Maine's Judicial Branch is in the final stages of fine tuning a "new" Guardian ad litem complaint process. From a review of this “new” proposal,which must go to the legislature for approval, we would say that the JB has done a masterful job of protecting Guardians ad litem, also known as"officers of the court". The draft proposal, if it goes forward as is, will virtually guarantee each and every GAL that no complaint from the public will ever touch them. They can remain free and totally unaccountable. It will be a huge relief for many Guardians ad litem whose activities have been the subject of much public anger about a malfunctioning GAL system and public calls for reform of the program. No public complaint will break the tight legal barriers of the "new" complaint process, which appears even more likely to dismiss all complaints than the Judicial Branch's "old" complaint process.
Whew! Looks like Guardians ad litem dodged that bullet!
It is a triumph of "foxes" designing security systems for the "hen house". Credit must go to Justice Warren Silver and his committee of 20 who worked on the plan for an “open, fair process” for complaints about Guardians ad litem. The huge preponderance of this 20 member committee were what might be called the Judicial Branch's core political "base", Guardians ad litem, friends of Guardians ad litem, family court judges, and lawyers in the divorce "trade". There was one lone member representing the public interest in this process. There had been earlier talk of three public representatives, but, hey, why trouble the public about this sort of thing? What does the public know anyway? One public member should be plenty!
One of the curious paradoxes about this committee with a "reform" mandate from the Chief Justice was that the majority of the members openly (and sometimes heatedly) expressed their feeling that there was "no problem" with the system, especially the current complaint process. Many felt the push for change was the result of political action by a small, noisy group that didn't reflect the views of most people using Guardians ad litem in their divorce. One family lawyer was vehement in his views about clients who want to complain: "Make them pay! It's about ego!" And ... the committee proposal does follow his strongly expressed suggestion. Those who use Guardians ad litem in their divorce will pay an upfront "tax" to support the complaint process and another fee for making a formal complaint.
Make ‘em pay!
The complaint process itself will be housed in the formidable bastion of the Overseers of the Bar and administered by them. An administrative lawyer will do a screening check on all public complaints. If these complaints are felt to have merit, they will be passed on to a 12 member "volunteer panel" for determination of action on the complaint. But ... what a panel! 10 Guardians ad litem and two members from the "public". We're not sure what "public" means (friends and families of Guardians ad litem, agency people or Mr and Mrs “Grass-roots America”?). We're wondering why 2 members of the public? For true GAL peace of mind, one or, better, none, should suffice. Keep it a friendly little group of like-minded colleagues.
Consumer protection? Please, just trust the integrity of the JB, and its GAL "officers of the court". We consider that our whole operation is about consumer protection. Just take property liens, garnished wages and jail! These protect consumers from breaking the law for non-payment of their GAL’s bills. We protect consumers all the time.
Er, ... do Guardians ad litem know how to judge their peers, or have they any experience in self-policing? Do they even know or follow their own Rules and Regulations? Do they have any experience with “consumer protection” issues? No, but that means they will be more spontaneously empathic and “culturally sensitive” to colleagues who are beset by complainers and bad sports. They are not bogged down by knowledge. Dismissed, dismissed, dismissed! What training does it take to say, “Dismissed”? These complainers wanted change. You can be sure we'll give them “change”, but our change may not pan out to be what these “bad sports” wanted!
As you can see it is an elegant judicial sham. It uses the ‘gravitas’ of the Overseers of the Bar to cover a heavily weighted panel of 10 Guardians ad litem whose threadbare training and experience give them no preparation to address consumer complaints about malfunctioning colleagues and friends. But ... it takes no experience or education to say, “Dismissed!” It is in essence a mini court trial in which “the burden of proof” is on the consumer. Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you got a “lemon”.
How on earth did we end up in a formal courtroom type of process when we wanted to report vocational malfunctioning to the workers overseers? All we wanted was corrective action from those in charge at the JB.
Given that Maine’s licensing boards offer consumer protection and consumer friendly models for addressing malfunctioning professionals, one has to ask:
Will the legislature buy these new “bullet proof vests” for Guardians ad litem with public money?