It is our impression that the current status quo, financial incentives to the Divorce Industry, are mammoth! Seriously analyzing the ‘pro se’ problem, a serious legislative audit or serious problem solving might, God forbid, “kill the goose that laid the golden egg” for the Divorce Industry! After all, as quoted in the Family Division Task Force Report, 86% of family court cases have only ONE LAWYER (see page 20 - IX. Addressing the Increasing Unrepresented Population; A. Court Resources for Un-repsented Litigants: "The number of cases before family law magistrates in 2012 with one or fewer attorneys approached 86%")!
Imagine that one lawyer (in the 86 % of cases) opposing a ‘pro se’ party. As work, it is a ‘slam dunk’ as if ”like taking candy from a baby”. Very easy money. Two “champions” in the legal arena; one with a full armamentarium of legal weapons, knowledge of legal protocol and procedure - the other virtually naked and unarmed. Care to put a little money on the probability odds of the Pro se winning? We are not saying that ALL ‘pro se’ parties lose, but the “odds” are not in their favor in these situations. The playing field is tilted in favor of the represented party.
The ‘pro se’ party in cases we know of is totally frightened of the court, intimidated by the age old etiquette governing functioning in court.
Let’s consider a few generic issues: Unreliable help from the court in serving papers and in compiling other necessary paper work. No full understanding of the Rules of Evidence, Rules of procedure, no knowledge of how to frame the case for presentation, no courtroom experience in examining witnesses, no techniques for dealing with almost constant barrage of, “I oppose” actions from the attorney for the other side. These are just a few (of many) items to consider. Then there is the matter of self-esteem and feeling unbelievably stupid in the alien legal culture of a family court (and this is doubly a problem for foreign litigants). Add to the ‘pro se’ nightmare the minimization of the problem (with good $$$ reason) by the bar and judges who vary greatly concerning: impatience, anger, put-downs, scoldings and kindness, patience and the very limited “help” from the bench that can be offered without challenges of impairing their “judicial impartiality”, fairness, “due process”. It is about ‘pro se’ FEAR, EMOTIONAL PAIN AND FEELING VICTIMIZED in our Maine Family Courts.
Sorry, but that’s our reality check for readers of this document, and, remember, you asked for “public” comments. You might say that this is a ‘pro se’ comment. We are not a lawyers and no lawyer shaped our expression of concerns.
The ‘pro se’ problem more than anything else demonstrates the extreme (and growing) breakdown of justice in Maine courts and the near shameless financial opportunity afforded any lawyer who opposes a ‘pro se’ litigant! It is no wonder the “divorce industry" isn’t rushing to correct this embarrassing problem!
WE SUGGEST: We would suggest that the Court, the Governor, the Legislature submit a bill in January 2015 for an OPEGA Audit of ‘pro se’ in our Maine courts. Let OPEGA look at: the numbers of cases, the growth of the ‘pro se’ trends, the experiences and feelings of ‘pro se’ litigants, the outcomes of their cases, the public perception of attitudes of family court judges about ‘pro se’, judges recommendations for change.
We would also suggest that an audit consider the question of what value do family courts provide to those going through divorce and custody? Are family courts adding anything to the welfare of our Maine children and families? Or are they taking away?
Idealistically, we would imagine that these questions and others should be of interest to all three branches of Maine Government and to those involved in divorce and custody actions. It would answer the “problem vs no problem” debate with facts and evidence.
MeGALert is working to bring about change and reform to Guardians ad litem and the Family Court system. If you have been involved in the Family Court process that makes no sense we urge you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook for support and help.