Sunday, March 30, 2014

Will your online petition make people aware of the issue?

You are upset because the system has betrayed you - you want to take action and show that they are wrong, corrupt or biased. What do you do - get an online petition going to show the powers that there is a problem and that people back you up. Before you go to one of many sights that offer up online petitions are you prepared to do some hard thinking and ask yourself some difficult questions before posting that petition?

Some things to think about while you contemplate the idea:

GOALS: It is critically important to have clear aims for any petition.  Who are you petitioning?  Exactly what do you want them to do?  Do they have the legal power/authority to do it?  Are they apt to respond to an Internet petition?  Have they ever responded to a similar petition like yours before?  Have you tried other methods to solve the problem about which you are petitioning?

NUMBERS NEEDED? How many petitioners do you think you can get to sign your petition?  Beyond your family and friends are there a large number of people who understand the issues you are raising and who will back you because they share the  views you express in the petition?  How many signers will you need to have any significance?  For an in-state project, it might take several thousand signers before anyone takes notice.  For a national project you will need hundreds and hundreds of thousands.  You are aiming to make a grass roots statement of political power.  Can you get the numbers to "speak" power? How?  Large organizations and governments don't respond to midgets.

DEFAULT POSITION: If the petition falls flat- with little to no response or action- what is your fallback plan?  Shouldn't you have other ideas in mind, or do you just drop it?

RISK MANAGEMENT: What are the risks for you and others who might sign an Internet petition?  Have you run the petition idea by your lawyer and/or others with experience?  Is it well-written and clear; does it avoid name calling or slander?  Have you considered whether the petition will make matters better or worse?  What if it fails to get the desired response?  Will it improve or damage your image, your credibility, your thinking, your ideas, your original aim?  Are there legal ramifications that can come back to bite you and those who sign the petition?  If the petition fails in its expressed aims will there be backlash?  Will it infuriate others in the system you are petitioning - and cause them to close their ranks?

DISTRACTION: Is the petition a waste of time in the sense of being a time-consuming distraction from actual things you might do with less risk and greater potential payoff?  Are you avoiding the hard emotional work that might have greater benefit?

Getting 25 or 50 of your friends to sign your petition is probably useless. They are signing it just for that reason - being your friend or family member. On the other hand if you talk with 25 or 50 strangers of which some end up signing is in the end more beneficial to your cause. You have created an awareness of your issue which you can then build upon. To put it another way - a person in power can ignore hundreds or even thousands of signatures. It becomes harder though to ignore 25, 30 or more who are screaming at their door - writing letters and becoming involved in your cause.

REMEMBER: The American Revolutionary players tried unsuccessfully to petition King George.  The fallback position was the Committees of Correspondence and then the  Revolutionary War.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Maine has four pressing very functional questions for Maine's family courts.  They have been raised repeatedly by many citizen users of these courts, and the absence of clear, understandable answers poses a significant intellectual barrier to justice in these courts.  At present the answers to these questions seem like a sort of lottery or, worse, a guessing game for the public.  We would insist that the intellectual challenge of answering them isn’t beyond the ability of the courts and also that it shouldn’t be a different answer every time the issues come up,

1. Education for Guardians ad litem (GALs), judges, lawyers and the public about the content of the rules for GALs  and how to use them is vital. While the court’s’ experience may be different, it is our impression and that of a good many others that Guardians ad litem, judges, lawyers frequently have only a “general knowledge” of these important rules. The public who dig into them assiduously are often better informed on details. Our opinion is that a “general knowledge ” of the rules is insufficient for court professionals, if the rules are serious and to be used both to define the role and the role boundaries of a GAL. In our opinion and that of many, knowledge of the rules is so essential that it should be taught in depth and tested and retested after some period of time. The essential question is: do these court professionals have an exact knowledge of the rules, as a  core “tool of their trade”?  How do we know?  A test would help confirm that teaching has sunk in.

2. In our experience the question often arises as to whether a Guardian ad litem is “commanding” a party to perform a certain action or merely alerting the party to a “suggestion” the GAL will subsequently make to a judge. This is particularly troublesome when a GAL is addressing actions that fall outside of the specified GAL role. As we are sure the courts must be aware, this is a point of huge contention and would benefit from clarification of the issue, along with teaching re-enforcement.

3. In virtually every occupation, there is a routine, regular, standard procedure for managerial correction and improvement of performance. No one is considered “perfect”; every human makes mistakes (major or minor). One of the problem that consumers feel about GALs is the apparent lack of a managerial mechanism for helping a faltering GAL to improve performance, such as focused education on a particular skill, special reading, following a mentor, personal counseling, etc. It would both help a GAL  and bolster public confidence that performance will improve.

4. Finally, we raise the very vexed question of Guardian ad litem actions outside of the role boundaries defined by rules. In virtually every other profession in the world this would be considered unacceptable, and a range of in house sanctions would be applied ranging from severe warning , to loss of job, to legal action. This area is in enormous need of clarification, unless one is granting GALs a degree of near infallibility that even the Pope doesn’t claim!

It is long overdue for the court to give those who use family courts answers to these  simple questions.

For further information and support please contact us at or find us on Facebook.

For related postings:
Would you want a Guardian ad litem with this kind of training?

The Ethics of My Cousin Vinny - Is this Really Guardian ad litem training?

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

Child Custody - An appeal to Maine's Supreme Court: Dalton Vs. Dalton CUM-13-521

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Maine Voices: We must work together to ensure justice truly is for all in Maine - a response

Dr Jerome A. Collins response to Hon. Andrew Mead opinion.

To cut to the chase in my response to Justice Mead: the fundamental issue is how can democracy in America survive, if one of its major institutions, the Judiciary, is not fully and equally accessible to 74% of those 'pro se' (self representatives), who use family courts?  The 74% ‘pro se’ statistic comes from a very reliable source and was personally communicated to me after I submitted my essay for March 12th publication.  It is an astounding piece of data.  For context, it should be noted that the ‘pro se’ percentage varies from state to state and province to province in Canada, but it is better than 50% virtually everywhere.  Fundamentally, it means inequality of judicial service for the 74% that are forced by economics to do “do-it-yourself” lawyering.

In any democracy, courts of law are the major, socially approved "problem-solving" institution for society.  And when this is drastically unequal, our courts are in the embarrassing position of offering  a two tier quality of service.  Good quality justice for those who pay; second class justice for that very large demographic, the economically disadvantaged middle class.   It can only be seen as a major scandal for any democracy!  It raises many questions: How long has this been developing, why hasn’t the public been made more aware, when may we expect solutions?  My hunch is that current efforts at a repair of access to justice may suffer from the professional make up of those doing the problem-solving.  An overbalance of lawyers in the problem-solving, for example, may skew the perspectives of the problem.  Lawyers, after all, don’t have an access to justice problem!

It is nice to learn that The Justice Action Group is  working on a solution, but the access to justice problem seems to be escaping them.  As they work, it grows by leaps and bounds.  The 74% 'pro se' statistic is not a static; it is growing both here in Maine and in other states.  All the nice charitable basket of mini proposals that the Bar is developing, are not systemic solutions; they don’t touch 74%.  They seem "tokenistic", a band aid on a metastatic cancer that will not stay covered.

Justice Mead et al  need to look North to Canada and study some of the much more creative solutions being proposed for Canada's "Access to Justice" problem.  Canadians are saying that everyone, all citizens should have equal access to justice.  Must we in Maine settle for less?

Our strong suggestion is that a much broader problem solving process is needed asap.  We are talking about one of the pillars of any democracy, its system of justice.  The 74% statistic is a clarion call for more than just “repair” from a professionally composed, well-intentioned committee!

We need a major commission sponsored by all three branches of Maine’s government!  And we need it asap!

Jerome A Collins, MD
Kennebunkport, Maine 04046

For further information on the Family Court and divorce industry crisis please email at or find us on Facebook. In addition the report by Canada "Access to Civil & Family Justice - A Roadmap for Change" may be found here.