The public ( Prose ) - who represent 74% of the those who appear in Family Courts are rarely if ever sought after for their opinion. Yet it is this group who bear the weight of a re-appointment of a dysfunctional judge. Today we have a Judge who is one of four Family Court judges who is on the verge of being re-appointed. But - not without a fight by many brave souls who have been victimized by the Family Court in Belfast Maine:
Senator Burns, Representative Hobbins, members of the Judiciary Committee
My name is Jerome Collins, and I am a resident of Kennebunkport.
In addressing the task before you of deciding whether to re-appoint Judge Patricia Worth you face a choice. Do you follow past practice and merely listen to the "all is well" message of the Governor's Judicial Appointment Committee? Or do you heed the cries of the public who have actually appeared before this judge? At one end of the spectrum are professional references from the "legal industry" that she serves. At the other end are the anguished cries from a few brave souls who dare to speak the truth about the abysmal human practices that pervade her court, the cruelty of her decisions, and havoc she wreaks on parents and children.
The Governor's Judicial Appointment Committee does not hear those sad voices. It talks only with members of the legal profession - judges, lawyers, leadership of the Bar, the Overseers of the Bar, and the disciplinary committees of the profession. We all know that the members of any one profession are reticent about being forthright about a colleague’s shortcomings. But that reticence has no place in this process, because the judiciary was not established to insulate and protect itself. It was established to protect the rights of the people. Therefore, the people must be made part of the process.
We believe the reappointment of any judge should include inquiry into the experience of non-lawyers in that courtroom. We are told that 74% of litigants in Maine family courts are ‘pro se’. This is a powerful statistic; it is a glaring majority of unrepresented people, in courts, acting as their own “lawyer”. Their voices also deserve to be part of the process. We know Judge Worth has told pro se litigants “don’t come back to this court without a lawyer”. We are concerned that she feels entitled to unilaterally inflict the financial burden of hiring lawyers upon the citizens of Maine. And we must wonder what other constitutional rights are being violated by her?
As a grass roots group, we suggest some questions that might be raised in a “people-focused” legislative audit of the Judge Worth court. It reflects many issues that were not covered by the Judicial Vetting Committee. In our opinion, this esteemed Judiciary Committee, cannot be fully informed and make well reasoned decisions about Judge Worth (or other judges) without the answers to these questions about the actual nature of a given court.
Judge Worth’s position on the Judicial Responsibility and Disability Committee and her approval by colleagues on the vetting committee makes the answer to the consumer oriented questions below the only way the Judiciary Committee will be able to have fair “oversight” in this matter. We feel that the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature needs to act upon its constitutional oversight power and act to protect the people of Maine. We suggest an audit of the Worth court before any decision is made as to reappointment.
Here are some ideas that might go into such an audit:
- How many 'pro se' cases does Judge Worth see in her court?
- How many has she ordered (or the equivalent) not to come back without a lawyer?
- Do family court litigants (pro se and those with lawyers) feel intimidated by this judge?
- Does the judge help 'pro se' litigants, or do they feel harassed and bullied?
- How long does the judge take to render an opinion?
- Are her judicial opinions fractured into components that come out at intervals requiring multiple appeals (and the expense involved) if one disagrees?
- Does she accept as valid reports from Children's Protective, from clinical consultants, or does she offer opinions unrelated to professional opinions? How often? Does she appear to feel she "knows better" than professional consultants? How often are her personal judicial opinions at variance with professional opinions?
- How often do aggressive attorney's appear in her court? How often would they receive a favorable judgment? Are they reprimanded for overly aggressive behavior?
- How does the judge treat litigants, 'pro se' or represented, who oppose aggressive attorney's? Who wins?
- How many appeals have been made to the Supreme Court in opposition to her decisions? Results?
- Does the Judge seem to have solid knowledge about the law and case law concerning Guardians ad litem and family matters? Does she rely on “judicial discretion” instead of law?
- How often does this judge offer suspended "jail" in family matters and for what offenses?
- How does she use supervised visits between parent and child? For what issues, based on what evidence? Does she always have a plan for moving from supervised visits to regular visits and shared parenting?
- Does she show idiosyncratic interpretations of laws and regulations?
- How promptly does she respond to motions for findings of fact and law? How often are these requests dismissed?
- Is she on the Judicial Disability Committee? Other Judicial committees?
- Have complaints been made against her practices as a judge? Does her position on the Judicial Responsibility and Disability Committee have a chilling effect on would-be complainants? Are lawyers and others intimidated?
- Does she have health issues that might impact her judicial functioning? How long has she handled family matter cases? Is she in danger of “burn out”?
- From CANON 3 (B.7) A judge shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person's lawyer, the right to be heard according to law. Does this cannon allow a judge to order a 'pro se' litigant not to ever appear without a lawyer?
- The legislature has stated that unless otherwise warranted the public policy of the state is to assure frequent and continuing parent/child contact after divorce and that the courts should encourage shared rights are responsibilities in child rearing. Does Judge Worth routinely follow that policy?
- How many of Judge Worth’s cases are zero sum games when it comes to children: one parent wins and the other loses? This result would not be consistent with the above legislative intent. And of the winner/loser cases, are most of the “winner” cases handled by the same few lawyers?
- Finally, do parents in family matters before Judge Worth have rights that are equal to or less than parents in Title 22 child protection matters?
POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF A COURT AUDIT: A range of options for action. These are just ideas/examples some of which are obviously borrowed from other systems evaluating performance of professional workers.
- This court is functioning well and is serving citizens of Maine according to the spirit and letter of the law.
- This court needs more regular oversight from Judicial Branch authorities.
- This court needs regular professional supervision of the judge’s actions to correct some judicial “rough edges”.
- This judge shows deficiencies in the necessary knowledge, skill or experience (or intrusive personal factors) to be a judge. These are in need of correction before continuing as a judge.
- This judge appears to be showing signs of “judicial burnout” or other personal issues and is in need of R&R, transfer to another type of court, further judicial education, mentoring, or a move into some other function within the Judicial Branch system.
- This judge is malfunctioning and should retire or be removed from being a judge.
- Other ideas for corrective action.
To find out more about how you can bring about change in our Family Court please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.