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"?
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