Friday, December 30, 2016

"Best Interest of the child put in jeopardy for years"

According to Superior Court Judge Anita Farris

Can the best interest of the child be put aside by vendors of the courts (GALs/VGALs) in order to win a case? In theory - NO. The reality is that we see this type of behavior happen all the time.

In the case that Judge Anita Farris commented on in Washington state this is just what happened when a vendor was discovered spying.

But it gets even better.

Not only did this GAL/VGAL spy she perjured herself on the stand.

How do our "Family Courts" know that the near perfect vendors they have working as court officers do not turn the other way when something happens? Or use their influence to have those they work with in support services see things the GAL way? The do not and as a consumer of judicial services you have to do things over and above what most consumers will ever have to do.

So much is riding on you doing so

Full Story GAL/VGAL

MeGAL

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Is It Okay for an Officer of the Court to Falsify Reports?

As an officer of the court, a vendor providing services to consumers, you come into your job with certain protections that are supposed to allow you to do your job. Immunity is given to these vendors in the course of providing their service.

What happens though if these vendors fair to do their job in a judicial way. If information they present to the court has been falsified or manufactured? In every state there is a process that one can use to file a complaint - not a process that we would recommend but that is another story.

In 2001 Preslie Hardwick did just that because the social workers working for the state fabricated evidence which when presented to the courts allowed the children to be kept from their mother without cause. In addition false reports were submitted to the court in an effort to keep mother and daughters separated. This was a violation of Ms Hardwick's Constitutional right to familial association.


                                United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

16 years after the defendants allegedly violated parental rights the case came before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California to be hear. The segment presented here is between the Judges and the attorney representing the defendants Pancy Lin Esq. It is a little over 2min in length but well worth watching. Pancy Lin Esq is having a very hard time giving reasons for her clients committing perjury.

While this video segment does not involve a GAL vendor for the court the issues involved could happen. With no active control a Guardian ad litem will operate as she/he sees fit knowing that immunity will protect their lives against any wrong doing. MeGAL participates actively in changing "Family" Court through educational services. If you would like to become involved we encourage you to contact us either through Facebook or by emailing us at MeGALalert@gmail.com


The full court hearing may be found here: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Call to Action This November

Want to make a difference?

This coming November you will have an opportunity to elect state senators and reps who will work for "family" court and Guardian ad litem (GAL) change.

Ask your candidates what their stance on these issues are.

If you do not know who is running call or visit your town office to find out.

Get involved - It is in the best interest of your child.

MeGAL is working to change "Family" Court and part of that change is through political action. Contact your representative to find out if he/ she supports the idea of changing the "Family" Court landscape.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I Am 'Pro se' In This Family Court

I AM 'PRO SE' IN THIS FAMILY COURT: I am one of the 75% in Maine Family Courts who are forced by finances to represent themselves as litigants. This percentage in 2015 was approximately 17,065 Maine citizens forced to go into family court without a lawyer. Of these 17,065 'pro se' litigants, 85% of this group (14,505) must argue their case against a seasoned lawyer. It is an obviously uneven, unfair match.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I lack the legal knowledge, skill or experience to litigate against an educated, experienced lawyer. Our credentials for this vitally important custody contest are grossly unequal.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I do not understand courtroom procedure and practices. I am at a disadvantage against professionals who do. I am a foreigner, who doesn't understand the culture and practices of the legal profession.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I am inept when it comes to the clerical details of filing court papers, their format, terminology, timing, etc. I make mistakes in these matters, because these activities are unfamiliar to me. I am a "bother" to courthouse officials, because I take more time and need special instruction in clerical requirements

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I am frightened to be forced into a ‘zero sum game’, winner take all "contest” in which I have to legally "gamble" for parental rights to raise my child, based on my legal skill in a courtroom "contest”. I simply want to be a part of my child’s life and help him/her to grow up know his/her parent loves him/her.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I do not have the lawyerly skills to play the "money game", and I am easily trapped by a lawyer who does. My experienced lawyer opponents can use legal gamesmanship unknown to me that allow a courtroom “financial shakedown” on me for money I don't have. I lack the lawyerly skills to deal with this trap.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I am charged with being “in contempt" for non-payment of money I don't have, and I have been unable to get a hearing to asses my finances.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I have been threatened with jail without being warned about alternatives, or being afforded an attorney (according to constitutional law) to defend me or seeking a lesser form of action.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I am treated as a criminal abuser with no evidence and with no method of seeking exoneration. Every motion I file costs me money for my defense and may lead to me having to pay the fees of my opponent's. It gets worse and worse.  Trying to straighten this out is bankrupting me and not resolving the issue.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: Even though I have learned a few things about courts and the law from my experiences in court, I will always be outmatched by a trained lawyer.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I am not a social friend of this judge. I didn't go to USM law school with this judge. I don't work with this judge regularly in court on other cases. I don't attend bar/bench functions in this community I don't "vet" this judge for reappointment as do members of the local bar. Unlike members of the bar, I can't influence this judge's re-appointment. I am an alien to the legal culture and legal friendships that are enforced by sharing a common culture and frequent contacts.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I ask myself, why do we have to spend vast amounts of money (which I don't have) to end a marriage in court when many other countries have an easier way? The only people who benefit from American-style divorce are the legal profession.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: Why does my "ex's" lawyer act in ways that aim to exclude me as a parent in my child's upbringing? Doesn't my child need two active parents?  Why are there no plans for full reconciliation?

I AM 'PRO SE' IN FAMILY COURT: I am forced to play a fake role as a litigant in a charade that pretends we are in a court of law. But I am not a lawyer. I am not a member of the legal guild. I am unfamiliar with the rules of the game. My utter dysfunction in my assigned role gives lie to calling this a court of law.

I AM 'PRO SE' IN THIS COURT: Please give me access to justice and end this brutal nightmare.

MeGAL has been working for court change as the system for Family Court is badly broken. If you have been abused or seen others abused by this system we would encourage you to contact your Representative and educate him/ her. You may also contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or on Facebook.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Has Justice Donald Alexander Absolved Prolman’s Sins?

Justice Donald Alexander's decision in the Gary Prolman Overseers of the Maine Bar case suggests to many "civilians" that oversight of Maine lawyers is in free fall. Can lawyers do almost anything with no consequences? The Alexander decision is so far removed from public opinion and public common sense as to create widespread public disgust and distrust. In one fell swoop, Alexander gives himself, the Maine Bar and the Judiciary a very "black eye". His decision also raises very worrying questions about the law, lawyers, the judiciary and Maine's drug problem.

MeGAL to the Maine Bar:


Stephen Nelson, Esq
President Maine Bar Association

Dear Mr Nelson:

I am writing to you as president of the Maine Bar Association to express deep concern about Justice Donald Alexander's recent "absolution" of the "sins" of attorney Gary Prolman of Saco, (late of the federal penitentiary). The Alexander decision has raised much questioning about the oversight standards for lawyers amongst those members of the public, who have read reporter, Scott Dolan's, story on the topic. Others have read the actual 25 page decision itself, replete with gory details. Without exception, those with whom I have spoken are aghast at the decision. The detailed report of Prolman's unsavory, unethical, illegal activities that are well documented in the body of the Alexander decision, are challenging in the extreme to any public faith in Alexander, the Bar or Maine courts. We ask: is "oversight" of lawyers in free fall? On the topic of oversight, Justice Alexander appears to scorn public opinion. Many non-lawyers (and many silent lawyers) will read several, perhaps unintended, messages from Alexander's decision: (a) that Prolman must be a gigantic political powerhouse within the profession with an intimidatingly large, lawyerly base of support, and (b) the consequences of not restoring his license might lead to an even more frightening problem for the Court: the opening wide of a window on the drug culture of Maine's legal professionals at all levels. Better to keep Mr Prolman licensed and on the "bar team" than suffer the potential consequences of his enmity and that of his "friends".

In his decision, Justice Alexander's reasoning and use of the law seem to readers without a legal background like an abuse of the tools of the law. To many of us Alexander appears to minimize Prolman's illegal and unethical activities. His decision focuses on 2012 when Prolman's house of cards started to collapse, as the "feds" entered the picture. Alexander passes quickly over the lengthy chronicity of the drug and alcohol problems and other associated unethical and illegal actions. And he "absolves" Prolman of his "sins", restoring his license, because he is perceived as repentant. How else would he present and how does Alexander know that the "leopard has changed his spots"? It is more like the actions of a priest hearing confession than a Maine Supreme Court Justice reviewing "oversight" actions of the Overseers. The reasoning is legalistic, but utterly confusing. Non-lawyers sense a legal "shell game" is being played on them.

There are many examples of Alexander's reasoning that seem inadequate. The decision claims that Prolman's self-admitted, extensive drug and alcohol use ONLY affected his business judgement. "That there is NO evidence that his drug and alcohol use affected his law practice or his relationship with clients." This un-grounded opinion demonstrates, a "junk science" theory of brain function. Prolman's frontal lobes, while "under the influence", were apparently uniquely able to segregate "bad judgement" and "normal judgement" into two separate, airtight compartments, a bad one for business, and the other compartment, a normal one for his practice and his clients. It is "junk science" in the service of rationalizing an irrational  decision. With all respect, how does Alexander know that Prolman's practice was unaffected? Has he measured (or sought to have measured) the "half-life", or morning after effect, of alcohol or drugs on professional mental functions? What is the actual cognitive impairment factor, or does he believe Prolman immune to this usual sort of impairment? AA or NA or clinical psychiatry, all experts in addictive illnesses, would point to permanent structural changes in the brain's micro anatomy that always accompany chronic substance abuse. These change translate into actual functions. What happens to judgement, to intellectual functioning, to memory, to ability to calculated, to mood, to irritability? Answer: "not good things". Or … if not blind drunk or drugged, can an addicted lawyer just get by with clients, with "fake it till you make it"? More to the point, is that an acceptable public standard? There is a need to remember the inconvenient fact that addictions are never truly cured. They may go into remission for varying periods, but a "slip" or a fall off the wagon or full recurrence are common. Professionals would say it is the very nature of the higher risks associated with these conditions. Alexander's decision seems to ignore the professional science of addictions.

The conclusion that "reinstatement was in the public interest" is another unsubstantiated personal belief in Alexander's decision. Why is reinstatement in the pubic interest? How has Alexander arrived at this risk-laden conclusion? Mention is made of many letters supportive of Prolman from attorneys (and judges?). In this complex case with layers of intrigue and many twists and turns, one has to ask: who were the lawyers who wrote such letters? What was their relationship with Prolman? Many who read this statement wonder: Were those endorsing him "birds of a feather"? Did they fear that a Prolman without a law license might shine a spotlight on unbecoming actions of others in the profession? How many top shelf lawyers would consider writing a reference for this man? Members of the public can sense enough to know a whitewash job when they see it, and this case seems to requires a shipload of whitewash. The "public interest" in restoring his license, to us, implies that legal skills of any kind are in such short supply that Prolman's skills badly needed. We'd ask further: Is there any residual damage to his brain functioning, due to toxic death of frontal lobe brain cells from chronic alcohol and drug use? As one example, would he still be able to pass Maine Bar exams? Do those attorneys, interviewed by Scott Dolan, who strongly disagreed with Alexander's decision, support relicensing Prolman, or would they demand "witness protection" in return for their testimony? Even Scott Davis, counsel for the Overseers, backed off of an appeal. "The conclusions were not clearly erroneous; consequently, no good basis for appeal" was the quote reported in the newspaper. "Conclusions not clearly erroneous." Really? The Bar just fell in line. But the pubic remains unconvinced.

The Maine Bar earns a giant public credibility problem with this case. This judgement is a terrible advertisement for the functional integrity of bar oversight of its members. However adroitly the law is used to rationalize an admittedly very awkward decision, it isn't convincing to the public, and it adds to public cynicism and loss of faith in the legal profession. It is about damage to public trust that the profession is policing itself "in the public's interest". We suggest that building and maintaining public confidence in lawyers requires a system of true quality assurance. This is not an academic consideration. The legal profession, more than any profession is central to law enforcement and to whether we can all work together, as citizens, to eradicate the drug epidemic that so besets our state and our country.  As leaders, the legal profession needs to face the drug culture within the profession and move to correct it, honestly, courageously, or the "infection" will continue to spread in pervasively damaging ways both to the profession and to society. We propose a state government commission that would assess the scope of the drug problem in the legal profession, which is so strategically placed by its nature to influence the systemic drug problem in Maine for better or worse.. Many would gladly support enabling legislation for this project.

Dr Jerome A Collins
Kennebunkport ME


Addiction is not something that can be turned on or off. It does not just appear as is suggested by Justice Alexander. Addiction and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is something that grips your life in all areas. Did Justice Alexander make the right decision? MeGAL encourages you to research all aspects of addiction and how it may affect your lawyer, GAL and judge. We would also encourage you to become involved in the process of Judicial reform/ change by talking with your Representative. we can be contacted at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Further resources regarding the addiction of lawyers:

2014-01-07 17 Statistics on Drug Abuse Among Lawyers

2015-07-23 Lawyers struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems at a heightened rate

2016-02-04 High Rate of Problem Drinking Reported Among Lawyers

2016-07-12 'I Could No Longer Live with Myself': Lawyers Reveal Their Struggles with Alcohol ( to reaf the who article you will have to create an account)


Monday, June 20, 2016

Did Overseers Issue Warning to Lawyers Who Call Attention to Child Abuse?

June 17, 2016

Beth Maloney, Esq.

Dear Beth,

We all understand that after the brutal morning you had to endure today, there was no room for small talk or rehashing or socializing. We did want you to know that you have our deepest respect and admiration, as a person, as a lawyer, as a citizen.

The court and the Maine Bar may have won this battle - they have a monopoly in legal weapons - however, in our opinion, they badly lost the war in the court of public opinion. The display of punitive collaboration between the Maine Supreme Court and the Overseers of the Maine Bar erased all pretense of boundaries between them. In their campaign to make you an example to all Maine lawyers who might fight judges, who enforce the abuse of children and families by a Guardian ad litem, they joined forces.

It was not pretty to watch, and it must have been sheer hell to go through. But the Overseers zeal in adding unprecedented "overkill" touches, like a link to the cases and their restriction of your practice of family law, were advertising to others but exacted from you. In earlier days, bodies were left hanging as a warning to others, "Nota bene"! Let this be a warning to any lawyer who might be tempted to call attention to "child abuse" by "officers of the court". Courtroom child abuse doesn't matter; the dignity of the court (even at its most undignified) is what counts. Image before facts!

Despite the "show trial" in Augusta this morning, we continue to admire your enormous courage, your total integrity and your fearless, total honesty - today and always! It troubled us to watch the unprincipled use of force to bend you to do their will: "Comply, or lose your license". But like the "show trials" in totalitarian countries, those involved lose more than they gain. The public feels disgust, contempt and a deep identification with the victim. Also a deep sense of personal shame, as a citizen, that this is my government in operation, punishing the wrong person.

We wish you well, the very best, even if we are terribly sad that Maine has lost an incredible family court lawyer. Paradoxically, your treatment by the Overseers and the ensuing intimidation of other lawyers may make 'pro se' the best option in Maine's family courts.

Best wishes for the future!

MeGAL



Previous post which are related:
2016-06-18 Did the Overseers of the Bar Protect the Public or Kill the Messenger?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Did the Overseers of the Bar Protect the Public or Kill the Messenger?

"Kill the Messenger" is the message we heard in the complaint before the panel at the Overseers of the Maine Bar in Augusta on June 17th at 9 am.  

As non-lawyers, we have been appalled by the Maine Supreme Court's handling of a lawyer, who tried to appeal lower court abuses in the contentious case of Dalton v. Dalton. To this untrained reader, the Supreme Court's "first team" (Saufley, Mead, Alexander, Gorman), while appearing to keep their own hands clean, wrote a decision, which essentially gave a blueprint to the Board of Overseers of the Maine Bar for a 'sua sponte' complaint against the lawyer in question. To public readers, this decision looks like the Court was giving hand signals to the Overseers to end to this lawyer's career in law. And… counsel for the Overseers, has essentially followed the Court's blueprint. He delivered a "petition" which many readers would say was a call to the Overseer's complaint commission for licensure death.

It is a powerful "shock and awe" move for the judiciary and its affiliates, and a Maine lawyer's career hangs in the balance. What did she do that got her in this powerful judiciary line of fire? What are the charges (crimes?) against her that provoked this kind of "nuclear" response from Maine's highest court and the legal minions at the Overseers? Murder, rape, arson, bomb threats, physical/child abuse, theft, psychotic behavior in court, lies, slander? None of these are in question, or the complaint and request for sanctions would most likely have been less stern. The Overseers claim in their policy statement on their web that their -

"purpose is not punishment, but protection of the public AND THE COURTS from attorneys who have demonstrated by their conduct that they are unable, or likely to be unable, to discharge their professional duties."

Our impression is that this case, both in its own right and in the lessons it carries for the profession, is about protecting the courts - not the public. We would add, in our view, it is about protecting courts from themselves and serious errors in judgement at all levels - bottom to top - in this case.

In a nutshell, the sanctioned attorney challenged (a) a Guardian ad litem's use of flagrant "junk science" in Dalton v Dalton to determine custody (and mandatory treatment of a young child) and (b) the court's unquestioning endorsement of this GAL's primitive clinical voodoo. Two "officers of the court", in effect, used witchcraft to make significant decisions with lasting emotional impact on a mother and child. At issue is the GAL's unlicensed, unauthorized, totally bogus diagnoses of "Post traumatic stress disorder" in a child who was involved in a custody dispute. The Guardian ad litem, a Social Worker by underlying profession made this medical/psychiatric diagnosis without recognizing 2 inconvenient facts: (a) Social Workers don't make medical diagnoses of any kind, and (b) Guardians ad litem at the time she made the diagnosis were not supposed to use their underlying clinical profession in their role as "officers of the court". She compounded her errors by referring the child to a clinical colleague for "scream and hit therapy", a professionally discredited "therapy" that has no scientific recognition. Nowhere in this entire clinical transaction was there a use of a medical clinician qualified to obtain a clinical history, conduct a physical and neurological examination, order and review laboratory and clinical tests, consider a differential diagnosis, consider various treatment options and then - only then - institute appropriate treatment.

The entire mistreatment ought to be a shameful embarrassment to any civilized, enlightened society. It is a tragedy for the child and her mother to be forced into this situation and ordered into an unrecognized form of  treatment. It is court authorized clinical experimentation. Forced treatment is always to be questioned; forced submission to a discredited therapy is frankly, court ordered child abuse and has no place in a free democratic society. It is an unbelievable totalitarian nightmare that is wrong by any standards one might apply.

But what is the bottom to top judiciary system to do with this admittedly "awkward", indefensible situation?  Distract public attention with "sound and fury"! It infers that the court was fine; it was the lawyer, who was abysmally lacking in knowledge of her profession. Her actions in court "attacked" the judge though witnesses say that she never raised her voice. She used- gasp, shudder- "leading questions". Though "leading questions" and many of the other supposed professional "crimes" listed by the Supreme Court (and later by counsel for the Overseers), got corrected on the spot in the lower court at the time, the damage to the law one gathers is incalculable! Were the consequences of the Supreme Court decision not so serious, one would be tempted to laugh at their predicament: having to defend clinical "witchcraft" as basis for custody in the lower court. But a mother and child have been impacted by this "witchcraft" and the career of an attorney hangs by a thread because she called it "witchcraft". There is the additional worry about the precedent of using "junk science" and "witchcraft" as acceptable standards in family courts.

As "grass roots" observers, our concerns in this case are several fold: (a) Junk Science as a basis for judgement is beyond wrong and needs some correction, such as a 'sua sponte' complaint about the "officers of the court" at all levels of this case for using incredibly abusive standards (b) The attack on a lawyer who had the courage and decency to say truthfully, "The Emperor has no clothes!" The example of an irrational attack by Maine's highest court and by the Overseers on this lawyer will send a terrible message to other family court lawyers: don't you DARE tell the truth about malfunctioning of "officers of the court". "Yell therapy" is perfectly OK if a GAL and judge approve it. Scientific opinion be damned! (c) The blind support of the Supreme Court defending "junk science" and out to get the asker of "leading questions" ( and the like)  is all too reminiscent of the movie, "Spotlight", and the abusive power plays it documented.

It is an "access to justice" situation 'par excellence', if our most courageous messengers to the court "get killed" when they deliver an honest but unwelcome message.

In our opinion there is a relatively immediate need to correct the abusive judgements of the judiciary at all levels in this case, so we can correct the shame of it. We would also propose a well-chosen (not just lawyers and judges) Maine Family Court Commission to study the terrible symptoms emerging from Maine's family courts, the growth of 'pro se' litigants, to diagnose and correct problems, including re-design of the system and to propose legislation. "Scream therapy" has no place in court mandated treatment (OR ANY LEGITIMATE TREATMENT PLAN) for child or adult!

MeGAL is working to reform "Family" Courts and the vendors the court system use (Guardians ad litem) through educational means and legislative action. We would encourage you to get involved in the process to bring about change. You can do this by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Court of Public Opinion and Connecticut’s Broken “Family” Court System

Social media exploded this week with public outrage over the Brock Turner rape case and the horrific ruling made by Judge Aaron Pesky, who has been harshly criticized for his far too lenient sentencing. Over 1,000,000 people nationwide have signed an online petition demanding this judge resign. In addition, prospective jurors being called by the court system are refusing to serve this judge on his cases.

We need this same kind of outrage focused on our state's very troubling “family” court system and the people who operate it.

"Family" court judges in this state, showing complete disregard for the complaints from thousands of parents, legislators, mental health professionals and attorneys calling for reform - continue to operate one of the most dysfunctional, inefficient, ineffective, costly, damaging and yes, corrupt “family” court systems in the country.

Connecticut remains dead last when it comes to enacting much needed operational and other reforms. As a reflection of this, over 85% of all parents in our “family” courts now appearing Pro Se and without proper legal representation. This as their cases continue to be allowed to drag on for months and even years, due to solely judicial negligence and their very troubling and concerning judicial orders and rulings.

This dysfunction, lack of any oversight, and failure to address judicial and attorney misconduct, causes over 11,500 cases to be returned to the “family” courts each year – when there are only 3,400 new custody cases filed in this state each year ( - Chief State Justice Rogers.) This reflects a critical and terminal operational dysfunction on the part of our Judiciary – not a problem with “a small number of disgruntled litigants” as some have tried to portray.

This as citizens and parents across the state continue to be routinely jailed by Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges for committing no crime. This as Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges operate as private debt collectors for a very small group of well-connected divorce attorneys and Guardian ad Litems. This as she and her “family” court judges continue to ignore all due process and basic civil, Constitutional and parental rights.

Her “family” court judges continue to fail the state, fail its citizens, and fail the best interests of the public, families and children – by failing to rule quickly and effectively. They instead prolong cases and ignore ongoing abuse and neglect of children by improperly outsourcing their judicial authority to a small group of well-connected Guardian ad Litems taking hundreds of millions of dollars from parents with complete immunity, with no oversight of any kind, and with no accountability of any kind, while offering no positive or beneficial outcome, of any kind.

“Family” court judges, who under Judge Bozzuto’s watch, Chief Court Administrator Carroll’s watch, and Chief State Justice Rogers’ watch and approval from their silence – continue to operate well-orchestrated "Kids for Cash" and "Pay Per View Parenting" programs designed to prolong custody cases solely to enrich a very small group of attorneys, best interests of families and children and THE PUBLIC be damned.

Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges continue to operate de facto and unlawful Debtor’s Prisons, by SHACKLING and JAILING PARENTS for committing no crime other and for not being able to afford to pay the small armies of “court appointed experts” Judge Bozzuto and her “family” court judges force onto custody cases for no valid reason or cause.

Who are these attorneys? Their names can be readily found by looking at the membership of the now disbanded AFCC in this state, and among the select group of private attorneys who have been invited to the highly secretive annual Judge’s Meeting coming up on June 24th.

We encourage as many legislators as possible to attend this annual gathering of judges and to ask them some very hard questions in regards to how and why our “family” courts continue to operate in this manner.

“Family” court judges who routinely look away, ignore, and often encourage the abuse and neglect of children, by refusing to enforce their own parenting orders, by denying access to justice by improperly requiring the filing of “Motions for Request for Leave” in “family” court cases – even on Emergency Ex Parte motions filed to protect children, and by routinely and diligently separating children from their fit and proper parents for no valid reason or cause, especially if a parent dares ask why they can’t have equal access and time with their child. And most notably, targeting parents with children who have autism or other special needs and disabilities.

If the Brock Turner case were before a Connecticut “family" court judge, the judge would have labelled both Brock and his victim as being "high conflict" even though only Brock committed a crime.

The judge would have then ordered his rape victim to attend "conflict management" sessions with Brock at $250-$500/hour so an “evaluator” could try and "resolve any differences" she may have with her attacker.

If they had a child, the “family” court judge and GAL would assign custody to Brock because of "his stable background" and force the mother and victim to spend thousands of dollars to fight to protect her child from him and to a parent in her child’s life. This would cost her tens of thousands of dollars and years in court – with no proper outcome or resolution.

She, as a victim, would become one of the 11,500 custody cases returned each year to our broken and dysfunctional “family” courts, and be attacked and prevented from filings motions by Judge Bozzuto’s “family” court judges for daring to come back to the court and to ask for the court to do the right thing.

Such is the actual state of affairs and “justice” in our state’s broken and dysfunctional “family” courts. And this is not exaggerated in any way.

This happens each and every day in our state's "family" courtrooms. If any of you doubt me and the thousands of parents who have been subjected to this and witnessed this firsthand – please, go sit in on any custody case in any “family courthouse and just watch.

All of this as Chief State Justice Rogers, Governor Malloy, and the Judiciary Committee continue to just look the other way at what Judge Bozzuto and her "family" judges engage in and practice - because there is money to be made and federal dollars are involved.

Social media exploded this week as the court of public opinion chimed in on the Brock Turner case. The same focus and social media attention is being brought on our state’s broken and dysfunctional “family” courts – as we the PUBLIC, will and can no longer accept or tolerate the status quo in our state’s broken “family” courts, and as this movement is growing very quickly nationwide, and in fact, internationally.

We demand far better. Our children and families and state – deserve far better.

And it is simply unacceptable on for any reason or on any level that our Legislature’s Judiciary Committee has not presented a single piece of much needed reform legislation in now two sessions. You should all be ashamed.

If not now, when; if not us, who.

- Peter T. Szymonik, the CT Coalition for Family Court Reform


Peter Szymonik is involved with "Family" Court reform in the state of Connecticut. We have known and worked with Peter for years often exchanging ideas on the issues relating to "Family" Court. While Peter is writing to those in his state of Connecticut what he is writing about can be applied to any state. If you have been involved in a case where the court system has failed we encourage you to become involved. Contact your representatives and educate them and others as to what the issues are. If you live in Connecticut you can help with reform by contacting Connecticut Family Court Reform (on Facebook). Or you may contact us at MeGAL to put you in touch with others in your state.


Additional Resources:

Biographies of Supreme Court Justices Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers

2015-04-10 Rogers Pledges Court Improvements As Critics Express Displeasure

Connecticut Family Court Reform

FB - Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform

Family Matters

Ct Judge Bozzuto retaliates Pay GAL $9,600 or go to jail

If you would like to Judge your "Judge" - The Robing Room

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lawyers shall not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice

There are two high sounding, phrases that stand as sentinels guarding the probity of the adjudicative process. We are told that lawyers must:

… avoid conduct that undermines the integrity of the adjudicative process….

And

…. not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice….

For the public there is a problem in translating what these phrases mean. Specifically, how much are these ideas a matter of opinion, and what are examples of a lawyer's activities that might "prejudice the administration of justice" or undermine "the integrity of the adjudicative process".

Some components of these 'dicta' are obvious even to casual readers. No one would argue that it is a bad thing to try bribing a judge, to present false evidence in court, to lie or to encourage a client to lie, or to doctor evidence "etc. Less obvious to the public is that the erstwhile professional sins of "moral turpitude" are mostly thrown out. The legal profession seems to view the notion of sleazy behavior, or "turpitude" as old fashioned and poorly reflective of the diverse values of a diverse, multicultural society. There are also more nebulous concepts having to do with how vigorously a lawyer may represent a client. How "vigorous" is "too vigorous"? We'd ask, in addition, how does one measure "not vigorous enough"?  From what we read - apart from "psychotic" behavioral manifestations directed at a judge, "vigorous", in this context, seems hard to define and appears mostly subjective. There is another equally nebulous issue - that of protecting officers of the court, which to non-lawyers seems like the first step on a very slippery slope. Protection of them from what? One can understand a need to protect their professional dignity, to protect their person, to protect them from slander or ungrounded verbal assault. Beyond these considerations how are unpleasant facts, if presented honestly with civility to be considered?  If they are protectively excluded, isn't there a danger to the integrity (or the reality) of justice? Should court officers be protected from themselves? It renders any notion of accountability a charade.

When a judge makes an error of judgement, when a judge makes an error in law, when a judge abandons civil behavior, when a judge ignores the malfunctioning of a "court officer" and takes no corrective action, when a judge fails to accept evidence and acts in ways that favor one party, should everyone involved in the case "protect" the judge?  As citizens, we hope not, or justice is in integrity free fall. Yet the evidence that these issues get any real correction is scant at best, as far as pubic awareness is concerned

There are formal, professional avenues for complaining about these kinds of judicial mischief. In the opinion of many they are all "protective" of court officers. While they accept complaints from the public, they largely protect the "court officer" from any widespread vulgar public view during a review and judgement about the complaint. They are without the kind of public transparency that one would see for similar legal complaints about politicians, religious leaders, doctors and most other professions. The "court of public opinion" is firmly, politely excluded. Some would say that these officially approved avenues for making a complaint about an officer of the court are ultra protective of "court officers". The bottom line proof of protectiveness can be read in the numbers. Look at statistical outcome measurements. Judges are virtually never found guilty of any form of judicial malfunctioning. Either they are paragons, or the system is "rigged", and an "imperfect" court officer is rendered "perfect" by the complaint procedure itself. Likewise, Guardians ad litem who receive public complaints are virtual "saints in the church". The numbers alone tell the story. A low incidence of complaints from the public and virtually total exoneration of all complaints is used by the judiciary to claim "no problem". But consumers know "officers of the court" are far from perfect.  It is near universal public belief that the "deck is stacked"; a complaint will go nowhere, and the time and money spent in pursuing a complaint is a waste. Worse than a waste. A "court officer" who goes through the standard complaint protocol and comes out "squeaky clean" is vindicated. The alleged malfunctioning never happened (or had no merit) and the one filing a complaint is perceived as a "crank".

There is also another potential escape from accountability - an unsubstantiated claim of diminished professional responsibility caused by mental illness, medication side effects, alcoholism on the part of a wrong-doer. This is an "escape hatch" used by politicians finding themselves in trouble, but lawyers can use it too. After accolades for "courage" in self-diagnosis, there is a quick round of counseling and all is forgiven. Not to say that "officers of the court" are immune to the afflictions of alcohol, drugs and mental illness, but how does the public know about the nature and validity of such claims?  And…. even with valid claims and valid treatment, who determines "fitness for (professional) duty" after treatment? Is alcoholism (according to AA) ever truly cured? What about recurrences of a major mental illness? Are public 'caveats' ever forthcoming about damaged legal professionals who may exit a remission while continuing to work?
 
At the present time, the public has the impression that the system of oversight for "officers of the court" described above is very shaky indeed. It is totally counter-culture to what Americans demand for the policing of other major professions. Its archaic privilege is increasingly questioned and increasingly difficult to justify. The numerical growth of 'pro se' litigants, who are under none of the  professional conventions to handle "officers of the court" protectively, may be the catalyst that cracks open the system, while oversight groups like the overseers struggle to hold onto conventions. Two tracks: "do it yourself" and "follow the guild". One has protective standards; one has none. One has conventions; one has none. Two systems of justice - how  does this impact justice - and the adjudicative process?


MeGAL is working to bring reform to the Guardian ad litem and Family Court systems. We do this through education and legislative process. If you would like to get involved we encourage you to contact us, your state representative or find us on Facebook.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Has Lawyers in Libraries Worked to Bring Access to Justice to Consumers?

May 11 MeGAL wrote to Justice Andrew Mead regarding the tools being used to improve access to justice within the judicial branch and the courts they are charged with managing.  The follow up email had one driving question – while a program may be well intention and yet not achieving much – what is the reason for continuing without re-evaluating the goals of the program itself.

Does the Judicial Branch understand the scope of the problem – who lacks access to justice and why? The Lawyers in Libraries program has been functioning in one form or another for a number of years. This year’s Law Day sparked the questioning of the success of this program as it relates to the consumers of judicial services. Has 10-15 minutes with a lawyer once a year brought about a drop to the numbers who are seeking access to justice.

Our reply back to Justice Andrew Mead:

From: J M Coll
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 1:25 PM
To: Andrew Mead
Cc: Stephen D. Nelson Esq; SenDavid Burns; Mary Ann Lynch***; Day,Avery T; gkesich; jharrison; sdolan
Subject: Re: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?

Justice Andrew Mead

Dear Justice Mead,

When any program is well-intended but not achieving much, most people would say that taking stock or re-evaluation is in order.

I would add that it would be money well-spent for whoever is tasked with improving "access to justice", to get some outside, consultative expertise on how better to improve "access justice" with limited  manpower and financial resources. There are many sources who might suggest quality consultative entities, which could be helpful. The NCSC would be one  that is undoubtedly familiar; the US Department of Justice is another. There are any number of universities with a capability of providing consultation on goal determination and designing an intervention. What one is looking for is how to get the answer to a number of important questions:

1.) Exactly who is lacking access to justice in Maine? What are the numbers and demographics of such a population group or groups? What is the nature of their "access" problems? If one can't define the population needing "access to justice" any planned action is wasteful of resources and a blind "shot in the dark". This is an absolutely vital piece of information, if one desires to design a target intervention of any kind.

2.) There is also the matter of defining goals in measurable terms. For most interventions - with a defined population in need- a common aim is to reduce numbers of such a population over a defined period of time, say annually. The design of intervention should be defined  by how best to reach such a populations in need in a manner that is cost-effective, given time and budgetary limitations.

3.) Regular formal evaluation of effort is the 'sine qua non', the backbone of any targeted program. Is it working? Are numbers receding? What "fine tuning" might give even better results?

I firmly believe that everyone in Maine would want to support improved "access to justice". It is a foundational American belief. I'd suggest that it would not be out of place to propose legislation that would allocate money for formal consultation and program design, as mentioned above. I would personally support such legislation and work for it, and I suspect many others would too.

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins, MD

What has the success of Lawyers in Libraries been to date? We do not know and neither does the Judicial Branch nor the Justice Action Group (JAG). While the program is well intention - it reaches such a limited segment of the population and for such a short period of time that we question the value of this program. There were a fair number of people associated with MeGAL who sought out legal help to see what Lawyers in Libraries could do. While every lawyer that they came into contact with was polite and helpful all of them lacked any experience with handling Family Courts. Many of those who went out ended up talking with the lawyers beyond the 15 minutes allotted - there was limited attendance from those seeking equal justice. All of them were seeking greater access to justice – no one felt that they received an increase to justice. The information provided in the handouts while useful – all could be found through a google search or by looking on the Judicial Branches website.

To date we have not received a response from Justice Andrew Mead or from JAG.

MeGAL is working to bring about reform to our Family Court system. We do this through educating the public and out representatives and encourage you to do the same. If you would like to become involved please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


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Related postings:
2016-05-17 Does Lawyers in Libraries work at bringing Access to Justice to those in Need?


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Does Lawyers in Libraries work at bringing Access to Justice to those in Need?

Maine has a lawyer-sponsored program that has been pulled together by various groups called "Lawyers in Libraries". The idea seem to be that as a consumer you could make an appointment to sit down with a lawyer and receive legal help/ advice/ consultation/ referral. This years program had 22 libraries from across the state participate. Most had a volunteer lawyer available for two hours and appointments ranged from 10-15 minutes per scheduled client. In some cases consumers could get more time if no one showed up after your time.

This is one way that lawyers and Maine's courts are trying (Claiming?) to bring Access to Justice to those who need it. In Maine it is estimated that over 113,000 in 2015 had issues with accessing justice of which 17,065 are in Family Courts alone. It is a huge task to bring these people the tools they need to have a fair and equitable "access to justice".

Lawyers in Libraries (L in L) has been promoted for several years now and we wanted to know how effective the program has been with reducing the numbers of unservered populations and bringing access to justice to those in need. We wrote to Justice Andrew Mead the following:



From: J M Coll
Sent: May 11, 2016 9:39 AM
To: Justice Andrew Mead , "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , SenDavid Burns
Cc: Mary Ann Lynch*** , Avery.T.Day, gkesich, jharrison, sdolan
Subject: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?

Justice Andrew Mead
Maine Judicial Branch
Justice Access Group

Dear Justice Mead,

We've been watching with interest last weeks unfolding of the "Lawyers in Libraries" program.

It  has been touted in some quarters as a component of a larger "access to justice" strategy that aims to address the large numbers of Mainers who are excluded from "access", because they go to court 'pro se', or on their own. Our team of observers have looked at the Maine program and have pooled their observational data about six such "L in L" programs in Maine libraries this past week. With all due respect, we have to conclude that the Maine program in its present form, in our view does virtually nothing to improve Maine citizens' "access justice". The "L in L" program is extremely unlikely to lower this state's statistics of those who lack legal support for "access to justice". Let us be more specific in our observations:

1.) The program goals are unclear. Is the program's aim to polish the professional image of Maine lawyers as nice people with a charm "offensive" in a community setting? Does it aim to provide service to unserved populations of Mainers and thereby to reduce 'pro se' statistics? Does it aim to market private legal services to the public and improve the private practices of lawyers who might not yet have a "full practice"? It is hard to measure success or failure quantitatively without specified goals.

2.) The present "lawyers in libraries" program is not a population-oriented approach, which would define the demographics of Maine's underserved populations, target them and aim a intervention, or a series of interventions, at recruiting them for appropriate legal service. The goal would be reducing incidence and prevalence of the problem in the target population. A 'pro se' population in family courts who are 75% 'pro se' (17,065 people in 2015), would be one good example of a legally unserved population. Were one truly wishing to reach this population, one would need to define it demographically, decide where (which locales) best to make contact and how best "to speak" to such a population. One might use a targeted marketing campaign, such as is very common today in many large businesses which want to reach unserved new markets.

3.) From our examination of "lawyers in libraries" in several towns across Maine, we observe that "volunteer" lawyers do not appear in many town libraries. The "L in L" lawyer volunteers (out of 3,100 Maine Bar members) are few in number ,and there is a limited donation of time. In several libraries there is only one lawyer for 2 hours at the end of one day. For example one Maine city of 21.000 population had one 2 hour session scheduled from 5:30 - 7:30 pm for the entire week, a fairly frugal, lawyerly service donation. We have to ask,what miracles of law are accomplished in 10 - 15 minute appointments, over 2 hours, with even the most skilled lawyer or the most fast talking client? Typically volunteer lawyers spoke briefly at the start of the scheduled time, and there are handouts of "legal resources" which list free and low cost services, such as are posted on the Maine Judicial Branch web site. Public attendance in some instances was a total of 3 people, but notices, advertising this program, in several instances, seemed to be last minute postings in the newspapers or the paper's online version. The volunteer lawyers seemed pleasant enough, but because of their areas of special practice, were often less informed in other legal issues beyond their practice interests. They could only explain and provided very general information but avoided any direct legal advice. For those Maine libraries with no program, we wonder why? Is it because of lack of interest on the part of the majority of the 3,100 Bar members? Is it due to negative feeling on the part of Bar members about the value of the program? How is "access to justice" improved by the "L in L" program? Most importantly, does this effort have any impact on the statistics?

4.) We have to say that the "L in L" program does no harm, but we'd ask, does it do any good for the public who seek access? In our opinion, this program has serious problems of focus and design. If it desires to reduce the huge statistical problem of "lack of access to justice", it is embarrassingly inadequate and superficial. To learn from this past week's experience, do any of the program's sponsors plan a post-program evaluation? Besides our assessment, does the "access to justice" committee intend to do any form of program assessment? We suggest, based on our observations, that you need either to re-design this program top to bottom, or scrap it  With regret, we have to say, as the "L in L" program stands at the moment, it does nothing that we can see to improve badly needed "access to justice" in Maine.

Mainers are still waiting for "access to justice".

    Sincerely,

    Jerome A Collins


Within about 30 minutes Justice Andrew Mead replied back:



From: Andrew Mead
Sent: May 11, 2016 10:13 AM
To: J & M Coll
Cc: "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , SenDavid Burns , Mary Ann Lynch*** , "Day, Avery T" , gkesich, jharrison, sdolan
Subject: Re: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?

Dr. Collins -

Thank you for your note. I will pass your comments along to the New Lawyers Section of the Maine State Bar Association. The New Lawyers Section has taken over the administration of the program.

My original vision for the program was to have volunteer lawyers available on a given day--perhaps the first of each month--at every public library in the state. The lawyers would be available to give generalized advice and refer folks to legal services organizations and private lawyers as appropriate. The program would be directed at individuals in the poverty and modest means economic categories, but no one would be turned away from the sessions. The overarching goal is to connect more people with legal representation.

Unfortunately the scope of such a program renders it administratively unfeasible without the creation of a fully staffed organization to run it. Accordingly, the current program, limited in scope as it must be, continues to evolve as a pilot program. The biggest challenge is getting the word out. Most folks who would benefit from speaking with a lawyer simply don't know that lawyers are available to meet with them in some libraries on Law Day.

It is my hope that the program will continue to gain traction as public awareness grows. The lawyers and the libraries continue to be committed to it. I agree that the current Lawyers in Libraries program is a very small initiative in contrast to the enormous need, but we need to pursue every possible avenue to improve access to justice. For the individuals who did connect with legal services as a result of the Lawyers in Libraries, the program was a success for them.

It is my hope that the New Lawyers Section will continue this initiative (which it undertook only very recently) and grow it to the point where public knows that libraries can be the crucial link between folks who need legal representation and the lawyers who can serve them.

Thank you for your continuing interest in access to justice issues.

A. Mead



Lawyers in Libraries was developed as a result of the "Khoury Report" which was commissioned by the Justice Action League (JAG). As part of the recommendations Lawyers would volunteer once a year on Law Day in libraries to offer legal service and in certain circumstances legal advice. This was part of a plan to bring access to justice to a growing number of consumers who were in desperate need of legal help and guidance.

It is not known how effective the Law Day - Lawyers in Libraries is. Simple math shows that for 2015 an estimated 900-1000 could be helped for the time allotment of 15 minutes per client. Is 15 minutes once a year enough time to help consumers who need greater access to justice? Or is this a way for lawyers to find new clients who need legal representation?

MeGAL is working for Family Court reform. In 2015 there were 17,065 people in Family Court who struggled with access to justice. Who for what ever reason could not afford to hire a lawyer or keep one through to the end of their case. If you have had issues with Access 2 Justice (A2J) we encourage you to contact your representatives to let them know. You should also get involved with change and can start by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Will Parents (Pro se) Be Given the Same Educational Experiences as Lawyers - We Asked

We have sent several letters to the Judicial Branch regarding the course which was being offered by the York County and Maine Bar to its members. We asked whether or not the Judicial Branch had any plans to give the same type of educational experience to parents ( especially those who are Pro se ) as they would benefit from the wisdom of lawyers, Guardians ad litem and judges who spoke on April 29, 2016.

The Judicial Branch's response follows. Please keep in mind that this is an un-edited version:























The non-response from the Judicial Branch is in itself a response to the concerns that parents - especially those which are Pro se - continue to be discriminated by various forms of legal entities. That we do not deserve the same knowledge as lawyers, Guardians ad litem and Judges.

In 2015 there were an estimated 17,065 parties who found themselves in Family Court as a Pro se lawyer/ litigant. It would be safe to say that almost all of these people would benefit from the same kind of guidance and education that the privileged lawyers and Guardians ad litem received during the educational session. To be able to learn from judges what you need to do to win your case would have been worth the time.

We encourage you to educate our representatives with the experiences you have had in Family Court. A dysfunctional, adversarial system that has in practice no checks and balances. If you would like to become involved or have a story to tell please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Judicial Branch is Silent on The New World of GALs for Pro se

Several weeks ago when we learned about an educational experience being offered by the York Bar to its members concerning the new landscape of Guardians ad litem. We asked the Judicial Branch whether a similar experience was going to be offered to those parents who might find themselves in court Pro se. These parents we felt deserved the same kind of knowledge as lawyers - maybe even more so.

Three weeks later and we have still no response from the Judicial Branch - prompting us to send one last piece of correspondence on the matter. This was sent on April 25, 2016:



Mary Ann Lynch, Esq
Maine Judicial Branch

Dear Ms Lynch,

Three weeks ago I wrote you to ask if the Maine Judicial Branch had plans to educate 'pro se' litigants in Maine family courts about "The New World of GALs"? The Maine Bar is providing lawyers with a course of instruction on the new dimensions of this topic on Friday, April 29th. Three Maine judges are listed as participating in this educational offering for lawyers.

It seemed to many people with whom I've spoken that fair play would suggest that the 'pro se' majority (75%- 17,065 people) in family court need educational enlightenment on this matter as well. They are already at a significant disadvantage in court as non-lawyers. Absent education about GALs will further stack the deck against them in family court.

Does the Judicial Branch have any plans to address the educational disparity on the topic of GALs for 'pro se' litigants?

If you prefer not to reply to my query directly, would you consider offering enlightenment to the public on this topic via the Portland Press Herald or Bangor Daily News? It is an important dimension of "access to justice for all".

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins.
Kennebunkport,Maine


If we receive a response it will be published. It is our feeling though that the Judicial Branch will remain silent. That silence is deafening and speaks volumes as to the very problems we as parents face in court.

MeGAL through education is bringing about reform in our dysfunctional Family Courts. If you are a parent who has had a trying experience in court we encourage you to become involved. You can start by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The New World of GALs - Will Pro se Lawyers be Invited?

Friday April 29, 2016 the Maine and York  county Bar will be holding an educational session titled "The New World of GALs".

The program is supposed to provide the tools needed for professionals to engage the best practices and to assist families going through child custody. It is being sold to area judges, lawyers and Guardians ad litem.

For parents who are representing themselves has this valuable course been marketed or even mentioned to them? Probably not - yet it is this very population ( 2015 - 17,065 case where there was at least one Pro se lawyer/litigant ) who should be attending.

We questioned the ethics and value of this course in correspondence with the Judicial Branch:


Mary Ann Lynch, Esq
Maine Judicial Branch


Dear Ms Lynch.


There has been great interest on the part of 'pro se' litigants  in the  York Bar's upcoming educational session, "THE NEW WORLD OF GALS", for Lawyers, Courts and GALs. We wonder whether the Judicial Branch has plans to provide some equal public education on this topic for 'pro se' litigants? Clearly, everyone in court, lawyers, judges, GALs and 'pro se', logically need the same information base on this important topic. Knowledge is a tool for everyone, and, as we know, knowledge is power.

There is particular interest in the panel at the end of the session in which several active, Maine judges participate. From the program agenda, these judges appear to offer a "how to" tutorial to the professional attendees about several topics. One topic to be addressed by the judges on the panel seems especially instructive and useful, coming from judges: "how to lose a case". In an adversarial contest, this "how to" ought to give an edge to those who have received instruction from these judges. Will the judges also be instructing 'pro se' litigants in "how to lose a case" at some point - or is this instruction exclusively for lawyers and GALs?

There is also the interesting matter of the post-conference reception, programmed for almost 2 hours. As this sort of thing goes at professional conferences, it is usually a useful opportunity for bonding, for fellowship and for professional gossip - a relaxing, fun time for bench and bar - and GALs. How do judges, if they participate in the reception, preserve their professional objectivity, their future courtroom impartiality? Can they put aside this bonding, fellowship and conviviality for an unbiased presiding over litigation involving 'pro se' "strangers" with whom they've never had a drink? Would these same judges come to a cocktail party gathering of 'pro se' litigants, if invited? The 'pro se' group is, after all, the majority player in family courts: 75% to 25%.

Sorry to burden you with our concerns, but the conference - to our eyes - might appear to unbalance the "scales of justice" in several ways, unless the Judicial Branch has plans for equitable teaching of 'pro se' litigants about "The New World of GALs", including, judicial instruction in "how to lose a case" and the useful opportunities for conviviality and bonding with all of the players at the end of the session.


It's about the "new normal" majority of 'pro se' in family court. Can it be made to work so all have "access to justice"?


Sincerely,


Jerome A Collins.


MeGAL works towards reforming the Family Court system through legislation and education. As a parent who has been abused in the system we encourage you to become involved. Your first step in doing so is to contact us at MEGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Flicity Myers GAL

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The New World of GALs for Lawyers and Courts (and GALs)

Several years ago Chief Justice Saufley told us that there was a problem with consumers of judicial services receiving access to justice (A2J). At that time the statistic she used was that 74% of cases in Maine Family Courts were Pro se. In 2015 that represented 17,065 cases.

We agree that there is a huge problem.

On Friday April 29 the Maine and York County Bar are presenting a all day course called "The New World of GALs for Lawyers and Courts (and GALs)" which covers a variety of topics and explores the new "paradigm" for lawyer, magistrates and Guardians ad litem. What is left off are those who represent themselves - the Pro se litigant or maybe the Pro se lawyer. Of course anyone is invited and if you are lucky enough not to be a member of the bar the cost to you is a cool $245.00 - if you have it.

Is this the way to help the 17,000+ litigants who happen to represent themselves. We don't think so and we ask the President of the Maine Bar how this course helps the self represented?



Stephen Nelson, Esq
President Maine Bar

Dear Mr Nelson,

Re "New World go GALs"

Most "consumers"  who have been through family court for divorce and custody - both 'pro se' and with a lawyer, and who have had the experience of a GAL, are deeply interested in educational events for lawyers and others who work with GALs. We are especially on the alert when we see the title of a CLE, "The New World of GALs". Everyone wants to know the nature of lawyer education about GALs - and what is "new". Will it be significant learning?

Please, let me, as a non-lawyer, former educator share a few thoughts (and some perspective) on this upcoming educational offering for the Bar. As a former educator with curriculum development experience, I look at educational offerings from a structural viewpoint, and ask the following questions: for whom is the offering designed, how will it help the intended student, what is one seeking to accomplish/teach (educational goals), who set these goals, how will you know goals were achieved, will there be learning measurement or just opinion, will this teaching last beyond the presentation, say, in 6 months, 1 year? All of these classic, structural questions are aimed at determining the quality and value of an educational program. I offer the following thoughts about the April 29th program, because of their potential unintended consequences on both attendees and indirectly, later on those who are "consumers" of court services.

I hope that my comments might help the York Bar (and others) to consider a few "blind spots" in program design, and, as the poet Robert Burns put it: "to see counsels as others see us".

1.) The April 29th CLE appears to be an educational offering for those members of the "divorce bar", who will represent the 25% of litigants in family courts, who can afford a lawyer. As far as one can determine, it hopes to provide those lawyers who attend with additional "tools" for the paying clients' benefit.  Perhaps unintentionally, it will further the already significant gap in legal information between the 75%  'pro se' litigants and the 25% represented by the divorce bar. In this regard, the admission price for 'pro se' litigants to attend as auditors, $245.00, is a guaranteed deterrent for most 'pro se' litigants. The price (for "consumers") alone sends, a perhaps unintentional exclusionary message. One has to ask, Don't 'pro se' litigants, the overwhelming majority, need the "new" information about GALs too? It raises some very interesting "ACCESS TO JUSTICE" issues for everyone. As they say, knowledge is to be power.

While your CLE, in our opinion, might not be a very effective teaching model for anyone, the public deserves a chance to look and evaluate, on their own, the quality and value of lawyer CLEs. Their observation may well be the only evaluation of this educational product. Further, they will directly experience the impact of the fall-out from such education in court - for better or worse.

2.) Given the recent, very extensive public contention about GALs in Maine, we are also struck by the total absence of 'pro se' speakers or "consumers" of GAL service, presenting their perspective, as individuals or on panels. There are two speakers who present a 1 hour sociological, "cultural competency", perspective. They include 6 sub-topics in 1 hour, between the 2 speakers, covering culture, poverty, family structure, etc. In a 1 hour presentation by 2 people, with 6 sub-topics to cover. Evenly dividing the time between the two speakers,  this might allow, say, 5 minutes per sub-topic, per speaker. So much for "sociology". Can this sort of presentation - even with highly skilled teachers - be anything other than superficial? It risks taking an important topic and reducing it to "sound bites", "pop sociology", or meaningless tit bits of information of limited value as "working tools" for a member of the "divorce bar". It also puts some of your 75% 'pro se' opponents in the position of being exotic "sociological specimens" that require a series of 5 minute sociological  explanations to make them understandable to legal audiences.

Pity the poor psychologist who also speaks for an hour and is advertised as covering 8 sub-topics. By our calculation this is 7.5 minutes per sub-topic. Psychological enlightenment in 7.5 minutes? The same problem applies here: good topics; not enough time to teach anything meaningful or useful. Both sociology and psychology are subjects about which students spend years acquiring professional knowledge, skill and experience. 7.5 minutes?

In all fairness, might it not be more valuable to the lawyer attendees to get them thinking about their own cultural traits that may impair their functioning with non-lawyer litigants, say, the sociology of lawyers, their cultural blind spots, their unconscious biases, their family structure, their beliefs in what is normal, their cultural values? But, this too would require more than 7.5 minutes. A micro brief sociological presentation about anyone, lawyer or clients of the most diverse sorts, will dehumanize, marginalize or stereotype them. Brief sociology or brief psychology presentations are not a substitute for authentic presentations by real people who have gone into the system bare - with no legal tools?

3.) One of the topics mentioned in the program is: "how to lose a case". In divorce and custody cases which we hear about, there is much emphasis on winning or losing in legal "combat". A "zero sum game" is a tragedy for any child caught in the middle of a gladiatorial courtroom combat - with or without GALs. We have asked, is a traditional adversarial model a benefit to any child in any divorce?  Does GAL's role enhance or diminish the "win/lose" model? What is the responsibility of the lawyers, GAL's and judges in reducing prolonged, inter-party conflict, discouraging contention between parties in divorce and custody and reducing time (and cost)? Where is the CLE instruction in dealing with an opponent who is not a lawyer in a fair, ethical, non-gladiatorial way?  Lawyers  have a big role in promoting or discouraging contention, and many would say that the financial incentives of billable hours promote "wars and battles".

4.) The (for many) "hot button" topic of "judicial discretion" in adhering to the "new GAL rules" is another very important problem that appears to be ignored. The "new world of GALs" may be fine and good, but will the "old world of judicial discretion" render the "new world old"? It has been observed by 'pro se' litigants - not infrequently - that judges often have only a general idea about rules for GALs and don't adhere to them. Will judges follow the "new" rules"? What if they don't? Will anyone care - or notice?

There are some very "spiffy" topics covered in this CLE, for which specialist professionals spend years in study. A one hour session on psychology or sociology with numerous sub-topics at about 7 minutes per subject, is woefully inadequate and potentially harmful. One fears that the psychology and sociology in an hour's presentation of "sound bites" will re-enforce already rampant junk science stereotypes and further lawyer and GAL biases.How will those who designed the course know what lessons (good or bad) have ben learned, or … whether they are unintentionally teaching stereotyping and bias??  Doesn't the education committee need to move this kind of session beyond mere ritual of required attendance at CLEs?


In closing, poet Alexander Pope's words, come to mind:

A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking deeply softens us again.

Yours for deeper educational draughts on the "new" world of GALs.

Jerome A Collins


MeGAL is working to correct the problems in Family Court and the Guardian ad litem system. If you have had issues we would encourage you to become involved to bring about change. The may be accomplished by contacting your state representative and by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Monday, March 28, 2016

MeGAL's response to the Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees

The final salvo in the exchange between MeGAL and the Judicial Branch. After this we have not heard back from the Judicial Branch.

From: J M Coll
Sent: Mar 22, 2016 10:38 AM
To: "Mary.Ann Lynch"
Cc: Justice Andrew Mead , "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , "Avery Day Esq." , Hank Fenton , Sen Burns , Beth Ashcroft , Barry Hobbins
Subject: Re: DOJ letter to State Judges re practices that run afoul of the US Constitution: 3-14-16

Mary Ann Lynch, Esq
Government and Media Counsel

Dear Ms Lynch,

Thanks for your prompt reply to my query about Maine courts' standing with regard to "practices which run afoul of the US Constitution", noted in the US  DOJ letter of 3-14-16. I respect your professional belief that the DOJ letter was intended for all 49 US court systems - other than Maine's, which they did not included. I admire your loyalty to Maine, and your heartfelt belief that "Maine Courts are the way courts should be", to paraphrase a popular marketing slogan for Maine.

You and I had this conversation before, last Spring on the editorial pages of the Portland Press Herald. Your statement of rather similar beliefs was on the PPH editorial page on April 3, 2015; my reply was in a letter to the editor, dated April 16th, 2015, which I include herewith. The public comments that follow the letter are worth reading as well, as they express sentiments contrary to those you are expressing.

2015-04-16 Letter to the editor: More assurances on Maine’s court fees would be welcome    

And once again, I would have to differ with you in public. The DOJ letter expresses concern about the social problems caused by abuse and impoverishment of people who use US courts (excluding Maine you might  claim), as a result of fines and imprisonments that "run afoul of the US Constitution". The letter is about courts which are causing public harm and the 7 points discussed in the letter have applications that can readily be applied to many cases that we know personally, and, yes, here in Maine.

Further, I would ask you, "How do you know that Maine courts are 'off topic' for the DOJ letter - that Maine's courts are not at all what they had in mind when they sent it to all 50  states?" Is there a DOJ certificate that excepts Maine from the intent of the letter? What is your data for your claims of near  perfection?  Have you a window on those Maine courts or a video camera that allows you to bear witness to what actually goes on inside family courts? We do have witnesses to what goes on - lots of them.  And there are recordings. But rather than debate our "truth" versus yours, I would ask, why has there been such strong opposition from the Judicial Branch (and allies) to allowing an evaluation, a legislative  audit or an  OPEGA study of even selected  courts? or a systemic evaluation by out of state experts, or even a simple, inexpensive  "consumer satisfaction survey"? The opposition to notions of any objective assessment is resounding every time we raise the issue. The need for "evaluation tools" is not about "mean-spiritedness" to the Judicial Branch; these, after all, are the universal tools of modern management all over the world. The defensive protection of courts from data-based oversight by you and others appears intellectually dishonest (no court system is "perfect", not even in Maine) and it implies that the public oversight has no role in seeking relief and improvement.

Your remarks about the DOJ letter and your position that Maine is excluded from their concerns, challenge us to approach the DOJ people who wrote the letter and ask them directly, is Maine excluded from their concerns? We'd be pleased to give them some brutal Maine cases and see how the DOJ evaluates their Constitutional cleanliness.

Yours for improving even alleged "perfection".

Jerome A Collins, MD

Kennebunkport, Maine

MeGAL is working for reform of the States Family Court and court vendors through education and legislative action. We encourage you to become involved in the process. To do so please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Previous emails:
2016-03-27 Reply from Maine's Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees 
2016-03-27 To Maine's Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reply from Maine's Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees

On March 20, 2016 we queried the Judicial Branch on whether or not they were aware of a recent letter published by the Department of Justice.The Judicial Branch responded a day later that they know but - the issues brought forth in the letter did not apply to Maine.

From: "Mary.Ann Lynch"
Sent: Mar 21, 2016 2:52 PM
To: J & M Coll
Cc: Justice Andrew Mead , "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , "Avery Day Esq." , Hank Fenton , Sen Burns , Beth Ashcroft , Barry Hobbins
Subject: Re: DOJ letter to State Judges re practices that run afoul of the US Constitution: 3-14-16

Dear Dr. Collins:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter regarding the recent U. S. Department of Justice March 14, 2016 letter. 

First, an identical letter went to all 50 state courts.  These letters were sent without regard to the state of the law in the individual states.  As a result the public has been seriously misled at least with respect to the law and  fine default procedures in Maine.  

Maine is not among the states or court systems that jail defendants for the non payment of a court fine.  In Maine, a person will only end up in jail if:

1) they are seriously in arrears on fine payment AND they have disobeyed or ignored a court order to come to court and explain why they are in default under 17-A, Section 1304; or
2) The court finds that they have the ability to pay, and intentionally and knowingly refused to pay, otherwise known as an "unexcused default."
An unexcused default finding can only be made after a hearing in court under Section 1304. 

I cannot tell you how much time Maine judges spend working with defendants who are in default of their criminal penalties. The time and resources spent working with defendants on their fines is considerable.  The courts will order payment plans as low as $10/month, and permit community service, where appropriate,  in lieu of fines. 

Frankly, Maine judges are diligent in carrying out the laws enacted by the legislature, which sometimes include minimum mandatory fines that some defendants will have great difficulty ever paying. (Try paying a $1000.00 fine plus surcharges, if you are living on a disability or SSI income of  $800/month.)  The judges use as much discretion as they are allowed by law to work with defendants to come up with individualized payment plans, and still maintain respect for the law. 

It is discouraging to see the US Department of Justice paint all courts with the same broad brush that they have painted Ferguson,  Missouri. One would hope that federal officials would research the facts first, before aiming a broad missive at courts which are working hard to uphold the law.


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

"The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government" -  George Washington


It should be noted that "unexcused default" seems to be a term only related to the State of Maine. When a search for what a legal definition of the term was done all we could find was related either to the purchase and sale of an item or Title 17.

With the first paragraph after the two line items we are told that the courts take great pains to work with consumers of Justice. While this may be true it has been witnessed just the opposite. We have numerous stories from people which contradict what the Judicial Branch are telling us.

MeGAL is a grass roots group working to educate and promote legislation to reform Family Court and Guardians ad litem (court vendors). You may get involved by emailing us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


2016-03-27 To Maine's Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees




To Maine's Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees

In Family Courts parents are often faced with paying crushing fees for court vendors (Guardians ad litem) and lawyers or face jail time. The Department of Justice has indicated that this practice must stop in all courts as it infringes on the rights of citizens of this country and consumers of judicial services. We present here the first in a series of email exchanges between MeGAL and the Judicial Branch about this topic.

From: J M Coll
Sent: Mar 20, 2016 1:37 PM
To: Mary Ann Lynch*** , Justice Andrew Mead
Cc: "Stephen D. Nelson Esq" , "Avery Day Esq." , Hank Fenton , Sen Burns , Beth Ashcroft
Subject: DOJ letter to State Judges re practices that run afoul of the US Constitution: 3-14-16

Mary Ann Lynch Esq
Maine Judicial Branch

Dear Ms Lynch,

I am in receipt of an important letter from the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of Access to Justice, dated March 14, 2016. It is signed by Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division and Lisa Foster, Director Office of Access to Justice. The letter is addressed to those responsible for the assessment and enforcement of fines in state and local courts. Its stated aim is to address common practices that run afoul of the United States Constitution due to illegal enforcement of fines and fees in certain jurisdictions, and it speaks to the harm caused defendants by these practices.  Can you confirm that the Maine Judicial Branch has received this letter and is prepared  to act on its specifics.

It is a lengthy letter- and fairly detailed; however, here are a few of the specific issues in very skeletal form:

1.) Courts must not incarcerate persons for nonpayment of fines without first conducting an indigence determination.

2.) Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to pay fines or fees.

3.) Courts must not condition "access to judicial hearings" on prepayment of fines or fees.

4.) Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel she enforcing fines and fees.

5.) Courts must not use arrest warrants and license suspensions as a means of coercing payment of court debt when individuals have not been provided constitutionally adequate procedural protection.

6.) Courts must not employ bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release.

7.) Courts must safeguard against unconstitutional practices by court staff and private contractors.

I am including a pdf  link that connects to the original letter from DOJ.

I would add that, in my opinion, the letter needs widespread circulation as a matter of professional and public education.  It also seems to call for immediate action to amend practices, which "run afoul of the US Constitution".

When- may we expect implementation of this DOJ call for "corrective action" from Maine's Judicial Branch?

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins, MD

Kennebunkport, Maine

MeGAL is working for the reform of our dysfunctional Family Court system and the vendors (GALs) which are used. We do this through education and legislation actions and encourage you to get involved with this process. You can start by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or by finding us on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Open Letter to Hon Andrew Mead and the Justice Action Group

Hon. Andrew Mead
Chair
Maine Justice Action Group

Dear Justice Mead,

I was very pleased to be able to speak with you briefly, Tuesday, and to hear your presentation to members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Your presentation was helpful in getting a brief, general overview of your group's work in seeking "justice for all".

I think everyone agrees with the title of your "Maine Voices" contribution to the Portland Press Herald in 2014: "To ensure that justice truly is for all in Maine". My questions are about just how the Justice Action Group is doing this. You kindly encouraged me to forward questions for consideration by members of the Justice Action Group and herewith are my concerns and questions:

1. Has the committee set any numerical goals for measuring an improvement in Maine's access to justice, year by year? 75% using Maine family courts are widely reported to be 'pro se' litigants. This, on its face, suggests an access to justice problem for these people. It also suggests that, with no lawyer to represent them, they are a disadvantaged class in court. From state figures for 2015, 75%" equals about 17,065 self-representing Mainers, or over 1% of the state population. Does the committee hope its planned programmatic "interventions" will reduce these figures in a calculable way? Say, from 75% to 70%, or 65% in 1-5 years (or in some other specific time period)? As we know, these statistical numbers are not static. Older cases without service accumulate, many cases remain active for more than a year. New cases keep coming in at various rates. Without working statistics, statistical targets and a population-oriented approach, it is hard to measure the effectiveness of various types of interventions aimed at reducing the numerical size of the problem.

2. On the very commendable news about the expansion of legal services for the 'pro se' population, we frequently hear user concerns expressed about financial eligibility for no fee or low fee legal service. People report: I don't understand if I am eligible for services from web information? People we talk with express great difficulty in getting clear, straight answers when they call. We have wondered why these low cost legal services don't post simple, explicit, user-friendly information on their web sites that would enable viewers to see at a glance, if it is worth trying for their service. It shouldn't be "rocket science" for consumers. One spokesperson for low cost legal service told me in a recent phone conversation that their formula was complex, but it essentially boiled down to "food stamp" eligibility. The spokesperson added, "We don't want to be perceived by the bar as competitors for clients." To us it suggested a special interest problem in solving the 'pro se' problem. To what extent are your allowable target populations defined by bar concerns about losing potential clients? Is the bar concerned about "losses" inhibiting more rapid movement by your group? I would also ask about the "match" between geographic spread of the 'pro se' problem across the state and geographic spread/location of services for this population?

3. There is a very old saying, "Beggars shouldn't be choosers"; however, in modern times, a part of any good program management is regular program evaluation. Is there any evaluation of the quality of various legal programs for the poor, or, more recently - for those of "modest means"? Is the professional quality served "the poor" the same as that of full pay legal services, or is there an "economy service"? How do the "consumers" of these services feel about them? Are consumer satisfaction surveys being done?

4. From what I can determine, the Maine Justice Action Group is heavily weighted with members of the legal profession, yet the large majority of "advocacy" in family courts (75%) is being done by 'pro se' litigants. They know the 'pro se' experience, they know their problems with it, they know the things that do and do not work. This population makes up a very sizable majority; only 25% have lawyers. The 'pro se' litigant is the "new normal" in family courts (certainly numerically). Has consideration been given to proportional representation of this population in your access to justice deliberations? It might give the Justice Action Group fresh insights into what the experience feels like from the perspective of a 'pro se' person, and it might provide a healthy challenge to the inherent conservatism of any professionally dominated planning group. It is about taking a more deliberately consumer-friendly  orientation and about  thinking "outside of the professional box". I would also emphasize that there is a difference between "public members" of Judicial Branch committees and actual 'pro se' litigants. It is the latter who need to be heard.

5. Where does Maine fit nationally in the access to justice "spectrum"? Top rank? Middle?  Bottom? Have recommendations for improvements in the Maine program been suggested by the  national group? Are you seeing promising developments in other states that might fit Maine?

ADDENDUM FOR CONSIDERATION: Two more radical concepts have been discussed with us, and both might solve the current stresses of the 'pro se' access to justice problem, while perhaps raising other issues: (a) the Scandinavian approach to divorce seems to remove divorce from the courts altogether except for cases of proven abuse.  (b) divorce is an enormous "profit center" for many lawyers.  Shouldn't this unrepresented divorce population also be a professional bar responsibility for the privilege of a law license? Dividing the 'pro se' population equitably amongst all lawyers in regular office practice might be an amazing catalyst for other changes. It might actually lead to pressure from the divorce bar to adopt the Scandinavian approach to divorce and custody. In a stroke, this would eliminate the 'pro se' build up in divorces. But to move from concept to implementation one would need to alter the "Stakeholder" political dynamic. A large representation of "consumer stakeholders" on the Justice Action Group might alter the group's political dynamic and speed up the accessing of justice.

I offer these questions and thoughts as an outsider to your group, who has been an active observer of the family court 'pro se' problem for 4 1/2 years. I would suggest with all due respect that the access to justice problem is a large one and requires urgent action. As numbers have expanded (75%), there is inevitably an increase of stress, tension and breakage in the system. The "new normal" is not a happy normal by any means, and it is producing an  erosion of how courts function (or don't), It is a very unbalanced,  awkward "new normal" that disrupts grounded professional traditions. Most importantly, along with this damage is the very disturbing loss of public respect for our judicial system.

Please, do not hesitate to call on me if any of my queries are unclear.

Sincerely,

Jerome A Collins, MD
Kennebunkport, Maine

MeGALs mission is bring about reform within the Guardian ad litem (GAL) and Family Court system. We do this though education and legislative process. If you have been hurt by court vendors (GALs) and/of Family Court we encourage you to let your representative know and please contact us. We may be reached at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.