Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Brief History of Guardian ad litem and Family Court Reform

INTRODUCTION: We offer this abbreviated time line to share where we’ve been, what we’ve studied and what we’ve learned about Maine (and other states) Family Court systems  in the last 4 years or so.  Our MeGALert goals have always been: (a) Education of ourselves and others about the Guardian ad litem (GAL)/family court systems problems and (b) Corrective legislation. Our education has come to us from hundreds of Maine family court cases, from contacts and work with all 3 branches of Maine government and from study, study, study! We are well-informed consumers of family court services in Maine!

Enclosed is a skeletal timeline of our GAL/Family court reform activities with the Legislative, Judicial and Executive Branches of Maine Government. It gives perspective, but it leaves out a lot of important content for brevity. For anyone who is interested, additional content can be supplied easily, if needed to "fill in the blanks".

01. 2011-10-28 - MeGALert (Dr Collins) made contacts with Beth Ashcroft, Director, OPEGA to discuss the troubling GAL experience and problems of numerous persons in Maine. She suggested that an option might be to request an audit of the GAL program. We were interested in the audit idea, but, because we were novices at it, OPEGA kindly provided assistance to us in completing forms for a GAL audit.

02. 2012-02-12 - We attended a Maine State House Meeting of the Government Oversight Committee to hear our GAL audit proposal. It was sponsored by Sen Nancy Sullivan and Beth Ashcroft (OPEGA) presented the details. The Committee voted to forward the audit request to the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature with a request for prompt action.

03. 2012-03-08 - Meeting of the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature. The Chief Justice and members of the Judiciary were invited to speak. The Chief Justice stunned many in the committee room, saying that there was no GAL supervision or oversight, but offered to work on this and return in September, 2012.

04. 2012-05-15 - MeGALert issues a full, formal Report on Maine GALs from consumer perspective. We titled it, "The Power of the Powerless", after the concept of Czech activist, Vaclav Havel. It covered 18 pages and reported numerous structural and design problems with the Maine GAL program. Our Report was circulated to members of the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Executive Branches of Government, the press, media, the public.

05. 2012-05-31 - Along with other associates, we participated in a Judicial Branch public hearing and testimony on Maine GALs, at  the courthouse, Portland. Many members of the public, lawyers and GALs testified during a long hearing.

06. 2012-07/08 - Judicial Branch established two work committees composed of divorce industry stake holders. It included ONE “public member”, Jerome A Collins, MD.  (a) One committee of 20 members endorsed a highly legalistic GAL complaint protocol that was very “consumer unfriendly”, whether the consumer were to be  ‘pro se’ or with legal support. Dr Collins did a written “minority report” opposing the proposal and wrote an “op ed” piece (like the minority report) in the Portland Press Herald. (b) The second committee was composed of 15 stake holders from the divorce industry and one public member, Dr Collins. Dr Collins resigned with a long written explanation that the public interests were minimized in a rush to accommodate the “divorce industry” on every possible “correction”. A deterrent fee of $100.00 to file a complaint about a GAL seemed very “unfriendly” to complainants and unprecedented in other systems of a similar nature.

07. 2012-12-07 - A planning Meeting was held at the State House: Rep Dennis Keschl, Beth Ashcroft (OPEGA), Michael Cianchette, esq (legal counsel to Gov), Larry Tardiff, and Jerome A Collins, MD to plan for submitting a GAL reform bill, along the lines recommended in the 2006 OPEGA Report on Maine GALs.  Sen David Dutremble later joined this committee, Sen Roger Katz and Mary Ann Lynch had been invited but were unable to attend.

08. 2013 Spring - LD 872 went through numerous debates, discussions, revisions and rewrites in the legislature from March 28th till June 25th, 2013 when it passed both the house and senate and the appropriations committee.

09. 2013-07-08 - Governor Paul R LePage signs LD 872 into law in the presence of numerous MeGALert members who had been victims of GAL malfunctioning. The Bill indicated that the Judicial Branch was to come up with a proposal for a GAL complaint protocol that was “user friendly”.

10. 2012-15 July/ Jan - We have been active in many areas. First and most important, we try to support  the numerous people who contact us with hair-raising, GAL/ family court/ ‘pro se’ problems. We put people in touch with others with similar problems. We offer educational information about ‘pro se’ and other family court perils. To the extent we are able as non-lawyers, we support appeals of family court judgments. We talk and advise people in other states who have heard about us and who want to copy our m.o. We write on our blogs and provide “news” on our Facebook page. We testify verbally and in writing on all Judicial Branch proposals affecting family courts and GALs. Though in all honesty, it is a tough organization, and we have to say that while they listen, we have not been terribly successful in getting consumer-oriented “reform”.

BUT... we are very informed; we have learned a lot in 4 years; we know most of the players; we know the problems “in depth”.

Our Family Court System is badly broken and it is harming the divorcing families and children who are forced to use it. Fixing this broken system will ,mean educating or representatives.

To find out how you can bring about change. Please contact us at or find us on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Your hard work and advocacy efforts have inspired GAL reform across the country! Keep up the good work. You are held up in prayer.