10. WHY NO MANDATORY SERVICE FOR A LAW LICENSE: A tax supported state law school trains students for private practice of law. Students select cases in the law clinic on the basis of what interests them, not randomly or first come, first served. The clinic's clients must be at the dire poverty level (food stamps or equivalent) so as to avoid taking even a minimally paying client from the private divorce bar. Clinic clients, however, are getting quasi amateur services. For all of the public tax support (physical plant, teachers and support staff salaries) there is no public pay back in terms of mandatory public service. Why no obligatory service for students, or for members of the bar? Training for the new normal 'pro se' court lacks a syllabus because the reality of new normal hasn't been recognized. The same might be said of the judge's role training for a 'pro se' court. What is it? May we see a book of instructions, if there is one?
11. JUDICIAL DISCRETION ON STEROIDS: Judicial Discretion in family courts seems to be a creative act, badly in need of clear, consistent boundaries. We are told by legislators, "We make the law, the judiciary re-writes the law 'de facto' using judicial discretion in decisions". Individual judges use rampant discretion in court which the higher ups are unaware of, unless there is a successful formal public complaint. Oversight only exists as the result of a complaint pursued by a consumer, often without a lawyer and with no legal background.
12. FREE LEGAL SERVICES - PAUPERS ONLY, PLEASE: A basic principle for free legal service seems to be that free legal service mustn't compete with the financial interests of the bar. Only food stamps qualifies, please. There are many not on food stamps who cannot receive 'pro bono' or other services because they haven't utterly exhausted every last penny of their own and their family's financial resources, sold their homes, emptied retirement and college plans and pauperized themselves. Like the rest of the legal system, eligibility criteria for low cost services are not well-publicized and are a near secret. The message to the public seems aimed at discouraging users, if possible. Don't want to take paying customers - even poor ones - from the divorce bar's billable hours. This is a part of the reason why a committee of the legal profession's attention to the growing 'pro se population' doesn't move off of the dime.
13. KEEPING THE PRESS UNDER WRAPS: Freedom of the press gets tweaked by lawyer-lobby. 6000 lawyers don't like court reform essays, articles, opinions. 'Ex officio' we have been told that editors receive lawyer comment on contributions critical of the family courts, with un-rebutted, self-serving, predictable answers. Consumers may not quote the law impeccably, but they know when practices violate common sense and "legally correct" may not be justice. They know from experience when corrective mechanisms work and when they don't. There is also a political aspect that frequently comes into play.
14. MONEY MACHINE FUELS DYSFUNCTIONAL CONTENTION: The lawyers easy money machine is called divorce and custody. For it to pay maximally it necessitates a keep 'em fighting 'modus operandi". The "contentious divorce" is "Champagne and caviar" for the divorce bar. It is about endless, gorgeous, billable hours, consultants, GALs, Kids First. BUCKS. The divorce bar blames clients for contentiousness, but it is their "coaching" of clients that cranks them up, eggs them on for continued fighting. I know we can win! Are you going to let him/her get away with that? It is about billable hours. The contentious divorce ends when the client runs out of money and the lawyer loses interest.
15. SELF-POLICING, A NON-STARTER: Self-policing by the family court legal profession (a formal complaint from another lawyer) is rare among practitioners in the same courts, who are members of the local bar. Don't mess with your buddies. It is less rare when an outsider enters the game and horns in on turf. Lawyers may whisper and mutter under their breath about judges and bad judgements, but don't issue complaints, unless their interests suffer. They know the legal facts; they also know the "facts of life".
16. EX OFICIO POWER: Want to win your case? Go to the "Godfather". He's expensive, but he has fingers in every pie with power and influence to spare. Certain lawyers play a huge political role in the family court system and get amazing results.
17. THE SWAMP INHABITED BY CONSULTANTS: Court psychological consultants are a piece of work! Often selected because they "deliver" for certain lawyers and judges on whose referrals they depend. Why do courts use the same old, same old and not contract with recognized quality consultants from, say, Maine Medical Center, the Mass General, etc? It seems to be about control and "predictable" results. Why do the same consultants seem to get recommended again and again by the same lawyers and judges? Too bad, no statistics!
18. GOLDFISH BOWL THERAPY: Court mandated counseling in which the details are shared with opposing counsel (not confidential) is professionally indefensible. It can never be therapy. When it occurs it is shameful judicial act, public mind rape and a travesty of any accepted therapy. It should be outlawed.
19. RECONCILIATION IS RARE AS A STATED GOAL: Reconciliation between allegedly abusive parents and child is very infrequently a formal, written goal in family courts once a judgement is made; it is almost always a part of the plan in human services, Children's Protective cases. Why the difference in not requiring a plan for reconciliation in every case? We'd say one word: Bucks! Keep the motions (bucks) for reconciliation coming in family courts. Don't reconcile till they run out of money.
Hi, stranger, care to gamble the custody of your child in this broken system? Who complains about this sad zero sum game that cheats parents and children? Is this war necessary? Does it do anyone any good? Have the courts, the Judicial Branch, the bar ever studied the impact of this barbarism on child development? Any simple evaluative studies, such as those done in every industry and profession? One court official opined that they are "tacky". Those who advocate change are called, "Whiners. Bad sports! Radicals who want to destroy our fine legal system!"
Every one of the items on our list has cases to back it. The structural problems we note do not come out of thin air. They cry for a legislative audit or courageous investigative reporting. Just ask. We can tell you case by case "where the bodies are buried."
MeGAL is working to bring about Guardian ad litem and Family Court reform. There are additional points to "The Dice Are Loaded" which may be found [HERE]. We encourage you to become involved and can do so by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com as well as your state representative.
The following have been added to the growing list (updated 02/23/2016):
20. INADEQUATE SERVING INSTRUCTIONS/EXPLANATIONS FOR 'PRO SE' "USERS": Although the 'pro se' litigants are a 75% majority (17,000 people in 2015, they are not accommodated by the courts even on small matters like serving court papers. No one explains that a registered letter receipt requested, doesn't have to be signed - even when served to a court official. No one explains that a sheriff-served paper, although expensive, is the only sure way. There is also a lack of clarity about court fees. As of this writing, it is not clear whether expensive court fees have to be re-paid for a new attempt after failed service. There is also the matter of "grumpy" clerical officials, who are grudging in providing information to majority 'pro se' users, while more obliging to "frequent flyer" local lawyers, who know the ropes. It is a small but significant, symbolic example of a failure by the court system at even its lowest level to recognize the "new normal" of majority 'pro se' litigants.