Sunday, August 5, 2012

Forced to buy Lemons at Gunpoint

When there is no oversight, no supervision and no enforceable standard for Guardians ad litem, the public is forced to buy an unknown product by the Judicial Branch, which creates (or rosters) them. More and more Guardians ad litem come out of the Judicial Branch "factory" which has no factory inspection, no test drive and no certificate of quality. To put it baldly, the Judicial Branch has no idea about whether the wheels will stay on the car when it is driven at normal speed and no "factory recall". Furthermore, the market for this product is totally controlled by the Judicial Branch. Courts can demand that couples going through a divorce and child custody battle must buy this product while providing no quality assurance.

Lemons for sale! And, no, you can never get your money back, or trade your "lemon" for a functional car. We are distressed that there is no functional system for making a complaint about Guardians ad litem who are "lemons", and we ourselves are rapidly acquiring an ever lengthening list of "consumer complaints" about "lemons" and the hair raising details behind these complaints. We are considering various ways of informing the public about "lemons".

We are gaining an increasing awareness of the Judicial Branch Guardian ad litem complaint process, as it passes through the "oversight" of  Judge Charles LaVerdiere. We feel no confidence in his process for handling serious Guardian ad litem complaints from the public. He provides only the briefest, flimsiest of instructions for complaining consumers, and there are no criteria for what might be categorical reasons for making complaints. His assessment of complaints seems opaque and secretive for someone charged by the Judicial Branch with assuring quality for the public. We sense that if the Guardian ad litem being complained about says, in effect (and without challenge), "The complaint is a lie," that is the end of the matter. The judge doesn't act like a man who wants to know more- or to look more deeply. The public complaint is taken into a dark room at the Judicial Branch and smothered! And the consumer is sent a "case dismissed" reply with no reasons for dismissal.  End of story! On this inadequate, secretive, "oversight" process, the Judicial Branch and Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute (Guardian ad litem trade organization) proudly boast, "Only two Guardian ad litem reprimands in two years; one verbal, one written!" When you lift up the rug and look under it, it is not confidence inspiring.

This raises important consumer issues for a democratic society. Should consumers be forced into using and paying for "lemons", by the courts? Guardian ad litem fees at $120.00 to $200.00 per hour (in an un-itemized Guardian ad litem bill), can run to totals that range from $12,000.00 to $19,000.00 to $34,000.00 or more. The money is not insignificant for middle class couples.  It is a hefty price especially for a "lemon" with no quality assurance and no consumer protection.  It is a further outrage When the hapless consumer who refuses to pay for a "lemon" gets hauled into court by the Guardian ad litem in attempts to force payment, garnish wages or impose a jail sentence! Are we living in 18th century Europe or 21st century America? It looks like Guardian ad litems and Maine courts want to resurrect the long gone, long abolished, hateful "debtor's prison"!

The Judicial Branch's Guardian ad litem program is beyond broken. It badly needs a total overhaul and the public needs relief and protection from the barbarism of present practices. The financial impact of Guardian ad litems on the public is devastating a form of cruelty that should be unacceptable in a civilized society.

The Guardian ad litem program should be halted until it is repaired and the Judicial Branch can guarantee the public quality assurance.

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  1. The Maine JB GAL program is a scandal of the highest order. Divorcing couples with custody issues are forced by the courts to buy services at top dollar ($120.00 to $200.00/ hr) from GALs who have only 16 hours training, no entry test, no supervised internship, no ongoing supervision, no oversight. Forced to buy lemons.

    It is banditry, a hold up, highway robbery carried out in broad daylight, in a democratic society. It should be stopped forthwith. The entire program should be re-thought and re-worked.

    Use of the courts for GAL bill collecting is unwarranted under the current situation. It uses the courts to force the public to buy lemons!

    It makes the courts a party to selling a product with no quality assurance and no consumer protection.

    1. Time and again we have heard from others that they are financially crippled by the GAL and the 'services' they have been provided. The bills are often unclear for the 'work' that was done. What is unfortunate is that there is no relief from the cost of having a GAL. Most people do not realize that the GALs bill can not be discharged in bankruptcy court. That GALs have and will use the court to garnish wages. Thank you for your comment.

  2. The GAL program is so badly constructed- with 16 hours of training and a "handbook"- that it needs more than simple repair or a patch job. It needs to be re-conceptualized with a focus on public protection, safety for families and children and quality assurance.

    This can only be done by redefining the GAL role and designing educational supports for this role, which has to include a supervised practicum or internship- for all GALs. It needs testing for licensure, ongoing supervision, tracking data and oversight.

    Continuing education, as it exists now, is inappropriate, irrelevant and offers false assurance of doing something. It is hard to take seriously the current 6 hours of continuing education when the basic entry level of GAL "education" consists of 16 hours and a handbook. Continuing education should be based on job description and should re-enforce that.

    1. Guardians ad litem have such extreme power over the lives of others and so little training. Thank you for the comment.

  3. The concept of "continuing education' has grown out of the need for the traditional professions: law, medicine, the mental health professions to stay up to date with expanding knowledge in their field. The idea is that education after achieving full professional status will build on the existing core profession, expand it, enrich it and enlarges it in the light of new developments, new knowledge and new skills.

    A GAL is not a profession. With 16 hours of training and no practicum or internship, it is a support role for the courts that doesn't even meet paraprofessional educational standards. There is no core professional education to continue. It may require job related, role related training that will enhance functions encompassed by the job description.

    $125.00 to $200.00 per hour fees for 16 hours of training without an internship has to make GALs the best paid unskilled workers in America! When one adds bill collecting by the courts it truly reaches the proportions of a grand scandal and court inflicted cruelty on families.

    1. Sadly this is true and the GALs that do an excellent job will be tarnished by those that do not.

  4. One can become a GAL with 4 types of background: lawyer, Mental health professional, screened volunteer for CASA or by meeting the approval of the head Judge, LaVerdiere. This last route to a lucrative career in court work may entail more than the approving friendship of Judge LaVerdiere, but the lack of transparency and lack of specificity of its written requirements make it appear to be based on cosiness of some kind. Fortunately, there are few GALs in this category.

    One of the interesting things about entry requirements is that it is indicated that pre-existing professional skills are not used in a GAL's work, and GAL-work cannot be judged by the standards of their core profession.. Why then the requirements of an allegedly unused profession?