Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Because my ex abused my son/ daughter, this stranger (GAL) is deemed a more capable parent than me"

Parents 'prescribed' court ordered anger management.

Is it any wonder then why any parent when faced with a similar situation would feel anger towards a custody situation they find themselves in? Court vendors (Guardians ad litem, Parental Coordinators and other court experts) have been “prescribing” courses in anger management for quite some time. One Senior GAL is on record for recommending this because one of the parents was “caustic and controlling”. Are these parent(s) who are given these “prescriptions” by court vendors really in need of anger management? Or is this the “prescribers” attempt to control (and need to punish) the parent(s) as a result of an unfriendly or hostile interpersonal situation? The courts and court vendors appear not to have given much thought or “prescriptive” precision in recommending “anger management”.

Anger is an emotion and is not recognized as a diagnosable form of mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Anger is not a primary condition but is a secondary emotion and is a part of many situations. The courts order and or prescribe “anger management” without the knowledge, skill or professional experience to know what they are doing with this alleged tool. The courts and their vendors(GALs, Parental Coordinators and Special Masters) are not clinicians trained to “prescribe” anything, they are reporters to the courts. In making these 'prescriptions' the courts and officers of the courts never describe the anger as being mild, severe, appropriate, inappropriate, controlled or out of control. If it is secondary to psychosis, drugs or alcohol or whether the anger is threatening the safety of others. In 'prescribing' therapy the courts and vendors of the courts do not set goals or an end point to 'anger management'.

So are the courts helping the parent(s) that are 'prescribed' treatment or are they delving into an area that they have no business being involved in? Causing more harm to the parent(s) in an attempt to control and manipulate them. It appears that the courts in 'prescribing' 'anger management' are doing nothing more than playing witch doctor in their pseudo-psychological, court 'prescribed' punishment for what is perceived as bad behavior. The reality is that the parent(s) are showing their frustration with a process that is so twisted and warped that it is devoid of any reality.

If you have fallen victim to court 'prescribed' therapy please contact us at for support or like us on Facebook for up to date information.

Your voice and opinion matters - please take a moment to take our anonymous survey on the state of Family Court [LINK].

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Speak Out - 2015 Survey on the State of our Family Courts

As a consumer of Judicial Services rarely have you ever been given the opportunity to provide feedback to your Family Court system on how they are doing. There is no exit survey on the experience you just had. As a result our Family Court system has no idea on how well (or badly) it is doing.

Until now.

We want to know what your experience has been as a consumer, lawyer, judge or Guardian ad litem (and other court vendors) within this system. The data collected will be used and provided to our representatives as well as the Judicial Branch and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The survey on the state of our Family Courts asks 13 questions anonymously and provides you an opportunity to expand on any and all of the topics.

In January 2016 we will be publishing the results of this survey.

2015 State of Family Courts [ LINK ]

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It is High Time for Court Reform - Current Process Invites Problems

In his recent "Maine Voices" opinion piece, Portland attorney, Peter Murray, has written a thoughtful, serious analysis of troubling symptoms coming from Maine's probate courts, along with a call for reform and his thoughts about how to do probate reform. In so doing, he appears to use as inspiration the recently reported symptoms of the Biddeford Probate Court and Judge Nadeau. It is encouraging for members of the public to hear a distinguished lawyer "thinking out loud" about any form of court reform, and Mr. Murray is to be congratulated for his courage and public spirited effort.  However, in our view, there is a great need for a much broader, more extensive public "conversation" about court reform, a conversation not limited to just probate courts, nor limited in participation to the "legal guild" talking to itself.

Our observation is that there are troubling symptoms pouring forth from other types of courts, as well that merit public conversation. We are aware of widespread, public dissatisfaction with Maine's family courts. There are also "noises" calling for reform of criminal justice systems. While not claiming expertise in these matters - to us (and many others) there appears to be considerable symptomatic "smoke" in these various court sub-systems. Is there also "fire"? In this connection, it should also be noted that Maine courts seem to get consistently low grades (F) in national surveys, and also that a numerical grade of 43% (out of 100%) is not a brilliant grade. These outside evaluations suggest that we have no cause to be smug about the functional quality of our Maine courts. What to do and how to do it is a conundrum. Who is to take charge?  Who is to investigate, what is the nature of the problem(s) and who is to take responsibility for systemic repairs or remodeling?

To many, there is a problem with simply correcting a symptom. As an approach, it often ignores other fault lines in a total system and is inadequate for any complex systemic problem-solving. There is also another problem-solving danger for court reform: that of attempted "solutions" to such problems getting trapped by the perspective of a particular professional culture. An outside evaluation of the entire system and how it is working for client users, the public, is needed. We would ask the decidedly, populist question: who owns the court system (probate and otherwise)? For whose benefit are they working?  How do taxpayers fit into making the change-decisions involved in court reform? Many people today will feel that a "guild knows best" approach is elitist, exclusionary and wrong. These comments are not intended to be disrespectful of Mr. Murray. As we move forward, there will be more and more populist questions asked by a consumer-oriented public that is used to the open systems of media.  Paternalistic, professional answers by themselves will not suffice.

In this regard, Mr. Murray's remark that voting invites "problems for judges", comes across as distinctly exclusionary. With all due respect, it is "tone deaf" for populist times. No question but voting for judges does invite problems. The "root" problem he proposes to avoid is called "democracy". Democracy is a messy business. However, many would say: so is the current process admired by Murray for the selection of district and superior court judges. It operates below the public's radar:  Behind closed doors, oligarchic bar grandees select judicial nominees, these are then privately sold to the governor and then rubber-stamped by the legislature that is presented a near 'fait accompli' the tidal movement of which is difficult (nearly impossible) to reverse. The current judicial appointment process doesn't inspire awe or respect in the public who "consume" court service. The potential for cronyism and patronage in the current opaque process is nearly unlimited.

We would suggest to Mr. Murray et al that there is a serious need for an in-depth look at the total court system, that there is a need for a thoughtful, careful analysis by outside consultants who are experienced in advising on the rehabilitation and repair of large government systems. Some of the consulting resources of a Harvard Business School might come to mind- just as an example. To us, Mr. Murray appears to be prescribing a "band- aid" to cover probate courts. The public wants and deserves much more.

Mr. Murray has made a brave beginning to a much needed court reform "conversation" in "Maine Voices" of the PPH.  For this he deserves our thanks. However, this "conversation" needs to continue and expand bringing in those "civilians" who use (and pay for the courts) while being denied the input of normal ownership. Those "who pay the piper" ought to have something to say about the "tunes" that get played. We all - "civilians" and legal professionals alike - need technical help from out of state consultants in how best to get our arms around the problem and how to set direction for the best interests of the public. 

We'd sincerely ask that the Portland Press Herald continue this much needed "conversation" about Maine court reform.

MeGAL has been working towards reforming Family Court vendors (Guardians ad litem and the use of 'court experts') as well as Family Courts. We can be contacted at or finding us on Facebook.

Maine received an ( F ) recently in many aspects of our state government. Regarding Judicial Accountability Maine received a score of 43 ( F ). This is not the first time Maine has received an ( F ). For further information about Maine and other states follow this [ LINK ].

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Judicial Branch - Your Complaint has been filed -

The question is will it be filed between "It sucks to be you" and "We really don't care what you think"? Or will they give it the attention you feel it deserves?

In researching complaints and the complaint process you should be aware that very few consumers of judicial services are successful. Out of thousands of complaints that we have seen those who have had any success can be counted on one hand. Set your expectations low – very low.

There are things which you can do to make your complaint stand out and have some bearing on the quality assurance process.

In talking with consumers of judicial services about why there is something wrong with their case I often hear every detail – in detail and how it relates to them. It is like they have a machine gun and just unloaded the clip. They feel the courts should know everything. The courts do not need to be presented with everything. Why? In telling the courts everything you are also showing your hand to the person you are filing the complaint on. In the end you have nothing left to play when it will count.

Keep it short and to the point – you are playing by their rules and it is their game. You need to be able to relate to the way the courts think and talk. Writing a 20 – 30 page complaint about the lies and abuse you went through in story form will fall on deaf ears. I can tell you from personal experience that it is hard to read through and make sense of what someone is complaining about in this format. The first complaint I filed with the judge about the Guardian ad litem (GAL) was in this format. Looking back at what I wrote – it was terrible – even though the points being made were valid then and still are. On the other hand the second complaint to the courts and the one to the licensing board were written in a way that could be understood by the person(s) reading it. It was short – maybe three pages or so and they referenced statutes, laws and/ or rules and why the GAL had malpracticed as it related.

Another issue is a sense of urgency in filing a complaint. Gotta have it in tomorrow! You have time. As the SOS band sang “Take your time do it right”. Time is on your side and use it to your advantage. Write your complaint then return a day or two later – reread it. Read it out loud - you will pick up on awkward lines and thoughts. Have a family member read it or someone you trust. The more eyes that  see it and offer an opinion the better for you in making your complaint understood.

In filing a complaint you are providing the judicial branch the quality control which their system lacks. Keep in mind that there is a high probability that your complaint will go nowhere. With that being said it will be part of the record and can be used at some point in the future when the courts become more consumer oriented as opposed to the current mind set of stakeholder oriented.

One other thing – while we tend to think in terms of our reality – 21st century mindset on consumer issues and relations. Our courts are woefully behind the times lagging behind society by decades and in some cases centuries. It is also a closed group with its own lingo and customs which can be frustrating to no end. Part of their process is keeping issues compartmentalized. Don't. Let others know what it is that you are complaining about. Educate your representatives before filing. Educate your family and friends but do it with grace not as a child. In letting others know what your complaint is about it becomes harder for the courts to sweep the issue under a rug.

MeGAL is a grassroots organization trying to bring sanity to an insane system. We can be reached through email at or finding us on Facebook.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Parents "What do I owe?" - Family Court "How much you got?"

Mr. Craig Kelly appears to be a politician whom the Guardian ad litem/ Court reform movement could use. He recently gave a speech earlier this month regarding the use of a court appointed expert who by all appearances took advantage of the situation he was in by gouging the divorcing family. This issue is quite common in our Family Court system where judges grant a monopoly to Guardians ad litem and other court 'experts'. We must educate our politicians to the problems within our court systems -

FAMILY COURT RORTS – Speech in Parliament (November 2015);

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (11:18): Deputy Speaker, this morning I would like to talk about a rort — a rort that is going on in the Family Courts of Australia.

It is a rort that involves excessive fees, price gouging and virtual extortion; it is nothing other than a scam.

I am not going to name names today, but I put those on notice involved in this rort. If necessary, I will name names in this parliament.

Now Deputy Speaker, in a truly competitive market, I have no objection to anyone charging what the market will bear. In our free market, capitalist society, they are entitled to charge as much as the customer will FREELY pay.

However, where we have a situation where the Family Court orders a so-called ‘single expert” to do what is called a 'report' or an 'analysis', the court is granting them a monopoly.

And these people should not be allowed to exploit that monopoly position granted to them by the Family Court, by price gouge and charge excessive fees.

This is an area which should have government regulation where we set and regulate the fees where the Court does grant them a monopoly.

Deputy Speaker, I would like to give you an example of one of the current practices. I have a Family Court order in front of me, and it states that the participants in the Family Court, the father and the mother, should attend a particular ‘Mr X’ (name withheld) on a certain date for a further ‘single expert report’.

It goes on that the cost of ‘Mr X's’ report will be borne equally by the parties and that they will pay the sum of $8,000 each.

So Mr X is entitled to a sum of $16,000. (And parent of the child is unable to pay, they will be denied the right to even see their child, so the child is a victim of this rort as well)

When it was asked how this is calculated, it worked out at a fee of $700 per hour. That’s right Deputy Speaker; $700 per hour.

Now this is for a psychiatrist. If I look at the Australian Psychological Society's national schedule of recommended fees—the recommended fee schedule in place from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016—it sets out the recommended level of fees for an hour of consultation at $238.

So, because the courts are giving this particular individual a monopoly position—

(debate interrupted - Proceedings suspended from 11:21am to 11:34am) (debate resumed 11.34am)

- I will continue where I left off.

I was giving an example of the current practice of this rort whereby the scheduled fee recommended by the professional association is around $238 an hour (that’s $9,520 for a 40hr week – nice work if you can get it).

But in this case because the so-called expert involved has a court-ordered monopoly, they are able to charge what they like.

And they are charging 200% ABOVE the scheduled fee recommended by their professional association — a charge, including GST, of up to $700 an hour.

Deputy Speaker, I have no objection if in a fair, free and open competitive market if they want to charge $7,000 an hour, and someone is willing to pay this of their own free will.

But where the court compulsory orders a participant in the court proceedings to see an ‘single expert’ thereby granting such an individual a monopoly, and they charge such an excessive fee — a 200 % uplift, a $500 per hour UPLIFT (on the scheduled fee recommended by the professional association) — it is nothing other than an absolutely rort.

Deputy Speaker, I am not one for excessive government regulation,however we should have legislation that sets a maximum schedule of fees for these 'single experts' if they are to be given a court ordered monopoly.

For the current situation is very similar to what I remember in an old Chevy Chase movie, 'National Lampoon's Vacation', where Clark W. Griswall (played by Chevy Chase) crashed his car and had to get his car repaired. He pulls out this wallet and asks, ‘What do I owe you?'

And the repairer said, 'How much you got?' And when Clark complains about such price gouging, the repair pulls out this sheriff’s badge.

Deputy Speaker, his is akin to the same situation that we have going on in our Family Court today, and it is totally unacceptable.

Secondly, I have great concerns over some of the secrecy provisions in the Family Court. I would like to quote one Mr J Robert Oppenheimer from the 1950s. He said, which well applies to our Family Court today:

“We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism … We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.”

We need to end a few practices in our Family Court. We need to end the practice of secrecy.

We need to shine a bright light on the practices that are currently going on in our Family Court.

If we are going to continue to have the practice of single experts, a practice which I am greatly concerned about, we must have a schedule of professional fees they can charge. which must be reasonable.

And Deputy Speaker, regarding the current practices—these current rorts that I have outlined — I am putting these people on notice that they are being watched. This parliament is going to shine a light on their activities. (time expired).

If you have been involved in a case which has turned sour or just does not make sense we ask that you contact us at or find us on Facebook.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happy Halloween - The New Complaint Process – Are Parents on the Highway to Hell?

And you thought that Halloween was scary just wait until you try and file a complaint against a Guardian ad litem (GAL). September 1, 2015 consumers of judicial services in Maine's Family Courts were faced with changes in the GAL complaint process. 

Could Parents end up singing?

"I'm goin' down
All the way
I'm on the highway to hell" ( AC/DC – Highway To Hell )

Are the new rules and complaint process better for you the consumer of judicial services? Prior to September 1, 2015 we had a set of rules which came in at around 12 pages of fairly easy to understand process. The complaint process was easy to comprehend, almost intuitive. After September 1, 2015 we are faced with a whopping 60 pages of rules which the complaint process comprises a staggering 40 pages+ of process. Comments on Facebook suggest that the new complaint process if good for parents.

Or is it?

While the rules are for the most part remain the same as they were prior to September 1, 2015 the way in which a parent files a complaint has dramatically changed. For the better – we don’t think so – but you be the judge.

Here is a “simple” compare and contrast of the complaint process:

Pre-September 1, 2015 

The old rules had a fairly easy to understand process and procedure for filing a complaint if you felt the GAL on your case was or had malpracticed in his/ her role.

1    If the case was ongoing a complaint could be filed with the presiding judge. This was usually done as a Motion. The complaint would sit until after the case was decided.

2    If your case was over the next level was to file a complaint with the Head Judge.
While this process was flawed in so many ways it was a process which anyone could easily understand.

Post-September 1, 2015

Parents/ consumers of judicial services are faced with a process that is multi layered – and takes on the appearance of court room proceedings.

  1. If the case is ongoing a complaint is filed with the presiding judge. This is done with the filing of a Motion.
  2. If your case has been decided then filing a complaint is submitted to the Review Board through the Review Board’s Central Intake. A form must be filled out that is approved by the board.

a.       Board Counsel receives the complaint
i)                    Investigates the complaint
ii)                   Determines whether the complaint falls under the jurisdiction of the rules and determines whether or not the alleged facts – if true – constitute misconduct by the GAL.
b.      Board Counsel – Determines no misconduct
i)                    Complaint is dismissed
ii)                   Complainant has 21 days to see review of the decision
iii)                 See 2a. After the review has been completed if the Board Counsel determines there was no misconduct then complaint is dismissed and GAL is exonerated.
c.       Board Counsel – Determines misconduct
i)                    Board Counsel refers case to Board Clerk for hearing before Review Board Panel
ii)                   Pre-hearing Procedures
1)      Board Counsel files formal charges with Board Clerk
2)      Board Clerk assigns complaint to 3 member Review Board
3)      Respondent has 21 days to file written answer to Board Clerk and Board Counsel.
4)      21 days (no later than) in advance of hearing Board Clerk serves notice to Board Counsel and respondent of date and time of hearing. Written communication is sent to the complainant.
5)      14 days (at least) before hearing Board Clerk prepares for Board Counsel a statement of disciplinary sanction record.
6)      Discovery – Takes place 21 days after respondent’s answer (see c.ii.3). Information is exchanged
iii)                 Hearing
1)      Nature of the Proceedings – Chair of review Board Panel shall decide pre-hearing motions
2)      Inability to Properly Defend – If the respondent claims to be incapacitated – Board Counsel may recommend that Chief Judge suspend GAL from roster pending determination
iv)                 Review Board Panel Decision
1)      Dismissal
2)      Reprimand
3)      Removal
v)                  Appeal of Review Board Decision

The new process is daunting. In addition to the above there is the question of members being impartial. For instance there are several members rostered as Guardians ad litem and members of MEGALI (the trade organization for Guardians ad litem). MEGALI offers its members such services as a chat room, support and advice for GALs to name a few. Imagine submitting a complaint to the Board of a GAL who is a member of MEGALI. Is there any process in place which would/ will prevent the board members from discussing your complaint in the chat room of MEGALI? To our knowledge there is none. Your complaint could be decided even before it has been formally submitted.

“In America 40, 000 men and women every day”
(Redefine Families)
(Don't Fear) The Reaper Blue Öyster Cult

Is this a better process than what we had? Or is this just a scary Halloween trick thrust upon divorcing families in the state of Maine?

MeGAL is a grassroots organization that is fighting for Family Court and Pro se reform. You may find us on Facebook or you can email us at

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Problems with the Complaint Process - Our reply

To: Mary Ann Lynch, Esq

From: Jerome A Collins, MD

Subject: Your reply to my query.

1.) As you state, there was indeed a very long time period for public (and other) input into the new GAL Rules and the complaint Board. It went on over a period of years. I can safely say that during its extremely lengthy "gestation period", there were numerous public occasions in legislative hearings, in JB committees  and in private conversations with you, in which very strong opposition to the placement of the Board under the management of the Overseers of the Bar was expressed. It was no secret. There was virtually unanimous opposition by our group - and by any and all GAL service consumers - to having the complaint protocol handled by the lawyers' "guild".  So from a consumer/grass-roots/user perspective the Judicial Branch has chosen a lawyer-friendly rather than a consumer friendly approach to GAL  complaint management.

I would add that the most significant problems with the actual Board could not be evident until a Board was appointed, so there was absolutely no way of raising our concerns about the Board composition and membership in advance.

2.) Your refusal to answer the questions in my earlier memo is (to my knowledge) a first for you in all the time I have known you, and admired your incredible (and commendable) work ethic. I asked questions seeking guidance from you on general principles about the particular committee. It struck me and others that Senator Dutremble (or any legislator) would be severely hamstrung in his service to  constituents, if his constituents were to have a GAL complaint. It also seems that Mr Prescott will have extensive external channels of information about GALs from MEGALI members, just by being a member of MEGALI himself, and that his access to this information effectively sabotaged the purity of the screening steps to be conducted by the Overseers' staff. It is not hard to imagine that he will have all sorts of information about "officers of the court" who belong to his "club"  before anyone else on the committee.  Everyone is equal, but some are more equal, as they say.

I regret that you are unwilling to provide guidance as an informational service to those who might consider using the GAL complaint service.  As things stand with the GAL Board, we are tempted to borrow from Ralph Nader's comment about General Motors: "Unsafe at any speed!!"  Not designed for the safety of families and children!

The emails between MeGAL and the Judicial Branch:

2015-10-21 Is the New Maine Guardian ad litem Complaint Process Fair to Parents?

2015-10-30 The Judicial Branch replies on the Complaint Process

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Judicial Branch replies on the Complaint Process

From: "Mary.Ann Lynch"
Sent: Oct 23, 2015 1:49 PM
To: J & M Coll
Subject: Re: Built-in Structural Problems with Maine Guardian ad litem Board

Thank you for your letter and for  taking the time to share your opinion of the new GAL rules, and the newly appointed Board. As you know there was considerable opportunity for public input to the Supreme Judicial Court before the rules were promulgated. The new rules contain provisions for recusal and disqualification, to which the members will need to comply.

I am not going to respond to your questions because they are better addressed to the members of the board to whom you are raising issues of conflict of interest.  The members of the board, working with the board staff​, ​are in the best position to respond to claims of actual or potential conflicts of interest.​ I am sure they will comply with all the rules of the new process, including the rules governing recusal and disqualification.  ​

Mary Ann Lynch, Esq.
Government and Media Counsel
Administrative Office of the Courts
Maine Judicial branch
P.O. Box 4820
Portland, ME 04112

If you are interested in reading our letter to the Judicial Branch please click on this link.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is the New Maine Guardian ad litem Complaint Process Fair to Parents?

The following was sent to Mary Ann Lynch of the Judicial Branch regarding the new and improved complaint process that the judicial branch has asked us (consumers) to use since September 1, 2015. While the new rules and complaint process is more robust it does present issues:

It is hard for some of us to understand the object of the "new" Guardian ad litem (GAL) complaint protocol. It is a confusing piece of work in terms of its aims or purpose!.  To some readers it appears to be a virtual Guardian ad litem Protective Society that aims at  discouraging complaints about GALs.  Not only is the multi layered complaint procedure very likely to intimidate, confuse and frustrate a 'Pro se' complainant, but also the committee, which will review and judge any of the complaints that may squeeze through the screening procedure, seems heavily slanted towards "friends of the GAL family".  To outside observers, both the design of the complaint protocol and the selection of a board  are nearly flawless, if one aims to suppress  public complaints.

Two guardian ad litem board members, Senator David Dutremble and Chair,  Dana Prescott, Esq.  appear to have other professional roles- which expose them to conflict with their GAL board role. One is a state senator with normal constituent obligations; the other has been an important leader in MEGALI, the Maine Guardian ad litem trade organization.  Mr Prescott has been rumored to be the successor to Toby Hollander, the organization's present leader.  MEGALI is a major support organization for GALs.  It provides educational supports, an online chatroom,, consultation on cases, group supervision of GALs and advises on problems associated with the GAL relationship with parties.  It may lead to Mr Prescott knowing about cases well before they wend their way through the formalities of the GAL complaint protocol.   Is this potential for "jumping the gun" before the usual steps in the complaint procedure permitted by the complaint protocol?

How might these potential organizational loyalty conflicts be handled by the program's creators or, for that matter, by compelainants?

As we understand it, the way the Board is structured for complaints,board members are not allowed to get involved in reviewing any actual case information until complaints have first gone through a staff screening process, and, then, their involvement is very structured, very legalistic, only in committee. Does this structure impact the ability of Senator Dutremble to hear the details of a GAL complaint from a constituent until it has been screened and presented to the committee by board staff? Would hearing a complaint directly from one of his constituent (such as me) create a "conflict of interest" for Senator Dutremble? Would he either have to abandon a constituent, or recuse himself from the committee?  It would appear that the senator might be bureaucratically hamstrung by accepting a board position.

There is also the matter of the senator (or any legislator) sponsoring possible GAL reform legislation while a committee member. As a member of the GAL board will he be limited legislatively? For instance, can he use his experience on the Board, as evidence to suggest needed reform of the GAL complaint protocol or of board make up? May he freely sponsor legislation, say, to move GAL oversight to the Administrative Bureau of licensing, using examples from his board experience? Or … will this present a conflict of interest?  Using data gathered from closed meetings to promote legislation aimed at demonstrating a problem and advocating reform legislation?

My worry, as one of Sen Dutremble's actual constituents, is that his role as a legislator and his role as a member of a Judicial Branch Guardian ad litem Board might at times present conflicts that would limit my access to him as a constituent. Have provisions been made for this sort of contingency?

Then there is situation of The GAL Complaint Board Chair, Dana Prescott. Mr Prescott  has been an intimate part of  the trade organization (MEGALI) that supports GALs.  Can The Chair of the committee even pretend to be "impartial" in dealing with GAL complaints with his base of case knowledge coming through the MEGALI system of which he is a member?  Or does impartiality in judging complaints matter to those who have created the complaint procedure?

There are other committee members perceived by the public as family court "warriors", with little sympathy for would be public complainers.  It looks like an airtight group.  Do you expect that any complaints will actually get through?  For many professional licensing boards there are projected annual averages or percentages of expected complaints needing corrective action of some sort.  Are you projecting any such numbers for this board.  From its structure and membership composition, it looks like 0% (zero)  sanctions for this board.

As the saying goes,  "the devil may be in the details", but many worry that the public is being short changed. We need your opinion on the several questions I raise about conflict management.

If you have had issues with Family Courts we would encourage you to contact us at or find us on Facebook.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Equal Access to Justice - Not as a Pro se litigant

In June of this year we wrote to the US Department of Justice regarding issues surrounding Pro se representation. Part of the issues a Pro se litigant has to deal with is the denial of equal rights and access to Justice. In Maine, Connecticut and New York the Pro se litigant makes up 74% or greater of the cases in court. In over 80% of these cases the Pro se litigant is up against a lawyer. Below is our letter to the Justice Department:

US Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington. DC 20530

To Whom It May Concern:

Subject: Civil Rights Complaint: 74% of Maine Family Court Users, Who are 'Pro se' Are Denied Equal Rights in Family Courts.

In Maine 74% of people in family courts are 'Pro se'. This amazing statistic comes from a personal communication from Maine's Chief Justice, and it has appeared in an essay by an Associate Chief Justice in the Portland Press Herald. There is also the statistic that in 86% of cases in family court there is only one lawyer. These limited numbers alone raise questions about whether equal justice is possible when a 'pro se' litigant is opposed by a lawyer.

Attempts to seek corrective action in discussion with leaders in the Maine Judicial Branch have gone nowhere.  Likewise, an attempt to obtain a legislative audit (see below) have been defeated, largely because of oppositional lobbying from the bar and the Judicial Branch. I am enclosing the content of the proposed bill, which aimed at obtaining further data about the nature of the 'Pro se' problem in Maine, so as to be able to move forward with rational planning to address the problem. It gives the gist of the civil rights problem in a nutshell. See below:

LD 953 An Act to Improve the Court Experience of 'Pro se' Litigants

Senator Burns, Representative Hobbins, members of the Judiciary Committee

It is a pleasure to endorse Rep Seavey's bill, LD 953, An Act to Improve the Court Experience of 'Pro se' Litigants. From my perspective as a member of Maine Guardian ad litem Alert, LD 953 is our most important piece of legislation this year. It calls for a legislative study, what one might call an audit, of the 'Pro se' experience of justice in one or more Maine family courts. The title of the bill calls for "an improvement of the court experience" of 'Pro' se litigants. But before we can "improve", we need to know "what exactly is that experience?"

We don't really know. Apart from the eye-popping statistic that 74% of litigants in family courts, we know almost nothing. I don't know, Mary Ann Lynch, Judicial Branch spokeswoman, doesn't know. The Chief Justice doesn't know. And ... most important - you as members of a legislative committee charged with constitutional "oversight of the Judiciary" don't know and need to know. You can't do "oversight" of any problem without knowing the nature of the problem and this requires data to work with.

Although the Judicial Branch will claim to be moving on the 74% 'pro se' problem, and though Justice Andrew Mead has had a committee working on the problem for a couple of years, these operations affecting the 74% majority users of family courts are not open to the public. Their deliberations are conducted out of public view. The from what we have learned, the committee aims to:

(a) raise money from lawyer donations to pay for legal services for some of the 74% 'Pro se' group,
(b) ask the bar to do more 'pro bono publico' work for the 74% 'Pro se' group,
(c) allow clerks in various courts to assist 'pro se' clients with paper work,
(d) ask judges to be more "user friendly" to 'Pro se' litigants and stop saying, "Don't come back to this court without a lawyer!" All of these efforts are fighting an ill-defined, gargantuan task with a "peashooter"! They are solving a problem with no data, no definition of the nature of the problem. From the feedback we get from our friends, these efforts are a well-intended, unsystematic, disorganized, "drop in the bucket". Normative family court pronouncements, coming from the Judicial Branch, continue to be written for lawyers. Shall we say, "Oops ... we forgot that only 26% represented by lawyers." The Norm, the usual, the average, the typical is 74% 'Pro se'.

The Judicial Branch is attempting to solve the 'pro se' problem, before they know the nature of the problem. They are posing unsystematic solutions for an unknown clientele, without involving this clientele in the solutions. Part of the problem in understanding the 74% 'Pro se' client is that the Judicial Branch has no electronic data that might shed light on these clients, so solutions are, of necessity, a "short in the dark", guess work, lacking an intervention model that fits the situation, driving blind. The Judicial Branch is not in the habit of conducting surveys or studies. The preferred approach is to assemble "stakeholders", to debate and recommend answers. Typically, "stakeholders" are politically powerful members of the "divorce industry", lawyers, judges at various levels, Guardians ad litem, who have a personal/professional stake in the answers. It is the "foxes" assessing the problems and needs of the "chickens in the hen-house"!


1. What are the demographics of the 74% 'Pro se' group? What is the gender spread? Socioeconomic levels? Education levels? Immigrants? Linguistically handicapped? Disabled?

2. What are the decisional outcomes of the 74% 'pro se' court experience? Do cases go well for the 'Pro se' litigant? How do 'Pro se' litigants evaluate their experience as consumers of family court service? What services or supports do they feel would have helped them?

3. What do lawyers, judges and GAL think about the 'Pro se' problem? Do they see it as the norm in family court or as the exception? How have they (or haven't they) adapted formal procedure to untrained litigants?

4. The 'Pro se' trajectory: How many people start as 'Pro se'? How many move to "Pro se' after they run out of money? How much money has the average 'Pro se' litigant spent before they decide to go 'Pro se'? What is the impact on 'Pro se' litigants previous experience on their savings, retirement, mortgages, college funds, family borrowing, other forms of borrowing?

5. How much time from work, vacation time, sick time, etc. must 'Pro se' litigants take to handle appearances in court and administrative activities normally handled by a lawyer? Employment consequences?

6. How do courts handle the 74% 'Pro se' litigant's lack of knowledge of courtroom procedure, rules of evidence, cross examination techniques, non-compliance with various professional protocols? Are 'Pro se' litigants treated as lawyers or as parties? Are there standards for 'Pro se' in court? What impact has the huge number of 'Pro se' litigants had on family courts? Can family courts still be considered "courts" when the participation of litigants is so unequal, uneven and out of keeping with courtroom standards and protocols?

7. 'Pro se' appeals to the Supreme Court: how many? Do they get help? What if their brief is not up to legal standards? Can a 'Pro se' simply do his/her own thing in forming a brief, or must they try to be a "junior, untrained lawyer?

The above questions are just a limited sample of things one needs to know in advance of rational frugal goal-oriented problem solving. The answers to these questions might guide planners in developing a rational plan to correct and reform family courts and address the 74% 'Pro se' problem. Family courts, in our view, are in a state of 'free fall" at the moment. Just the limited facts we have give us a "peek" into a what is a "court" in name only. 74% 'Pro se' and getting bigger. No demographic or statistical or geographic spread data to work or plan with. No standards for the 'Pro se' litigant that recognize their non-professional status and their need for tools and assistance in the name of justice. . No idea of who these people are and no idea about what might help them in their advocacy. Current Judicial Branch planning is not data based, not reality based, not consumer based. It is prescribing for others without knowing them. From our direct, personal experience, Clerks of courts give the behavioral message; they are not sure how to deal with 'Pro se' litigants and whether the 74% majority should get service priority or the priority is to serve the 26% real lawyers. They are wary of helping the 'Pro se' litigants with forms (it might be misconstrued as "legal help"). They are inconsistent from court to court in their explanations and directions. Their inconsistency leads to confusion, duplication and time consuming errors. Time consuming errors are "time off from work" for a 'Pro se ' litigant- no billable hours for a lawyer! It is as simple as that.

Finally there are the heartbreaking stories of the human wreckage of 'Pro se' litigants caused by Maine's family courts with no supervision, no oversight, no management. It cries for an audit or whatever you choose to call an assessment of this very broken system. Should it be repaired, or should it be terminated or will it simply "crash and burn on its own, if no action is taken?

We ask that the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division help the 'Pro se'  citizens of Maine, who cannot obtain equal justice when they go to court on their own and "unarmed" with the "tools" of lawyers.

MeGAL is working to bring reform to the Family Court system. If you have had issues in Family Court we encourage you to reach out to us. We may be found on Facebook or via email at

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Some questions to ask your Guardian ad litem

Our court system has us believe that the role of Guardian ad litem is at least in theory a person who is the eyes and ears of the court offering a neutral and unbiased view of the divorcing family. In practice the person who operates in this role is anything but. The Guardian ad litem’s personal values and agenda clouds the process and as a result this can be a source of conflict with you.

Ask yourself this:

How well do you know this person?

What happens if your values differ from that of this court appointed official?

Our Family Court system markets the belief that in the roll of Guardian ad litem we have a person who we are to believe is an expert in determining – where your child should live, the impact of divorce or domestic violence, visitation, custody, law, psychology and social work to name a few areas. This expertise comes from just a few hours of training with little or no focus. There is no test to determine whether or not this Guardian ad litem understands the material. There is no mentoring program after the Guardian ad litem completes training. To make matters worse - there is no oversight or management of this person in this role. Doctors, lawyers, judges, electricians, plumbers, nurses, oil burner technicians, chiropractors, social workers and dental hygienists have more training and oversight. In addition to the training and oversight we can ask people in these professions questions without the fear of being reprimanded for doing so.

You – as a consumer – need to inform yourself about the person who is being thrust into your life and making decisions which you have no control over. They should be asked before any Guardian ad litem has become a part of your life - chances are the Guardian ad litem is already wreaking havoc in your divorce/ custody. It is not too late.

These questions are being presented in no particular order or grouping. In most cases the answers will have meaning for you and should be used as a tool to help in understanding the Guardian ad litem. In asking any of these questions if the Guardian ad litem refuses to answer or gives a non-answer answer – that is a behavioral message and a clue as to the makeup of the person. The questions and answers should be entered in as evidence or asked in court of the Guardian ad litem. It becomes part of the record.

After going through this list if you can think of questions that may be appropriate to ask we would encourage you to share. A link will be provided to voice those questions. 

Presented here are some basic questions (depending on the answer there may be follow up questions): 

1     Do you have experience as a law enforcement officer in conducting investigations?
2.       What is your actual field of professional expertise?
3.       What makes you an expert in determining what is good for other people’s children?
4.       What makes you an expert in determining how other people should conduct their lives?
5.       What is your child hood family background?
6.       What is your own family history as an adult?
7.       What is your own marital history as an adult?
8.       What is your own relationship history as an adult?
9.       Why do you want to be appointed to this case?
10.   What do you see your role in this case to be?
11.   How do you separate your underlying professional behaviors from your role as Guardian ad litem functions?
12.   As a Guardian ad litem going through training were you ever tested on what you learned?
       a.       YES – What was the score you received?
       b.      NO – How do we know that you understand the material taught/ discussed?
13.   As a Guardian ad litem you are tasked as being neutral and unbiased in conducting your investigation and in making recommendations.
       a.       How do you maintain neutrality during your investigation?
       b.      How do you keep your personal bias and agenda out of the cases?
       c.       Does the judge provide supervision and oversight when you are appointed to a case?
14.   As a child did you ever experience issues involving the absence of one or both parents?
        a.       YES – What was that experience like for you?
        b.      NO – How can you understand what the issues are?
15.   Do you have experience with research in dealing with child custody?
       a.       YES - What specific research can you sight?
       b.      NO – If not then please explain how you are able to conduct an investigation?
16.   Please describe what was/ is the relationship you had/ have with your Mother?
17.   Please describe what was/ is the relationship you had/ have with your Father?
18.   Are there any ongoing issues with either?
19.   Did you grow up in a divorced home?
20.   Do you have siblings?
21.   Do you have Grandparents?
22.   As a child did you have contact with your extended family?
23.   Do you come from a religious home?
       a.       YES – What is your religion currently?
24.   Did/ do you come from a particular ethnic background?
25.   We grow up with a belief system. It is a part of what defines us as a person.
       a.       Has your belief system ever interfered with an investigation?
       b.      Did/ will your belief system interfere with this case?
       c.       NO – How do we know?
26.   Do you apply your own values in making recommendations to the court?
       a.       YES – Can you describe what some of your personal values (political, social as example).
              i.   If my values are different than yours how will that affect your perception of me as a             parent?
       b.      YES – As a neutral observer – why are your values better than either parent?
       c.       NO – How can we be sure?
       d.      NO – As a neutral observer – are you saying that your investigation is neutral with regards to the values you have?
              i.   If so then what test do you use to verify this?
              ii.  How can we be sure your values will not influence how you view this divorce/ custody?
27.   In making your recommendations to this court please explain how you arrived at the following:
       a.       The visitation schedule?
       b.      Custody?
28.   Have you ever been married?
       a.       YES – How many times?
       b.      NO – How are you able to understand the dynamics of married life?
29.   Have you ever been divorced?
       a.       YES – How many times?
       b.      YES – Did you ever go through litigation?
              i.   YES – Did you have issues with child support?
              ii.  YES – Did you have issues with the custody agreement(s)?
       c.       NO – What experience do you draw upon in order to understand what a divorcing family goes through?
30.   Do you ever refer cases you are involved in to Child Protective services?
       a.       YES – What are your criteria for such a referral?
       b.      YES – Is the claim of child abuse always a criminal claim?
       c.       YES – Should criminal allegations be removed from Family Court to an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office?
31.   Which Judges do you frequently work with?
32.   Which lawyers do you work with on cases?
33.   How many of your cases have been appealed to a higher court?
34.   Have you ever been sanctioned:
       a.       By a Judge?
       b.      By a Higher Court?
       c.       The result of a complaint?
35.   How many cases have you been involved with as a Guardian ad litem?
36.  How do your clients respond to the work you do as a Guardian ad litem?

While these questions should be asked before the Guardian ad litem has been assigned by the judge - quite often it will not be until after you recognize there is a problem with the way this person operates. It is never to late to start asking. Make the questions and answers for the record. If you have any questions which you think may be appropriate we ask that you follow this [LINK] to submit. We will maintain a running list of questions.

MeGAL is working for reform in our Family Court system. This includes the role of Guardian ad litem, Parent Coordinator, Special Master and court evaluators. If you have issues we ask that you contact us at or find us on Facebook.