Sunday, December 22, 2013

Judicial Branch has announced a Task Force to hold public hearings on Family Matters Cases

The Task Force will hold public meetings to gather public comments and suggestions that will be used to better serve the needs of children and families. Public meetings will be held at the following courts and the speaker will be limited in time to talk (we estimate that speakers will have between 2 - 3 minutes). If you would like to speak, the following locations will be holding meetings from 4:15 pm - 6:00 pm:

January 6, 2014 (Presque Isle District Court)
January 7, 2014 (Calais District Court)
January 8, 2014 (Bangor District Court)
January 9, 2014 (Rockland District Court)
January 13, 2014 (Lewiston District Court)
January 14, 2014 (Portland District Court)
January 15, 2014 (Springvale District Court)
January 16, 2014 (Augusta District Court)

If you are not able to attend comments may be emailed to:

lawcourt.clerk@courts.maine.gov

Or mailed to:

State of Maine
Administrative Office of the Courts
171 State House Station
24 Slone Street, 1st Bldg, 1st Floor
Augusta, ME 04333-0171

Comments will be accepted until January 24, 2014 until 5:00 pm.

There is a lot wrong with with the family courts in the state of Maine. The use of unregulated Guardians ad litem, the acceptance of junk science and a lack of common sense when dealing with cases. These are just a few of the problems with the Family Court system. There are many more. If you are planning on attending or writing in please contact MeGALalert@gmail.com for some ideas on what you can bring to the courts attention. Keeping silent means you are giving consent to the problems we have all dealt with.

Any comments emailed to the Judicial Branch please cc MeGALalert@gmail.com and the comments will be posted with any personal information removed.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Email - IMPORTANT BENCH/BAR FOR FAMILY LAW PRACTITIONERS!

We were provided with an email about the following event to be presented by Tracie Adamson Esq, Judicial Branch Family Division Manager. We do not know if this is open to the public - but the public should be aware that it is happening. Of particular interest is GAL orders and practice - which we believe will cover LD872. If anyone does manage to go please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com. We want to know what was discussed during the meeting. Thank you.

Provided below is the email we received:

Subject: Fwd: Family Bench/Bar 12-19-13

IMPORTANT BENCH/BAR FOR FAMILY LAW PRACTITIONERS!

Join York County District Court Judges and Magistrates to learn about several changes in family law practice including:
(1) Changes in child support requirements related to the new interface between the District Court and DHHS/DSER;
(2) Block Scheduling for all family matter court events;
(3) GAL orders and practice.

Judicial Branch Family Division Manager Tracie Adamson will be present to provide information on these issues.

Additional issues or concerns from the bar can be raised as time permits!

Biddeford District Court
Thursday, December 19, 2013
4:00pm

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Connecticut Attorney Sharon Dornfeld troubled by comments from Parent

While this letter is regarding Guardians ad litem in another state what is being said can be equally applied to situations involving Guardians ad litem in any state:

Hello Ms. Dornfeld,

I'm told that you are troubled by my observations of the system. As an expert in legal operations, legal e-billing and legal spend management, I would again extend to you the invitation to meet with me at your convenience and at any time to discuss your perspectives and concerns, as well as to share mine and those of many other legal professionals equally as fed up with what our family courts have become and how they operate.

I was in the courthouse in Hartford today and saw many of my family attorney friends and contacts there. Two of them approached me and asked to meet with me next week - as they are considered testifying as to how bad the situation has become and how dramatically it has impacted them and their clients.

Veteran family law attorneys - one of whom wrote the attached letter. This would bring to 12 the number of family law attorneys I have organized and who will also speak out as Attorney Rutkin recently did, when the time is right and they no longer have to worry about retaliation against them.

And what does that say and reflect in regards to what our family court system has become, and the powers-that-be have created and perpetuated - when family law attorneys themselves are afraid to speak about their own industry for fear of how it may personally impact them?

Once again - the world has changed and the genie is out of the bottle. "The system" is no longer able to threaten and intimidate parents and attorneys into silence, social media has changed that forever and good riddance. And this is true not just here in Connecticut, but nationally and even internationally as well.

No parent or citizen should EVER have fear the Judiciary or suffer retaliation for speaking their opinion - EVER in the United States. That is not why I and my family came here from a communist country to see and experience.

Once again - shouldn't we all be ashamed of what our family courts have become and its complete lack of focus on families and children and abuses we have all suffered at the hands of the system?

The family court is supposed to be a source of resolution and closure - not open ended cycle and source and cause of abuse and therapy.

What's happened to the basic principles of common decency, common respect, understanding and compassion?

If you are "irritated" by my commentary - then I'm afraid I can offer you no apologies, because I and the thousands of parents, children of divorce, grandparents, family attorneys and GALs who have been severely impacted and financially and otherwise devastated by the horrific perspectives and policies you and others have promoted, are not the ones who are fault for what is wrong.

* The problems in our family court were not created by parents or our fault.

* It is not what we are responsible for or what we created.

* It is not what we want for ourselves and our children and our families or our state.

* It is not parents who are blatantly violating the basic principles of due process, civil and parental rights, or the rights of child.

* It is not parents who are acting in an unethical, immoral and illogical manner.

* It is not parents who are willfully ignoring violations of court order or the abuses and neglect of children.

* It is not parents who are in Court perpetuating and promoting conflict to profit from it.

* It is not parents who are imposing draconian and devastating financial orders on parents to punish them for being in court.

* It is not parents who are forcing the liquidation of retirement accounts and children's college funds and demanding payments from grandparents.

* It is not parents who jailing themselves solely because they have no means to pay.

PARENTS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.

And you do not use the same people who created a problem and who profit handsomely from it, to solve it.

It is perhaps most telling that after two months of hearings, and that as Chair, you have not called a single parent or child or divorce to testify - not one. And that every person who has been called, is a member of the divorce industry and someone who profits from and engages in perpetuating the problem. And no surprise - practically all of them members of FCC member, as you and Ms. Cousineau are.

* Which speaks volumes as to how co-opted and pointless the Task Force has become.

Task Forces are created by the legislature to solicit to hear testimony from people and citizens adversely impacted by a situation or problem - not those who create and profit from it.

It is equally as telling that we have not heard testimony from a single parent or child of divorce stating how wonderful the court system is, how much time their AMC/GAL spent with them to get to know them and how much they helped them, or how helpful a court ordered therapist was. And that any of this was worth the money taken from them or their parents and families. Why is that?

What the Task Force has become is like watching a home improvement show, where the focus of the show is to take pity on and only listen to shady contractor who did shoddy work and left the homeowner with a massive problem and walked away with all of their money.

Perhaps we should listen to the Chief Justice of Canada, who has publically come out and stated that family courts are beyond the point of repair, and need to be completely replaced with "something else." As an expert in legal operations and legal spend management, and business process improvement expert, I couldn't agree more. And applaud Attorney Rutkin for his recommendation that the state consider bringing in an outside management company to run the Judiciary and correct its operational dysfunctions. (I volunteer to help.)

Please let me know when you would like to meet and review the information I have to share with you and the Task Force. Most notably - an examination of the devastating financial impact the crisis in the family courts have exacted onto parents and families, and how many people it has thrown out of work, cost them their homes, and caused people to be unfairly jailed.

Regards

Peter Szymonik
Glastonbury, CT

www.galreform.org

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Notice of Opportunity to Comment - Proposed Amendment Rules for Guardians ad litem

The Judicial Branch is looking for comments regarding the proposed amendments to the rules for Guardians ad litem. This is an opportunity to express your thoughts on what future parents/ consumers will have to work with. Your experience with Guardians ad litem may have an impact on whether or not this amendment is used, canned or modified. That experience will mean nothing unless you respond by December 2, 2013 at 6:00 pm. Silence gives consent.

Want some ideas -

There is an abundance of ambiguous words and statements - "fair", "cultural sensitivity", "professionalism" and "ethics". While is is nice that these ideas are incorporated there is no way to define what or how these ideas will be applied. There is no defined means of testing whether a Guardian ad litem has been "fair" as example.

Training has been increased from the 16 hours Guardians ad litem go through and there is defined curriculum. Is this enough?

What is the best interest of the child? The phrase is used multiple times. While Maine has attempted to define this concept in statutes there is no means for testing whether a recommendation made by a Guardian ad litem is in a child's best interest. It tends to be based on the bias that the GAL brings to any case. Is taking a 4 year old to a bar late at night and exposing that child to violent adult behavior in the child's best interest? A Guardian ad litem thought so - the courts agreed - and the practice was allowed to continue.

You do not have to write a book, a single line comment is fine.

The Judicial Branch has a web page with instructions that may be found here:

http://www.courts.state.me.us/rules_adminorders/rules/proposed/gal/notice_opp_comment_mr_gals_2013-11-13.shtml

For a pdf copy of the proposed rules:

http://www.courts.state.me.us/rules_adminorders/rules/proposed/gal/proposed_amends_mr_gals_2013-11-13.pdf

Because we do not know if comments will be posted - please CC any correspondence to MeGALalert@gmail.com so that comments may be available for others to see.

2013-12-05:
Comments that parents/ consumers sent in and CCed MeGAL may be found on the blogs "Voice of the People". To date there have been no postings on the Judicial Branch web site and it is not known whether they will be publishing any.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bomb Threats and Secrecy – How the Overseers Handle Discipline of Lawyers

Recently, there have been two lawyers who have faced significant complaints before the Overseers of the Bar. We ask: Did the bar provide the oversight and management that the public expects?

One of the lawyers,  Ron Hoffman, was brought before the board because he called in two bomb threats to Academy Hill and G.D. Cushing elementary schools within two minutes of each other and saying that "there is a bomb in your school!". The calls resulted in the evacuation of over 350 children and worried countless teachers and parents as a result. The calls produced anger and confusion amongst both children and adults in the community as school officials testified.

Ron Hoffman had lied to the police when confronted about the bomb threat calls. Your average person on the street calling in a bomb threat would find themselves incarcerated and facing the loss of a job. Ron Hoffman told the board that there were medical conditions he was suffering from, and that the treatment from his doctors was not proper. It was bad medical treatment; not his bad judgment that caused the alarming behavior. The board felt that Ron's newly revised regimen of counseling and medications should allow him to continue practicing law.

Another lawyer, Charles Bean Esq, has been before the board four times in nine years. The first time before the board was back in 2006. Then again in 2006, 2011 and finally in 2013. In 2013 the board appears to have had enough and ordered that his resignation be given to Justice Andrew Mead. There is no public reason given why Bean resigned. The records are sealed and will only be made public should Bean decide he should seek reinstatement to the Bar.  Yes, "Reinstatement to the Bar" he may still return to serve the public at some future time.

If one visits the Overseers of the Bar web site and searches for the latest on Charles R. Bean, Esq. one can find his case dated October 29, 2013. Clicking the link brings the reader to a very brief background on Charles Bean Esq. Then refers to Maine Bar 7.3(g) which is "Disciplinary Proceedings: Other Provisions" and subsection refers to "Resignations by Attorneys Under Disciplinary Investigation". Basically what Maine Bar 7.3(g) says is that the lawyer is guilty of the crimes he has been accused of doing. It does not go into other areas where the lawyer may have violated the Maine Bar Rules. We are left with the feeling that what Charles Bean Esq. has done must truly be horrendous. Compare THIS  to the relative slap on the wrist that Ron Hoffman Esq received for calling in a bomb threat.

Is the Overseers of the Bar, as a private not for profit organization, able to police those they are entrusted to license and provide oversight for? Can they hand out a fair and equitable disciplinary action that is in the public interest Think about this - in these two cases has the legal standard of Maine lawyers been improved by this process? What about those who complained about these two lawyers - are they pleased by the outcome?

If you have any thoughts on the Overseers of the Bar we would encourage your comments here or on our Facebook page. You may also email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com

Further Reading - Is this Really Oversight? How the Overseers of the Bar Operates.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is this Really Oversight? How the Overseers of the Bar Operates.

The Overseers of the Bar has by all appearances an open process of complaint for the public. If I was researching a lawyer I am able to view 13 years of complaints brought against 247 lawyers. Each decision has a link provided so that I can see what the complaint was about and the outcome - the decision handed out to that lawyer. While the disciplinary action is written out in a way that only a lawyer could love (legalistic, specific and dry) it dose give the reasoning behind the decision.

What do the numbers show us?

There are currently 247 lawyers that have complaints where decisions have been handed out by the Overseers.  Those decisions amount to a total of 362.

Of the 247 lawyers who had complaints 179 appeared before the Overseers only once. The balance of 68 lawyers appeared on multiple occasions. Of those 68 lawyers 29 appeared 3 or more times. In terms of the decisions handed out those 68 lawyers had 183 (or 50.55%) of the decisions handed out to them.

What was the order  that the Overseers of the Board handed out to these lawyers. There are 43 categories that summarizes what action the Overseers recommends. Most mean nothing to the casual observer - maybe this is intended. The focus is on those that have meaning.

Reprimand is the most popular order given out to a wayward lawyer. This was handed out 36% of the time or 131 instances. Suspension is another popular order being handed out 4.7% of the time. Dismissal was handed out 8 times in 13 years. What is interesting is that 17 lawyers resigned and only 5 were disbarred. Those that were disbarred represents only 2% of the population who manages to make it to this point.

It is important to reflect on these numbers as it speaks to the process that the Overseers has in place and their ability to provide oversight to the lawyers that they license. Is the Overseers of the Bar able to provide effective oversight of those they license? Is the process that is in place a fair and equitable process to consumers of legal services as well as to lawyers? Or does the process favor lawyers? Is the process one that the average consumer can understand and easily navigate through?

What is not clear to anyone is how many times complaints were started against a lawyer and then was dropped because of the financial cost and time it would take. Or was weeded out at one of the many layers that is intended to make the process fair. Of those lawyers that had multiple complaints - how many more were started but were never completed or weeded out? The result of such filtering would be to allow a problem lawyer to continue and cause pain and suffering.

If you have any thoughts on the Overseers of the Bar we would encourage your comments here or on our Facebook page. You may also email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Father says No to Child's demand of McDonald's - and loses visitation

What should have been a Happy Meal has turned out to be anything but this for a New York father in a hotly contested divorce case. The court appointed shrink Dr. Marilyn Schiller is branding the child's father as being incapable of caring for his 4-year old son for refusing McDonald's.

The father is fighting back against Dr. Schiller for defaming his character.
On October 30, 2013 father and son were preparing to go out for dinner. The son demanded McDonald's and the father said no. According to reports that son then "threw a temper tantrum" for being denied the Golden Arches. The fathers reasoning for refusal was that he felt his son had been eating too much junk food. So like any good parent he offered his son two options -

1. Pick another restaurant
2. No dinner at all

His son chose the latter and upon retuning back to his mother told on his dad. The mom promptly told Dr. Marilyn Schiller who in turn reported this incident to the presiding judge. Dr. Schiller made the recommendation of having the fathers visitation time reduced. Refusing a child McDonald's must be like burning a child with a cigarette, abusing a child or some other life altering event - at least according to Dr. Schiller.

Who is right here? The father for trying to be a good parent and not giving into the demands of a child and "exercising reasonable parental prerogatives"? Or the court appointed psychologist for recommending a more restricted visitation schedule as a result of not giving into the demands of a 4-year old? If the court appointed psychologist is right in her reasoning that denying McDonald's will cause so much harm to this child that the father's time needs to be restricted then many who are reading this have been hurt by our parents refusal to take us to McDonald's when young. What does it say about the Mayor of New York - Bloomberg - who is trying to curb the unhealthy eating choices that New Yorkers make - like McDonald's and other artery clogging eating establishments -  that he is so much against. Would Bloomberg be considered a bad parent?

Although this is an extreme example of what is wrong with the family court system (the divorce industry, Guardians ad litem and other family court leaches) it does call into question about who really knows what is best for our children. In this case it appears Dr. Schiller and the mom knows what is best (sarcasm intended) - by giving into the demands of a 4-year old. The father does not (again sarcasm intended) because he refused as a parent to give in to his son, his child. What is the lesson that we can take away from this - that as a parent you do what your child wants - no matter how much it goes against your core values as a person or parent. Because if you don't the courts will take what is precious to you as they know what is best (sarcasm intended).

By the way - the mother took her son to McDonald's - reinforcing her son's bad behavior and the opinion of Dr. Schiller.
For support please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or like us on Facebook.




For further reading on this case:
Yahoo! Shine

NY Daily News




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"New Guardians ad litem do not have the experience" Sarah Stark Oldham

In state of Connecticut parents and consumers have been dealing with a horrific family court and Guardian ad litem mess for years. The situation is so bad that families have been bankrupt emotionally and financially as a result of the process. On October 31 the task force that was created to investigate legal disputes involving the care and custody of children heard from a number of people.

One of those who  gave testimony was Sarah Stark Oldham. Ms Oldham is the President of the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. During her testimony she defended the role of Guardians ad litem and the training of GALs. At one point Ms Oldham was asked why out of over a thousand certified GALs a judge would choose only out of a handful of Guardians ad litem - the response to that question was as stunning as it was troubling:

“Well, I think judges assign cases to a GAL who they think can handle the case and many of the new Guardians ad litem do not yet have any experience or the qualifications required to be assigned.”

The silence in the hearing room was deafening….

Rep. Minnie Gonzalez held up the list of court certified Guardians ad litem and said:  “I’m sorry, if we are now certifying GALs, then every one of the people on this list should be able to handle a case – otherwise what is the point of certifying them?”

“Well, they just have to take the classes, there is no test at the end or way for them to pass or fail.”

Thank you Ms. Sarah "Sally" Stark Oldham.  Thank you.

What Ms. Sarah "Sally" Stark Oldham confirmed for Connecticut and many other state Guardian ad litem education programs is that the training to become a Guardian ad litem is minimal at best and does little to prepare an up and coming Guardian ad litem on how to handle the complexities of a divorce/ custody. That Guardians ad litem are unleashed on an unsuspecting public able to make life changing decisions on people that they have little or no knowledge of. Decisions that have far reaching consequences and impact - yet are protected by a court system when a Guardian ad litem malpractices.

For support contact MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This is why I am disobeying your order - An open letter to a Judge

Dear Judge,

Two years ago I appeared in your court. I was summoned there with only a few hours notice and appeared without a lawyer. Though no charges were pronounced against me, you legally removed my child from my care and protection, eliminated my right to make any decisions about her, and ordered me to stay away from her most of the time.

From what I have been able to gather about such proceedings, this outcome was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact it quickly became apparent to me that this outcome came very close to being decided in advance. What precisely was said during this brief hearing seems to have made very little difference. As it began, a gentleman who did not know me proceeded to assassinate my character as confidently as if he had personally witnessed each item in his litany of my imperfections. While again, there were no specific charges and nothing legally actionable, it was clear that his role was to translate somewhat vague private grievances against me into a formula that would appear to justify taking away my child.

What struck me at the time was how quickly and effortlessly a child was removed from the care and protection of her parent and her life carved up as if it were the bookings of a holiday cottage. Such and such days she would spend with the non-custodial parent, the rest with the custodial parent. You asked very few questions and sought very little information. The hearing was very brief, and suddenly, I was told, it was over. During the hearing I was allowed to speak very little and interrupted every time I tried. There seemed to be no burden of proof on those who sought to separate me from my child.

I realize that, given the number of similar cases that come before you, you issue these rulings as a matter of routine. I would not be surprised if you have no recollection of this particular case. Nevertheless, for me it was an eye-opening experience and probably the most important thirty minutes or so of my life.

You did not strike me as an unusually malicious or callous person. I am told you are considered among the more favorable judges for parents, and that the time you assigned permitting me to be with my children is relatively generous.

All this may be true. Yet it has also become apparent to me that what I witnessed in your courtroom was a tiny part of a vast system of largely impersonal and unaccountable power that was previously unknown to me, as it still is to most citizens. I am fully aware that you did not create this system and that you yourself may have very little control over it. Nevertheless you are a principal and active participant. So vast and so routine has this power become that you are able, with no background information and in a hearing lasting only a few minutes, to permanently separate a child from a parent without any indication that you were aware of the gravity of what you were doing.

While this central act was disturbing enough, what was again striking were the questions that were not asked, the subjects that were not brought up, the consequences that were not anticipated. You knew that I was accused of no wrongdoing and had agreed to no separation or divorce. You were also aware that I had never lived in this country with my family and that I had neither a residence nor a livelihood here. Yet a number of important matters were never discussed. Did I have a place to live? Did I have a way to get to where my daughter was? Could I work here? Did I have access to a car? Did the hours you permitted me to be with her bear any relation to when I might be able to find or keep employment? What costs would be involved for me or other parties?

You may recall that when my mother attempted to sit in on the hearing she was refused and escorted out. Yet the results of this hearing have profoundly and adversely affected her life. She was forced to take in and support a grown son who was now unemployed. She was forced to cancel the sale of her house so that I would have a place to stay. Her car has been commandeered so that I can see my children and get to work. Did these hardships for her enter into your ruling? They certainly were not brought up in the hearing. It did occur to me at the time, but I was cut off each time I attempted to speak.

What is also noteworthy is that I can recount my recollection of these proceedings without fear of contradiction or inaccuracy, not only because you probably do not remember details of the hearing, but also because no record of it now exists and no impartial witnesses were permitted to be present. In other words, there is nothing and no one to contradict or corroborate my recollection. By the same measure, there is no accountability or recorded reasoning for a ruling that has torn apart the home and world of an innocent child.

In short, it struck me that for the first time in my life I was personally witnessing an instance of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”: evil that has become so routinized and bureaucratized that otherwise decent people are able to tell themselves they are doing good when they are doing evil. It is profoundly ironic that I should have returned from five years in a post-totalitarian society to be confronted here in the United States with a new and unexpected version of the kind of bureaucratic dictatorship that has been perhaps the most notable feature of the politics of this century.

When we hear about children being forcibly taken from their parents by Nazi doctors or Communist apparatchiks we are filled with the deepest revulsion. In accounts of American slavery the division of slave families pierces deeper into our hearts than even the physical cruelties of that institution. What family court judges such as yourself do as a daily routine is not on the same level of evil. But it is not so completely different that we should classify the one as among the most detestable “crimes against humanity” and accept the other as desirable treatment for our own children. You may think this comparison offensive. But a government which criminalizes ordinary law-abiding citizens for something so basic as exercising their parental responsibilities is itself on the way to becoming a criminal regime. Parents such as I who are accused of nothing routinely have their children removed from their care and protection, are ordered to stay away from them and to pay money to those who have taken them, and are incarcerated if they refuse or are unable. These parents receive fewer constitutional protections for their basic civil rights and liberties than persons accused of vicious crimes. Yet there is no public outcry, no expose by muckraking journalists, no petition of outraged intellectuals, no review by international tribunals, no inquiries by human rights organizations, no voice of opposition.

Whatever may be said in favor of this practice, there is no justification for ordering me or any other innocent parent to stay away from our children in terms of their well-being. This is a practice that exists not for the welfare of children but for the power and enrichment of adults. It is a practice I cannot in conscience accept, and I believe no other parent can either.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that I no longer consider your order binding on me and that it is my intention to disobey it. From this time forth I will consider myself free to be with my children whenever I or they choose. I will not hesitate to remove them from any institutional care center at which they are being stored. I will consider myself at liberty to go to any residence where they are being kept with the expectation that I will be permitted to be with my children. In short, I will behave as if I have the same right to do what I choose with my children when and where I choose as any other parent or as I had they day my eldest daughter was born, secure in the knowledge that I have done nothing to forfeit that right. All this will be done in the open view of the world.

At no time will I, as I have never done previously, behave in a disorderly manner; much less will I use any physical force. Consistent with what has always been my parental practice, I will quarrel with no one in the presence of my children. Should I be confronted, as I have been in the past, with contention, disrespect, or physical coercion, I will do my utmost not to respond in kind. Should I, as a creature endowed with my share of imperfections, be provoked to an indiscretion in the presence of my children, I will invoke the only tried and true remedy available to any parent in such circumstances, which is to say I will apologize. Witnessing this will do my children no harm and may possibly set an example they are not likely to see elsewhere. But I will also make it clear, as I must now make it clear to you, that I can no longer tolerate forced separation from my children.

I realize this is not the usual and, from your standpoint, preferred method of responding to a court order. I know that I am expected to hire a professional advocate to argue my case in a courtroom. Yet after prolonged and careful consideration, I have decided that I cannot pursue this course.

In the first place, to be brutally practical, I do not have the means. As a direct result of your ruling I was forced to resign my position, leave the only residence my family had ever had, and relocate here in order to be with my children. There is also something I find basically objectionable about any parent having to pay money to see his own children when he has been presented with no grounds for why they were taken in the first place. As with a conventional kidnapping, if I begin to pay money for this purpose, where does it end?

More to the point, it is not clear to me what I would argue in a courtroom, since not only have I have been accused of nothing; I have not accused anyone else of anything. In the absence of charges against me, I cannot and will not cooperate with an inquisition into my family life. It is also not my practice to discuss the shortcomings of members of my family with third parties, let alone to construct legal cases against them. Forcing me to do so as a condition of retaining my rights as a parent strikes me as morally equivalent to staging a cockfight. And again, I fail to see where it would end. Frankly, it appears to me that this entire process is designed less to arrive at any determination relevant to the welfare of my children than to provide business for associations of legal entrepreneurs.

Even more fundamentally, I cannot pursue this course because I cannot accept that you or anyone else has any grounds to intervene in my family and tell me when, where, and under what circumstances I may be with my children or to deny me the right to raise and protect them and make decisions for their welfare. In other words, it is not so much a particular ruling that I cannot accept as an unprovoked and unwarranted assumption of jurisdiction over my family. You may reply that this was solicited by parties that include members of my family. Yet this does not alter the fact that it was done without any grounds whatever. It is equally true to say that some 30 years ago the armies of the Warsaw Pact were “invited” to enter the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia, but this does not make it any less of any invasion.

I am also aware of the arguments against the alternative course of action I have chosen. No doubt I will be accused of inflicting an unpleasant experience upon my children by going to see them when I have not been authorized to do so. I have considered this at some length. It is this consideration, in part, that prevented me from responding in kind when my child was originally abducted from her home and before I was summoned to your court. I am sure that I was assisted in this restraint by the conviction that this country’s system of justice is fair and that justice would eventually prevail. (Yet I must regretfully note that this restraint seems to have counted nothing in my favor in your courtroom.) I would like to believe that conviction is still justified, though I am now convinced that this is more likely to be the case by refusing to accept your power to arbitrarily keep me from my children than by hiring a professional advocate to quibble over precisely how much you should do so.

I have also come to the conclusion that I cannot submit indefinitely to what amounts to a kind of blackmail, a blackmail rendered all the more heinous for holding as hostages two children and forcing a parent to stay away from them for fear of how others will respond to his presence. I trust you are familiar with the concept of a “heckler’s veto” and with its legal standing.

It is one thing to refrain from contention in the presence of children, which I have always done and will continue to do. It is another to acquiesce indefinitely in a crime committed against them. In fact it is precisely my concern to avoid further contention that leads me to take a public and open stand against this patent injustice rather than participating in a privately litigated battle that I cannot see will be to anything other than the detriment of my family.

The principal trauma being inflicted on my children is the forced destruction of their family and separation from one or both of their parents, a trauma that has been inflicted by your ruling. Given this, I firmly believe that, far from my harming my children, there are certain lessons in this that they need to be made aware of and that it is my responsibility as a parent to teach them. While I believe I have valid reasons as a citizen to disobey the law in this instance, I want to make clear to you that I also have connected but even more imperative ones as a parent.

It is my responsibility to teach my children that the proper course of action when faced with injustice is to resist and oppose it in a peaceful and dignified way. At some point they must learn that there are higher principles and a higher law they must always obey, even when it means they must break the civil law and accept the consequences for doing so. These are not only lessons that they can learn; they are lessons that they must learn and lessons that, in other contexts, we go to considerable lengths to teach them. In Sunday school my eldest daughter has already been exposed to the quiet courage of the Hebrew women, to the defiant stand of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to the public crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In school she will soon be reading about the teachings and examples of Socrates, Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. As both a teacher of these ideas myself and a parent, I am acutely aware that there is no point in teaching our children one set of principles as being right in the abstract when we teach them the opposite by our own acts or failure to act precisely at the time when those principles are most needed to confront an injustice. It is perhaps unfortunate, but nevertheless unavoidable, that the circumstances of her life are now such that she must now witness the application of these principles sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, if I do not act I fear that the lessons my children are already learning are far more harmful than witnessing a parent peaceably and openly disobey an unjust court order. Virtually every principle of sound child-rearing is contravened by this immoral practice of forcibly separating children from their parents. For the sake of clarity and emphasis I will list the harmful messages I see them absorbing:

- They are learning that we put our own desires before the needs of others, including those we profess to love such as our own children.

- They are learning that children like themselves are not to be treated as people with needs and rights of their own, but used as tools and weapons in the quest for power and profit by adults.

- They are learning that ordinary family differences and disagreements are to be resolved not with love, understanding, and compromise, but with the courts and police.

- They are learning that the vows of marriage – and by extension all other pledges, promises, commitments, and agreements – mean nothing and can be abrogated when they are no longer to our advantage.

- They are learning that principles and values are something we adhere to only so long as they are convenient, and that we can invent the rules according to our momentary pleasure.

- They are learning that contrition and forgiveness mean nothing and that injuries to others are not to be atoned for and forgiven but nursed as grievances to be revenged when the opportunity presents itself.

- They are learning that when someone disagrees with us or has other ideas or beliefs than ours, we need not listen to him, even within our own family, because now we can use the courts to silence him and have the police keep him away.

- They are learning the methods of the bully, which in other contexts we attempt to discourage and protect them from.

- They are learning that anyone in their family can be eliminated when they fall out of favor – including, perhaps, our children themselves.

- They are learning that the instruments of the state and the justice system are not public tribunals for redressing public wrongs and establishing public justice but rather a system of hired force which we can marshal for private hurts, domestic differences, and personal grievances.

- They are learning that both the family and the state are dictatorships, ruled by an arbitrary power which can be marshaled against private enemies for private injuries.

- They are learning that they need not accept or obey the authority of a parent – and by extension any other authority as well, including their teachers, ministers, parent, and eventually the laws and tribunals of the public state.

- They will learn that the police are not instruments for maintaining public order and protecting the weak, but hired mercenaries that we can marshal against members of our own family when we don’t agree with what they do or say.

- They will learn that the justice system of this country is not based on due process of law but instead rounds up and incarcerates citizens who are accused of no crime and uses the lives of innocent people – including children – for the aggrandizement of its own power.

- They will learn that a citizen of this country need not be charged with any offense that is actionable in a court of law in order to be summoned to one and stripped of his most fundamental constitutional rights.

- They will learn that the Constitution of the United States is a lie, and the Bill of Rights is a meaningless piece of paper that can be ignored by those whose responsibility it is to protect it from abuse by others.

I believe it is these lessons that account for the alienation and the adversarial relationship that so many children – especially the children of divorce – are now developing toward the justice system, the society in which they live, and their own families. I know that so long as these messages are being imparted to my children by those who seek to separate me from them and by the instruments of the public state such as your court (and by me as well so long as I acquiesce in your ruling) any attempt by me to impart contrary messages will be at cross-purposes with forces too massive for me to compete with and prevail against.

I am aware of a more serious objection to this course of action I am taking. This is the possibility that you will punish my disobedience by further reducing access to my children. This has indeed weighed heavily on my mind. The obvious rejoinder – that such an act of judicial bullying would belie any pretense that this process is concerned with “the best interest of the child” – is little comfort to me. As with other objections, this fear prevents most parents from responding as I have.

I certainly do value my time with my children, and am very reluctant to do anything that may jeopardize it. Until now I have tried to work within these constraints to have as much positive influence on my children as possible.

Yet I find I cannot remain content with this choice indefinitely, and in the long run I cannot hold it up to my children as an example worthy for them to follow. For one thing, I observe from the experience of many forcibly separated fathers that their allotted “visitation” is only one factor contributing to the gradual erosion of bonds with their children, and that it is not possible to be an adequate parent to children from whom one is kept separated by the police. Unlike some, I am not convinced that preserving or increasing my legally permitted time with my children, while still preserving the power to dictate the terms under which I may be a parent to them, is likely to make this system any less of an injustice or any less of a detriment to my relationship with my children.

To rest content with this would be to admit that this allotment of time you have decreed for me is really little more than what amounts to a bribe. Those who have more experience with the family judiciary than I inform me that bribery is widespread. I myself have not otherwise observed it first hand, and it is not my purpose here to make accusations. But in this instance I can see – and so can the world – that a kind of bribery has been openly offered and accepted. Vaclav Havel, the Czech former dissident and now president, has said that a truly corrupt system is one where the bribery is so systemic that it extends even to the public. They are bribed with material or other inducements to accept and acquiesce in a system they know to be corrupt and immoral. I believe something similar is at work here. Like many other parents, I have been effectively bribed with enough time with my children to buy my acquiescence in a system that is patently unjust, immoral, and illegal and one that reduces me to the status of something less than a true parent.

While I value time with my children and know it to be important to their well-being, I also know that the benefits it bestows cannot continue indefinitely and under any circumstances. At some point, as my children come to understand the choice their parent has made – that he has made his peace with a system that has robbed them of their most basic rights and needs in order to be permitted to “get along” with his life – the net effect will become more harmful to them than healthy. All the “visitation” and “custody” and “child support” in the world will not provide them with the parent they need if he bends his back and holds his tongue when he had the opportunity to stand upright and speak out.

There is, in other words, something here much more fundamental than disputes over “visitation”, “custody”, “child support”, and the other jargon of your trade. It concerns the unnatural power to take a child away from a parent they love and who loves them, to dictate to a parent who has done nothing wrong when and where he may see his children and what he can say and do with them, to invade and occupy a family and run it by judicial fiat. This is the arrogance of power. No parent can accept this and remain a parent. This is why I am acting.


Yours respectfully,
A Parent

This piece was originally written by Stephen Baskerville several years ago. It addresses the frustration that many parents face in a court system that is broken. It begs the question of how family courts, Guardians ad litem and the divorce industry can live with themselves at the end of the day.

If you have been involved in a divorce/ custody gone bad and for good reason please contact us for support at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Women wage campaign to impeach New Jersey judge Paul Escandon


It begs the question of who is providing oversight of the judges - in any state? The public and consumers of any state Judicial Branch are fed the same hash that everything is under control. Or is it? How do we know as a people, as a society that those who should be doling out justice are doing so in a way that is fair and by the law. How do we know that judges have oversight and accountability. That they are being managed? We don't. We have been brought up to trust a system that in many areas is corrupt and has no interest in making sure the system is working the way it is supposed to.

These women are proving just that. One of the women was upset and vented which led to other women connecting. Patterns start to emerge. While this case does not directly relate to a Guardian ad litem it does make one think about whether or not the people who are "managing" Guardians ad litem are themselves being managed. If there is no management of anyone in our courts then how do we know that there are no problems? We don't and neither do our courts.

ABC News

 MONMOUTH CO., N.J. (WABC) -- A group of women who say they've been discriminated against by a judge in Monmouth County, New Jersey are now trying to get him impeached. They've filed a petition with the state assembly to have the judge removed.

What's interesting is the role that social media has had in bringing these women together to share their stories. It started with one mother who thought she was alone in her legal battle with Judge Paul Escandon, but she discovered there are dozens with similar experiences.

"All of a sudden, one day I was his mother and the next day I had fewer rights than a babysitter on the street," Rachel Alitoff said.

Full story and video: ABC News

Rachel Alitoff blog on Judge Paul Escandon


If you have had issues with a Guardian ad litem we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert.com or comment here. We can also be found on Facebook.

Because there is no oversight of the Guardian ad litem system - we are conducting two surveys on the cost and performance of Guardians ad litem. We encourage anyone who has worked with a Guardian ad litem to take one or both.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Guardians ad litem praised for doing a poor job… and a pat on the back


Maine FLAC or the Maine Family Law Advisory Commission issued their recommendations a month ago. The opening paragraphs are filled with encomiums lauding Guardians ad litem and the work they do.  It is hard to understand this high praise after the recent Maine legislative session which proposed significant changes in Maine's out-of-control Guardian ad litem program.  The comprehensive changes were made by the legislature (after study) at the request of citizens, who had experienced a disastrous Guardian ad litem system, which, intentionally or not, inflicted great harm on children and families going through divorce and custody. There were extensive hearings, with heart rendering testimony of cruel and unnecessary hardship inflicted on families and outrageous financial charges for Guardian ad litem services.  It seems inappropriate at best to laud services that the legislature, the governor, the bureaucracy and the public deemed in need of drastic overhaul.  It might suggest to many that the Family Law Advisory Commission " still "doesn't know it doesn't know!"

Furthermore, it perpetuates claims of quality without any data to back these claims.  Lacking data and minimizing the seriousness of the legislative study and subsequent mandate strikes us as a bad beginning to a review of Rules for Guardians ad litem.  The tired old claim that it is about "disappointed litigants and heightened expectations" simply doesn't cut it with the public, the legislature and the governor.  A half year of in depth legislative study, says that no oversight, no supervision, no enforcement of Rules, a non-functional complaint procedure and myriad other STRUCTURAL issues are the root of serious problems in the GAL program. Grass roots disappointment is secondary to a broken structural system that may work for GALs and judges, but it hasn't worked for the public.  Failure to recognize this by the likes of the Family Law commission (and others in the Judicial Branch) is a huge piece of the problem!  Recovery, they say, starts with admission of the problem - any problem.

A big piece of the problem is the continuing reliance of the Judicial Branch on "stakeholders," members of what we call "the divorce industry", who have a strong financial interest in the 'status quo'.  Perpetuating problem solving by "stakeholders" perpetuates blind privilege and out f touch views. It is worth noting that the one "public" member on the commission reviewing "GAL Rules" is a member of Children First, a GAL dominated advocacy group. It is adding another "fox" to the "chicken house security detail"!  There is a need for victims on this commission to help the Judicial Branch take a fresh, open look at things from a grass-roots perspective.  Right now it appears to be more of the "same old same old" attitude.

Letter from Chief Justice Saufley regarding FLAC.

If you have had issues with a Guardian ad litem, Judge or the court system - please contact MeGALalert@gmail.com. Or like us on Facebook for up to date issues. If you want to express your opinion on the Guardian ad litem there is an on going survey about Guardian ad litem performance and cost.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Overseers of the Bar - Okay for lawyer to make bomb threats - what about GALs?


There are consequences for the actions that one makes in life. Calling in a bomb threat as an example will land the person making the call into a lot of trouble. If you manage not to serve any jail time there are other areas where you might be penalized to the point of losing your job.

Unless

You are a lawyer in the state who is brought before the Overseers of the Bar (an independent agency created by the Judiciary that is funded by fees paid by lawyers). In a case that was recently brought before the Overseers - a lawyer - who called in a bomb threat (twice) was essentially slapped on the wrist and is being allowed to continue practicing law. Part of his defense was that he had a series of medical conditions that were not being treated properly according to the defendant. In other words it is the "I'm not responsible for my actions" defense.

Why is this important?

The Overseers of the Bar is set to take over responsibility for Guardian ad litem complaints. The Judiciary  is moving from a simple yet  broken process (one that the average person could understand) to a highly complex process of complaint (a process that is very legalistic in scope). The reasoning behind this move was that the Overseers had the experience of handling complaints. The Judiciary, Guardians ad litem and divorce industry were all in favor of this change. Parents, friends and family surprisingly did not favor the move. Now imagine if in filing a complaint you are mildly successful to get to the point that the lawyer in the above case did. You are standing there in front of the board ready to prove how your GAL broke every rule and statute in the book. Then all of a sudden - the GAL brings out the tried and proven defense "I'm not responsible for my actions" because of (medical condition, parents didn't love me or some other issue). Bang you lose and the Guardian ad litem is free to continue operating as a GAL.

There is no data that shows how many lawyers are disciplined or lose their license as a result of breaking the law. A complaint or disciplinary action through the Overseers is a highly complex and legal process. Beyond the scope of most people without a legal background. Imagine what is going to happen if you attempt to complain through the Overseers of the Board?

If you have an issue with a Guardian ad litem please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or like us on Facebook.

In addition we are conducting a survey on Guardian ad litem costs and Performance please share your thoughts on how your Guardian ad litem did on you case or families.





Sunday, September 22, 2013

The “Best Interest Police” coming to your divorce


Looked at from a distance, the whole concept of Maine's Guardian ad litem program is hard to understand from its official description. From what we hear from its users, it doesn't do much-if anything- to help children. It is confusing (and expensive) for families. It is unmanaged and un-supervised and is not accessible to the kind of functional "corrective action" that is available to most public programs. As we see it - operationally, Guardians ad litem have virtually absolute power to act in whatever they choose with divorcing families and children. Compliance with "Rules and Standards for Guardians ad litem" has no enforcement, therefore is purely voluntary on the part of the Guardian ad litem. It is a truly unique institution in democratic America more like the apparatus of a police state.

It might be asked why do non-criminal, non-abusing, divorcing couples need the Best Interest Police to investigate and determine whether their parenting practices and attitudes are in their children's "best interest"? Why aren't all American parents under the surveillance of Guardians ad litem as "best interest police" for their children. In the interests of equal opportunity, shouldn't the parenting practices of all American parents - divorcing and non-divorcing - be watched and evaluated equally carefully for the child's "best interest"? The obvious answer is that a total surveillance of everyone's parenting practices by outside agents of the government, or by whomever, would bring on a violent upheaval that would make the American Revolution seem like a Sunday school picnic. Guardians ad litem in divorces are the "nanny state" on totalitarian steroids.

Conceptually, we would suggest that Guardians ad litem seem to function 'de facto' as "Child's Best Interest Police", empowered by judges to look for the "evil that lurks in the hearts of 'men' (humans)". Watch out as those neighbors, friends of your spouse and others line up to share their thoughts about your parenting skills (and much more) in secret exchanges with a Guardian ad litem. Though there are "Rules and Standards for Guardians ad litem", there is no administrative "oversight" (no enforcement) from the mother organization, the Judicial Branch of Maine government. Such "oversight" as there might be comes from a feeble complaint process that depends on the courage of consumers to face-off against the "Best Interest Police" in the "Mother house" of all lawyers, the Maine Overseers of the Bar.

It is a situation that is beyond "David and Goliath" to have the courage to complain to the Overseers. It is an all or nothing, winner-take-all situation and the odds against a complainer winning are formidable. Filing a consumer complaint, forces consumers to address both the substance of their Guardian ad litem complaint and the prejudice of the lawyers in the Overseers, who firmly believe that their colleague Guardians ad litem are "wonderful, do good work, help many children", unfounded opinions openly expressed by the Family Law Advisory Commission (and other Judicial Branch officials). How do you tell powerful people who admire and respect Guardians ad litem, that their colleagues, that the people they esteem have "messed up"? Where do you run for cover from a vindicated, vengeful Guardian ad litem when your complaint is dismissed? Where is the protection for a "complainer"?

It may be deemed impertinent for us to ask: "Why has no one ever done any formal program evaluation of this hugely expensive, , much criticized, run-away program? Are Guardians ad litem really "doing good work" or "helping children"? What do families say? What do children say? What do objective child-development evaluators (outside of the sweep of Judicial Branch/Muskie School influence) say? Is the program working for public benefit? Are kids better for having had a Guardian ad litem? After 39 years doesn't it need formal study and, perhaps, a bit of program tweaking? Where's the data? Why is there NO program evaluation data?

We would say that the absence of any well-founded program evaluation after 39 years is itself a public scandal. There are many symptoms of program dysfunction and many witnesses to this dysfunction. Program evaluation needs to move beyond judicial , "feel-good" anecdote.

Please comment here or contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com. There is also a Facebook page that is maintained that covers current issues and concerns. If you would like to express your opinion we would encourage you to take our survey on Guardian ad litem performance and or cost.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Putting a HALT to Readdiction and Relapse


Recently we have heard from parents who have gone through divorce and who have secondary custody to a drug addict and/or an alcoholic. Those who have shared their story with us have acknowledged that at times their ex spouse have made the attempt at sobriety with some success but the probability of relapse is extremely high for these individuals.

When a recovering addict has pain and/or sleep issues, medical professionals need to be careful on what it is that the recovering addict can or cannot be prescribed.

Authorities on addiction, like AA and Alanon say that an alcoholic/addict has  a sometimes fatal illness that  can be arrested but NEVER “cured”.  The disease is “incurable”.  However, with help, it can go into “remission” (or recovery) and remain in “remission”, if the alcoholic/addict stops drinking/drugging and continuously works a recovery program, such as AA or Alanon, etc

These programs also speak to life dangers that signal a risk of recurrence of the active illness, using the acronym: HALT, as a collection of generic warning signals:

H = HUNGRY   A= ANGRY   L= LONELY   T= TIRED

A recovering addict/alcoholic is at greater risk of a “slip” into addictive activities when any one or more of these single symptoms is present, is unrecognized (denial) and un-dealt with by the recovering addict/alcoholic.  There is also the risk of re-addiction by medical persons who don’t fully understand addictions and  the terrible risk for a recovering addict when they prescribe sleeping pills, sedatives, tranquilizers, etc.  AA/Alanon call it “taking one’s booze in pill form.”  Addicts are particularly sensitive to these medications that sedate their brain and make their resolve to live soberly less strong.  A “slip” is very common  in recovery.

Addiction is one of the toughest diseases to combat.  Recovery programs say, stop feeling guilty/ashamed, start going to meetings, stop drugging/drinking and start to live soberly again with AA/Alanon program support.

It isn’t easy to cope with these illnesses, but it is vitally important to the addict and his/her family.

Additional credit to Dr. Jerome Collins

For additional information and support please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Family Law Advisory Commission Review of Proposed Rules for Guardians ad litem

The following letter was sent out this morning to the Hon Leigh Saufley directly with copies going to the Governor and members of the Judiciary Committee. While the Hon Leigh Saufley asked for commentary from the committee that is working on reforming the Guardian ad litem complaint process - MeGALalert, and the consumers of the Divorce Industry do have a say in what happens with any reform. This maybe even more so when considering that the Family Law Advisory Commission had not one consumer.



Hon Leigh Saufley
Chief Justice
Supreme Court of Maine

Dear Chief Justice Saufley,

Re Family Law Advisory Commission Review of  Proposed Rules for GALs

  Although Maine Guardian ad litem Alert has not been asked for input on the commission’s review, it is a public document, and we have read it with interest.  For the sake of Maine’s children and families, our consumer base, we felt that there was an important missing piece in the review, a grassroots/consumer perspective.  Our perspective has been gained through an extensive network of friends and their families all over the state, who have shared their Guardian ad litem (GAL) experiences with us.  We have a better overview than most courts about which GAL names appear frequently as problems, as well as the recurrent, repetitious nature of their malfunctioning.  From our extensive (and growing) contacts- in person, by phone and via e-mail- we have acquired a lot of data.  We have a very good idea of the operational problems associated with Judicial Branches GAL program. It is important consumer data (and viewpoint) that is missing (and much needed) in your deliberations.  In addition, we have also collected systematic consumer satisfaction data that suggests that you have “GAL product problems” with your market.

  Herewith we offer a “consumer (or user) perspective”.  We hope it serves to helpfully complicate and enlarge the standard views of your “stakeholders”..

1.) Solving the GAL problem: first legislation and now implementation. From the tone of the Commission’s review, many of us have asked, “Does the Family Law Advisory Commission (FLAC) truly believe that there have been Guardian ad litem problems tied to dysfunctional structural issues?  Or are the problems still perceived as noise from “disappointed litigants”?” The judiciary’s answer to this isn’t clear to many of us.  The legislature, the bureaucracy, the Governor and significant numbers of “grass roots” consumers of GAL services have been resounding in their documentation that there have been problems with the GAL program and have been determined to solve them.  However, the Family Law Advisory Commission’s perception appears less certain.  Because a problem can’t be solved, unless it is recognized, the opening paragraphs of the Commission’s review, loaded with accolades for GALs, is troubling to past and present GAL service consumers.  It suggests to the grassroots a FLAC perception of GAL problems, more about sentiment than substance!  Furthermore, such FLAC praise, with no numerical data behind it, is read by many as a statement of overt prejudicial bias that favors GALs.  How will this sort of rosy sentiment and unqualified support of GALs impact the implementation of PL 2013 C 406?   Consumer input in the Commission’s review might have balanced Commission’s glowing praise of GALs with less rosy consumer experience.  The new law was enacted to repair significant scandal in the GAL program.

2.) From our reading of it, there is some wary reflection in the review about the newly mandated “scope of GAL duties”.  GAL functions have been significantly (and deliberately) circumscribed.  Over the 39 years of the GAL program, there have been significant “mission creep”, some by court usage, and some by GAL’s “creative improvisation”.  “Mission creep” over many years has resulted in a serious, “cost inflation” of unrestricted billable hours for GAL services.  It has also lead to GAL activities for which GALs have no competence and to myriad fanciful “improvisations”.  To mention but two especially egregious examples from many : a need for a child to spend the weekend alone with his GAL and the notion of a GAL seeking a surrogate father for another child, whose father was out of state.  Neither of these “creative” ideas, appeared in any version of Rules for Guardians ad litem!  There has been widespread public demand that the GAL role be limited, clear, well bounded, and that activities beyond the published role description be considered malfunctioning and possible malpractice.

3.) From its design, the consequences of PL 2013 C 406 are clear, well-recognized and very much “intended” by its legislative/public architects.  In clipping the wings of “innovative” GAL activities, it will undoubtedly expand the judicial/court role and should make for a much busier time for judges.  There has been very deep public concern that the Guardian ad litem program had come to function, unofficially, like a junior-judge program.  The term “judicial out sourcing” has been used by some of the public to define this phenomenon.   It has unofficially (and perhaps unwittingly) allowed some GALs to presume that they have vast judicial authority and power.   It should be remembered that these are court appointed persons, who have operated within a deficient administrative structure:  no functional oversight, no supervision, no functional public complaint process, and quasi-judicial immunity.  These badly designed structures have been the structural basis of much unaccountable activity by GALs.  Poorly designed program structures have been primarily responsible for much personal hardship for children and families, a secondary result of bad program design.

  Our sense is that judges are apt to have more work as an intended result of a reduced GAL role.  It challenges judges and the Judicial Branch (and “consumers”?) to find intelligent, user-friendly methods of processing a heavier work load.  Ideally, we would hope that this pressure might impel family courts to significant, further reforms in the public interest.

  IDEAS TO CONSIDER. (a) Aiming at a reduction of the adversarial m.o. in custody disputes might be one such goal.  (b) A starting presumption in all divorces of equal competence in parenting their child (until proven otherwise) might be another point.  (c) Greater referral to and use of  formal children’s protective services for child endangerment issues might be yet another, better way of addressing  allegations of unfitness to parent.  (d) The “child’s best interest standard” in our opinion also needs review.  As we see it, it is a concept guaranteed to generate intense bad feeling, challenges and contention, as every parent with personal child rearing experience inevitably questions the special expertise of GALs, with limited training, playing God with Maine’s children! (e) A move to strengthen ‘pro se’ legal representation through court sponsored educational programs and modifications in court procedures to further this growing national (and Maine) trend, and (f) a broadly based Maine Family Court Reform Commission might be a way to redesign family courts in a more child-friendly/ user- friendly manner.

  But in the obvious increased work load for judges resulting from a diminished/ circumscribed GAL role, one hopes that this “opportunity/ crisis will not go to waste”!

4.) The Commission appears to be perplexed about the issue of “goals” and “standards” in the stakeholder’s report.  It was the intent of the architects of the law that the goals of the GAL program should define the aims of GAL activity and that these should be broadened to include children and families, as well as the courts.  In our view, the aim should be for GALs to be one element in a process involving the parties, their lawyers and the court in working together to facilitate and stabilize the   divorce and custody process.  Not to include those who privately pay extensive costs for the GAL service has skewed this service, has raised questions about the nature of the GAL “contract” with parties and the court and is a frequent source of bad feeling.   In many cases, when handled insensitively, it is the source of GAL attitudes that are deeply offensive to the public: “Even though you pay, we are not supposed to be doing anything for you- it’s the courts we work for!”  Being included in the program’s stated “goals” is subtle but important change for those who pay for this service and all parties to the process.

  Rules and standards of conduct are the instructions for how GALs are to deliver their service and how to achieve the goals mentioned above.  To us, they are the directions for how to act in aiming at the aforementioned goals.  Both goals and standards are aimed at clarifying the “GAL contract” with the public and the courts.  Both give the public a measure of what a GAL is expected to deliver.  They respond to the consumer questions: what is the “deal”; what is the “contract”?  Standards provide an ethical base for how rules are to be executed.

5.) The complaint protocol is a vitally important topic for all “grassroots consumers” of GAL services.  This is because, in a system with no oversight, no supervision, no visible enforcement of Rules and Standards for GALs, serious issues of GAL boundary control and “mission creep”, there is a normal managerial need for “corrective action” when GALs are malfunctioning or malpracticing.  Although Judicial Branch representatives insist that there are safeguards to deal with GAL malfunctioning, if they are used properly, we have encountered significant numbers of  consumers (and their lawyers),  who have experienced  failed attempts to use these “safeguards”.  They don’t appear to work reliably in the many cases we know of.  It would appear to us that a well-functioning, well designed complaint protocol is the only tool for “grassroots consumers” to obtain “corrective action” on poor GAL performance.  It is also the only tool for signaling to the Judicial Branch that there are problems with a GAL or with the program.

  Meaningful corrective action for GALs of any sort appears totally reliant on consumers making a successful formal complaint.  The Judicial Branch has no apparent regular, systemic , internal assessment tools for regularly evaluating GAL performance, nor is there  a standard  “quality assurance” protocol for its GAL program.  The Judicial Branch therefore is in the position of relying on consumers to bring defects in individual GALs and in the program to the attention of “management”.  Complaints are about all that is available for JB managers to gain knowledge of how its GAL program is working.  Given these considerations, the complaint procedure had better work, or the Judicial Branch is effectively giving GALs permission “to do their own thing” with no consequences!  And we are back to “square one”!

  A legalistic complaint procedure for GAL performance is not a reasonable substitute for the JB having some internal standardized management responsibility for QA and for addressing on its own GAL malfunctioning on a regular basis.  No organization is perfect, yet the Judicial Branch has no way on its own of identifying or correcting minor or major malfunction in GALs.  The operational hypothesis appears to embody the idea that all GALs and the program are “perfect” until legally proven otherwise!

  As consumers of GAL services, we have particularly strong objections to the concept of using the Overseers of the Bar as the locus for GAL complaints.  Our concerns are:

a.) The nature of the Overseers of the Bar: It is a private, not for profit professional “guild” that is independently financially supported by its lawyer-members.  It embodies the language, culture and adversarial conceptual perspective of lawyers, which is alien to most consumers (especially ‘pro se’), who might wish to make a complaint.  As a private, not for profit organization, it lacks any specific public accountability for its actions.

b.) To us, there is an absence of clear lines of accountability from the Overseers to the Judicial Branch or to any government entity.  We would expect that, at some level, it is accountable to those who support it financially, its dues-paying lawyer members.  The Overseers of the Bar has no chain of command connecting it to the Judicial Branch.  It is quite independent of the Judicial Branch.  We ask: will (can) it have regular Judicial Branch managerial review of its functioning regarding consumer complaints?   How might complaints about the Overseers’ handling of particular complaints be addressed, or is it expected that there will never be complaints?  How will the Judicial Branch know if thing go less well that “perfectly”?  Where is the public oversight?  Will there be program evaluation?

c.) The, to us,  inevitable, professional, cultural  bias of a lawyers “guild” towards its lawyer members who finance it, will be understandably intimidating to consumers with a complaint, even if represented by an attorney- more intimidating if ‘pro se’.  Consumer’s trust and faith in a fair and equitable complaint process is very apt to be impaired by having to complain about “an officer of the court” to a lawyer’s guild organization!

d.) We have been made aware of the previous experience of the many members of the Maine public in addressing complaints about lawyers to the Overseers of the Bar.  The interaction is not   encouraging.  Why would their handling of a new complaint process will be any more “consumer friendly”.   Any new complaint procedure, as a minimum, should have clear written instructions in how to make a complaint, a written explanation of what constitutes a proper complaint, guidance on the steps in the process and people who can answer questions about process and procedure.  It should be doable ‘pro se’.

e.)  We question whether an adversarial model is one designed to correct and repair individual GALs or a GAL systems problems?  It distorts the question of basic internal program management, by squeezing it into an adversarial  legal conceptual framework.  Prove we made a mistake vs. how can we improve the quality of this person’s work and improve the program quality?  It is a defensive posture as opposed to a managerial corrective posture.  It is no substitute for internal quality assurance.

f.)  Use of the Overseers is a very cumbersome way of addressing “quality control” and consumer protection issues in the GAL program.  It passes the buck for the initiation of problem solving- individual and programmatic - to consumers and eliminates the JB from addressing corrective interventions with GALs.  The JB selects them and trains them, but assumes no regular formal management responsibility after that.

g.) A limited numbers of GAL complaints from consumers should in no way be taken as a signal that the GAL program is nearly "perfect".  It should be read as a condemnation of the complaint process that is cumbersome, opaque and user unfriendly that by its very structure and process disrespects and deters consumer "feedback".  It should also be read as a sign of consumer fear of reprisal from a system that is defensive of GALs and hasn't encouraged "corrective input" from grassroots sources, while conducting no formal program evaluation itself.

The Commission’s expressed concerns about “consumers (or their lawyers) abusing complaint procedures in ongoing active cases is a top down concern.  It needs to be contrasted with the opposite viewpoint of many consumers’ bad experience of being stuck with a malfunctioning GAL remaining on the case until it is over, causing untold damage and harm to children and families.  Don’t remove the cancer until all of the patient’s other issues are taken care of!  It is an excellent example of the court legalistic concerns vs. the consumer’s human concerns, and they are almost polar opposites.

h.) Our final concern is that we have heard thoughtful friends raise constitutional questions about the apparent “out sourcing” of its oversight/complaint requirement by the Judicial Branch to a private, non-governmental agency, with no formal public accountability.  Can the Judicial Branch pass its designated oversight powers to a private agency, a professional guild, with no clear, visible accountability to the government of Maine and its elected officials?

  In the end analysis, we would maintain that true consumer input (as opposed to public representatives) is badly needed by Family Courts in their work and in the design of whatever changes they make.  A professional, elite, top down conceptual ‘modus operandi’ can easily get out of touch or at cross-purposes with those who use the service.  Being out of touch exposes the courts to bad feeling, bad results and myriad misunderstandings with those who use (and pay for and vote for) their service.  As you are undoubtedly aware, there is widespread disaffection with the Family Court system in Maine at the present which has lead to .the passage of 2013 C 406, a comprehensive reform of Maine’s Guardian ad litem program, the first in 39 years.  The law is not perfect, but it is a beginning, and as such we stand behind it.  Our remarks above are intended as a respectful expression from the grass roots to those charged with implementing the law. We have tried to be respectful but also frank in expressing a few qualms.  It is vitally important for Maine’s court system to know what consumers of your family court services are thinking about implementation of the law.   We stand ready to help Maine’s children and families- and the Family Courts- in whatever way we can.

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins, MD

Kennebunkport, Maine

cc: Megalalert

If you have had an experience with a Guardian ad litem (or Parental Coordinator) please contact MeGALalert at MeGALalert@gmail.com. In addition for current topics and discussions please find us on Facebook.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Is Your Complaint Going to be Heard - Fairly?

The complaint protocol is a vitally important topic for all “grassroots consumers” of Guardian ad litem services. This is because, in a system with no oversight, no supervision, no visible enforcement of Rules and Standards for Guardians ad litem, as well as serious issues of Guardian ad litem boundary control and “mission creep”, there is a normal managerial need for “corrective action” when Guardians ad litem are malfunctioning or malpracticing. Although Judicial Branch representatives insist that there are safeguards to deal with Guardian ad litem malfunctioning, if they are used properly, we have encountered significant numbers consumers (and their lawyers), who have experienced failed attempts to use these “safeguards”. They don’t appear to work reliably in the many cases we know of. It would appear to us that a well-functioning, well designed complaint protocol is the only tool for “grassroots consumers” to obtain “corrective action” on poor Guardian ad litem performance.

Meaningful corrective action for Guardians ad litem of any sort appears totally reliant on consumes making a successful formal complaint. The Judicial Branch has no apparent regular, systemic , internal assessment tools for evaluating Guardian ad litem performance, nor is there is a standard “quality assurance” protocol for its Guardian ad litem program. The Judicial Branch therefore is in the position of relying on consumers to bring defects in individual Guardian ad litem a and in the program to the attention of “management. Complaints are about all that is available for JB managers to gain knowledge of how its Guardian ad litem program is working. Given these considerations, the complaint procedure had better work, or the Judicial Branch is effectively giving Guardians ad litem permission “to do their own thing” with no consequences! And we are back to “square one”!

A legalistic complaint procedure for Guardian ad litem performance is not a reasonable substitute for the JB having some internal standardized management responsibility for QA and for addressing on its own Guardian ad litem malfunctioning. No organization is perfect, yet the Judicial Branch has no way on its own of identifying or correcting minor or major malfunction in Guardians ad litem

As consumers of Guardian ad litem services, we have very strong objections to the concept of using the Overseers of the Bar as the locus for Guardian ad litem complaints.

Our concerns are:

1.) The nature of the Overseers of the Bar: It is a private, not for profit professional “guild” that is financially supported by its lawyer-members. It embodies the language, culture and adversarial perspective of lawyers, which is alien to most consumers (especially ‘pro se’), who might wish to make a complaint.

2.) Its apparent lack of clear lines of accountability of the Overseers to the Judicial Branch or any entity but is lawyer members. The Overseers of the Bar has no chain of command connecting it to the Judicial Branch. It is independent of the Judicial Branch, and we ask will it have regular Judicial Branch managerial review of its functioning?

3.) The inevitable, unrecognized, professional, cultural bias of a lawyers “guild” organization towards its lawyer members who finance it, is understandably intimidating to consumers with a complaint, even if represented by an attorney - more intimidating if ‘pro se’.

4.) The previous experience of the Maine public in addressing complaints about lawyers to the Overseers is not encouraging that their new complaint process will be any more “consumer friendly”. Any new complaint procedure, as a minimum, must have clear written instructions in how to make a complaint, a written explanation of what constitutes a proper complaint, guidance on the steps in the process and people who can answer questions about process and procedure.

5.) We question whether an adversarial model is one designed to correct and repair individual Guardians ad litem or a Guardian ad litem systems problems. It distorts the question of basic internal management, and squeezes it into a legal conceptual framework. Prove we made a mistake vs how can we improve the quality of this person’s work and improve the program quality? It is a defensive posture as opposed to a corrective posture.

6.) Use of the Overseers is a very cumbersome way of addressing “quality control” issue in the Guardian ad litem program. It passes the buck for correcting problems to consumers and eliminates the JB from addressing corrective interventions with court officials to the consumer. The JB selects them and trains them, but assumes no regular formal management responsibility after that.

7.) A limited numbers of Guardian ad litem complaints should in no way be taken as a signal that the Guardian ad litem program is nearly "perfect".  It should be read as a condemnation of the complaint process that is cumbersome and user unfriendly that deters consumer "feedback".  It should also be read as a sign of consumer fear of reprisal from a system that doesn't want "correction" from grass-roots sources.

8.) Our final concern is that we have heard constitutional questions raised by the apparent “out sourcing” of its complaint requirement by the Judicial Branch to a non-governmental agency. Can the Judicial Branch pass its oversight powers to a private, not-for-profit agency?

Finally, we would maintain that consumer input is badly needed by Family Courts in their work and in whatever changes they make. A professional, elite, top down conceptual ‘modus operandi’ can easily get out of touch or at cross-purposes with those who use the service. Being out of touch exposes the courts to bad feeling, bad results and myriad misunderstandings with those who use (and pay for and vote for) their service. As you are undoubtedly aware, there is widespread disaffection with the Family Court system in Maine at the present which has led to .the passage of 2013 C 406, a comprehensive reform of Maine’s Guardian ad litem - program, the first in 39 years. The law is not perfect, but it is a beginning, and as such we stand behind it. Our remarks above are intended as a respectful expression from the grass roots to those charged with implementing the law. We have tried to be respectful but frank in expressing a few qualms. Whether you realize it or not, you need to know what consumers of your family court services are thinking about implementation of the law. We stand ready to help Maine’s children and families- and the Family Courts- in whatever way we can.

We encourage you to comment here or on Facebook. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com for support.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Welcome to the Judicial Information Super Highway


In Maine the Judiciary is proud to point out that anyone can sift through cases that are finished. Only to do so will require going to the court house and looking though dusty boxes of papers that have your case or the case of someone else..

It is a 19th century filing system in the 21st century.

Imagine going to a branch of your bank and asking for an account balance. The teller cannot  give you your balance and that you must go to the branch where you made the deposit!  Or you call your credit card for account information and you are told that they are counting your charges on paper slips. Your information will be mailed to you. Would this be acceptable? No - of course not in this day and age - you want this information right away and it is available. Electronically.

In our courts this just does not happen.

You cannot look up your case online (unless your case goes before the Supreme Court). You cannot see whether your Guardian ad litem is working on just your case or 50 others - because it is not online. What cases are being heard today in your court - don't go online to find out because it is not there.  About the only thing that the courts have online is the address and contact information you need to get a court official in your court.

The Family Law Advisory Commission (FLAC) has come out with a glowing report for the battered Guardian ad litem program. FLAC comes out and indicates that GALs have played an essential role in family proceedings. That Guardians ad litem have been "instrumental in assuring positive" outcomes for children. FLAC goes further in stating that judges value the services of these Guardians ad litem highly. Guardians ad litem are responsive and professional as seen by the court system.

Yet where is the data to back up these accolades for Guardians ad litem? The data is in cardboard boxes sitting in the corners of our court houses. How many members of FLAC do you think went to our court houses to sift through the 'data' that is housed there? More than likely - None.  In other words the data used for the report - much like the data the courts appear to use - is based on the "feeling" or subjective opinion that Guardians ad litem are doing a great job. There are no hard numbers. There is no data. Well there is but for the sake of repeating - that data is in cardboard boxes sitting in the dark corners of our court houses. All readily accessible  by driving from court house to court house.

There is a demand for hard data in the new law...

Or….

The alternative is buying Chief Justice Saufley a speedy motor scooter so she can get on the Judicial Information Super highway and search those cardboard for that glowing Guardian ad litem data.


For more information please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Parental Interference in Your Relationship Goes Beyond Just You and Your Child.


“I know you don’t want to go see Grammy and Grandpa this weekend.” “We are going to go to have fun while you are with Grammy and Grandpa and I’m so sorry you won’t get to go.”

“As soon as you are older, you can tell the judge how much you don’t want to see Grammy and Grandpa and you won’t have to go over there anymore.”

The above are examples of common forms of parental alienation. Most frequently used in divorce, these techniques can also be used to alienate grandchildren against their grandparents when the parent and grandparents do not get along.

It is most frequently the mother who engages in this kind of behavior but fathers have also been known to do it, if not at the rate of frequency of their female counterparts). Since both sides engage in this practice, I will refer to the alienating parent as “the alienator” through the rest of this article.

Other examples of alienating behavior include the following kind of statements when the child speaks with the alienator by phone while visiting his/her other family:

“Your pet misses you so much. He’s been whining and crying because he’s so sad that you aren’t here.”

“I miss you so much. I’m so sad that you aren’t here. I just cry and cry and cry every night while you’re away.”

“The house so so empty without you. I miss you and can’t wait for you to be back here.”

You sound upset. Are you okay? Do you miss me? Do you? You really sound upset. Are you crying? Are you crying because you have to stay with Grammy and Grandpa instead of being here with me?”

You may notice, especially if you have been forced to go to court to secure rights of access and visitation to your grandchildren, that the child grows sad, quiet, or withdrawn after speaking with the alienator.

The child may also cry or be upset during exchanges. Children are incredibly sensitive to their caretaker’s wishes and, since their caretakers are those who provide , clothing, shelter, and love for the child, the child will, naturally, wish to please them and keep them happy. The alienator preys on this innocence and uses it to get the child to act out, crying, screaming, throwing tantrums, declaring hatred for the other party, etc, in order to confirm the alienator’s beliefs. The alienator cannot accept that the child can love and have a good time with people the alienator does not like so the alienator will frequently prompt the child to say that they are having a horrible time, that they are bored, that they hate being away from the alienator. The alienator will also prompt the child to cry.

Alienation is very subtle in some cases. In others, it can be quite blatant. You must be on the watch for it and be prepared to handle it with the child in an age-appropriate manner. First of all, you must realize that even if you think that the alienator is a complete waste of a perfectly good zygote, the child does not see it that way. The child loves his/her caretakers even if you don’t. Do not project your dislike of them onto the child’s relationship with them. Instead, speak positively about them and encourage the child’s relationship with them. Remember: this is the child’s relationship, not yours.

When the alienator engages in the above kinds of behavior, try to remind the child that the child does enjoy being with you, that the child does have a good time with you, and that you understand that the child misses the alienator.

Validate the child’s feelings. Help the child to express them. Help the child reality-test any claims made by the alienator (ex: “We do have fun over here. Remember last month when we went to FUNPLACE2 and you did FUNTHING?”) Then remind the child that these are adult problems and that the child should not be involved in them. Let the child know that the child can love both you and the alienator and that you will never, never make them choose between you.

As the child grows older, especially into the teen years, try to temper your understanding of the difference between alienation and normal teenage independence. While you should never make the child your confidant or speak about court proceedings with the child, it may be okay (I am not a parent so take this with a HUGE heaping of salt) to explain a little more — in an age-appropriate manner — about why you and the alienator do not get along. Still, remember to validate the child’s feelings, to help them express those feelings fittingly, and then to remind the child that the child can love both of you.

Remember that, no matter what, you should not seek to involve the child in an adult matter. Even teenagers do not have the life experience or emotional maturity to understand or deal with adult strife. Teenagers may think they do (I certainly did!) but they do not. No parent worth the name would allow their children to be dragged into a conflict between the parent and another adult. Indeed, a good parent and would forbid the child to even think about participating in the conflict. The adult arena is no place for a child — not even a teenaged child.

Credit: Grandparents Rights

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