC, and to provide feedback as we develop proposals for revisions to the GAL complaint process. We intend to create a Task Force that is broadly representative of the stakeholders involved in these matters.

Because the Branch must report back to the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary by October 1, 2012, members of the Task Force must be available to attend meetings in August and September. We anticipate as many as three meetings in Augusta in that short time frame. Several people who filed comments expressed an interest in providing further assistance or information to the Branch or to serve on any committee we might form.

To keep the numbers manageable, we will select one or two members to represent the separate stakeholder groups, including public/consumer representatives. Those interested in serving on the Task Force should notify the court by July 24, 2012, by email to, or to Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court, 205 Newbury Street, Room 139, Portland, ME 04101.

We will post the members of the Task Force and meeting dates once the Task Force is formed.
Once, again, I thank all those who have taken the time to share their comments with the Court.

Open Letter From Chief Justice Regarding GAL Oversight (PDF)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The 'Dating Game' - Maine Guardian ad litem style

Custody tensions can be hard enough without the 'help' of a stranger coming in and making recommendations based on a bizarre and abstract idea that has no clear foundation other than that person's opinion.

For the past several years that Guardian ad litem role expansion has been what Maine’s Justice Saufly (and others) call "mission creep" in the role of Guardian ad litem. Going beyond what the courts have mandated and beyond the scope of these Guardian ad litem's professional training. One area of "mission creep" is that a Guardian ad litem has no right to prescribe unusual social behaviors in managing the lives of divorcing parents and their child.

There is one case that has made its way through the court system where a Judge has made history. The Guardian ad litem working this case has essentially recommended that the parents (both of them have remarried) start 'dating' allegedly 'in the child’s best interest' (the Guardian ad litem has rewritten to state that monthly 'meetings' are recommended – whatever it is called by the Guardian ad litem it is not something the Guardian ad litem has any authority nor mandate to recommend). What is interesting is that this Guardian ad litem has no background in psychology and is stretching the Guardian ad litem role way beyond any Maine statutes.. It is a Guardian ad litem as a law unto him/herself. As this Judge has endorsed the recommendation he/ she is in effect giving approval to court ordered dating for divorcees in the State of Maine. An embarrassing first in the United States for Maine and our court system.

According to rules for the Guardian ad litem section 3, 3.2, 12 (a) “Working effectively with other professionals involved in the assessment or treatment of the child” is something that can apparently be ignored by Guardian ad litems if it does not fit their personal opinion of the “child’s best interest” in any situation. This Guardian ad litem is imposing his/ her surreal bias on the situation and in opposition to the opinion of a licensed mental health professional, to say nothing of the wishes of one of the remarried parties. It is a do your own thing plan of action. This Guardian ad litem has no mandate nor training (nor does any Guardian ad litem in the State of Maine or in the US) to recommend this course of "over the top" action. What the goal of this situation is, is hard to understand - other than the claim that it may meet some need of one parent over the other. This and a totalitarian mind set on the Guardian ad litem's need to impose his/ her will. It would be laughable, as a bad joke, were it not so destructive of the lives of real people.

Should this bizarre recommendation actually be implemented – as it looks like it will - by the court; then both the Guardian ad litem and the court should be held responsible for this insane idea and lack of common sense. The Guardian ad litem should be dismissed - permanently. The Judge should be sanctioned at the very least if not removed. There is no room in Maine's Justice system for such bad jokes or decisions.

An example such as this one is a strong cry for effective, long overdue oversight of Maine Guardian ad litems. Those who would say that there is "no scandal" in the Guardian ad litem program must have an extremely tolerant view of scandal.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Judicial and Guardian ad litem abuse

And the impact that it has on our children.

The link we have provided is to an interview given by the Director of the Center for Judicial Excellence. They are an advocacy group that works for Judicial and Guardian ad litem reform based out of California but with a national focus. The interview is amazing in that the Director talks about Judicial and Guardian ad litem abuse and how it impacts the lives of our children. How evidence is ignored by the court and that we are creating a social cost to society - people and more importantly the children that Guardian ad litems are supposed to represent are growing up with a mistrust of the court system. This because quite often Guardian ad litems do not advocate for the 'best interest of the child' or what is safe for our children.

There needs to be change to the system that creates and manages Guardian ad litems in the state of Maine. Oversight can not be had by the Judicial branch nor by trade organizations such as the Guardian ad litem Institute.

Click this link: Center for Judicial Excellence and press the green arrow to start the interview. The interview lasts just under 10 minutes.

If you have had issues with a Guardian ad litem please contact us at:

Monday, July 2, 2012

What Have We Learned about GALs?

As we near the end of the Judicial Branch's time for public postings (July 1st), we have been reflecting on two questions: What have we learned about the nature of the GAL problem in the last 6 months or so? And where should we be headed? One might add an additional, different thought: where is the JB headed- with or without us?  To our thinking it is all about dysfunctional structural design and the need to re-structure and re-define GAL roles and relationships that is the center of the problem:


To cut to the core  of the situation, we  would say that the GAL's role at the present comes between families- and the judge in divorce and custody cases and adds considerable, additional  complexity to any divorce dispute.  Just having a GAL adds significant numerical relational activities to  a divorce case.  With three players in a divorce: a plaintiff, a defendant and a judge, each person (or their lawyer) has 2 relationships to address.  For the 3 players, there are a total of 6 relationships to deal with.  When you add a GAL to this mix, the plaintiff, the defendant, the GAL and the judge (4 people) each have 3 relationships to deaL with, or 12, doubling the numerical complexity, "more moving parts", more lines of communication to keep straight- and this without adding a child (or children).  The GAL largely functions as an interface agent (or even a barrier) between the parties and the judge, screening, filtering, shaping and distorting what the judge gets to hear in a before court  preview.  The GAL "brokers" the idea of what the case is all about and how to deal with it to the judge.  Inevitably this is to the detriment of one of the parties.  GALs are treated by courts as if they were "experts", and, as such-without actual expertise, they put a subjective personalized "spin" on what is going on in families for the judge's indoctrination.  This occurs, both in the courtroom and in various forms of private communications. As judicial appointees, as the eyes and ears of the judge, who has appointed them, the judge's "eyes and ears" have huge power and influence with that judge over the fates of children and families. Justice ceases to be blind. 

What is troubling to us is that GALs- even the best of them- obliterate any chance of a fair, fresh hearing and open decisions openly arrived at, because, by design, GALs are the "judge's eyes and ears".  GALs interpret the facts, present judgements/opinions about the two parties  and roll out recommendations for custody. Because of the way the laws relating 'ex parte' and GALs are written, these crucial pieces of information are frequently delivered to judges 'ex parte', with caveats of it "in the child's best interest" or "dangerous if not done 'ex parte' ".  Opportunities to challenge a GAL's findings or opinions in front of a judge all too frequently don't happen, because a case can go from beginning to end without a hearing, and if hearings happen, they occur after the "judge's eyes and ears" have already characterized the case 'ex parte'.  It frustrates consumers no end, and it is the source of much consumer hatred and rage directed towards GALs 

This renders subsequent activities in court largely secondary, reactive or a meaningless ritual.  A private, judge/GAL hearing has already occurred, with devastating consequences of a fair, open hearing.  A hearing, a trial, or a negotiation gets almost totally corrupted by this kind of GAL/judge process.  Furthermore, GALs frequently magnify the intensity of the adversarial nature of a contentious divorce process.  The parties present their contentions to the GAL one-on-one,  as dramatically as possible, without the ethics and politeness of a lawyer.  This grass roots advocacy polarizes and heightens differences and parental "fitness discussions".   And the GAL is persuaded by  one end of the polemic and advocates for it with the judge. It can lead to the GAL's  extreme misperceptions of the parties being presented to the judge, with extreme irrational recommendations about visitation and custody.

It spawns bizarre, radically polarized thinking, such as normal people denied visitation with their children for no real reason, because they are "caustic and controlling", or anger management being prescribed without differentiating normal anger from various levels of clinically pathological anger.  it leads to a knee jerk recommendation of  counseling for no specified purpose, for no clearly spelled out duration, and no established goal  or end point.  Perhaps, inadvertently, it becomes a form of GAL bullying, or what one writer has labeled "civilized violence".

It results in judges becoming secondary (or rubber stamps) to the GAL's opinion co-conspirators in a cruel travesty of justice and fairness.

None of this is ever explicitly talked about.  The old concepts of appearing in court before an impartial judge and arguing your case is the internalized model that parties bring with them to a divorce.  The GAL's role is perplexing.  It is said to be acting in the child's best interest, which sounds  good, but it quickly becomes apparent to parties that none of this is what is actually going on in reality.  The GAL has become a 'de facto' judge with no controls, no oversight, no removal possible , and the actual  judge is becoming  a powerful figurehead who mostly re-enforces the GAL.  What gets people upset is that they have had no instruction in these realities, and that they are forced to go through a bizarre, dishonest, "make believe" situation.  The GAL can talk with either party alone, and either party can argue his/her case in private with the GAL. It depends on which party is the better solo debater, which party can capture the GAL's confidence, or which party captures the GAL's biases.  GALs conduct numerous, one on one, private conversations with the parties, which a judge cannot do.  The GAL then gives a synopsis of  these one on one messages to the judge.  It is 'ex parte' at one step removed with a GAL as an 'ex parte' agent or go-between.  It destroys the court's impartiality and renders judgements corrupted by a corrupt process.  Any traditions of common law openness are dead.

It has taken us a while to grasp fully this process and to see its impact clearly.  It isn't something anyone wants to believe.  It is the end result of trying to understand why the GAL system can be so crazy, why a GAL's involvement frequently seems to make matters worse.  In thinking about GAL oversight/reform, one needs to look at the structural elements that are preventing the system from working.  The GAL/judge relationship is a key element that needs to be evaluated carefully and re-designed to be honest and user-friendly, since its present form corrupts fairness and the judicial process.

Planning must start with structural problem analysis before looking for solutions.

Jerome A Collins, MD