Thursday, July 27, 2017

MEGALs Reply to the Judiciary Committee

Janet Stocco
Legislative Analyst
Office of Policy and Legal Analysis

Dear Ms Stocco,

Please, convey my thanks to the Chairs of the Judiciary Committee, Keim and Moonen, for including me as one of the recipients of their important letter to Chief Justice Saufley. I was impressed that the committee which has oversight of the Judicial Branch would take this very direct oversight step, which I've often wondered about in the past, but never seen before. They are to be commended, and one hopes that "long journey begins with first step."

The Guardian ad litem complaint procedure would benefit from a detailed analysis of why no complaints from "consumers" ever seem to stick? Are the complaints naively formulated? Are they defeated in internal committee debate? Is the judgement of a complaint an "all or nothing" event in which there is no room for even minor "corrective action"? Is the committee unfairly balanced with "special interests" that are protective of GALs? One is tempted to ask, with a "perfect record" of complaint defeat, are all GALs in fact "perfect". One might further observe; with a complaint record suggestive of "perfection", do these "paragons" really need a complaint procedure? Is any procedure which never once scores a "hit" in its entire history, a waste of time and money?

I would suggest that a careful, formal analysis of this "phenomenon of apparent GAL perfection" by the Judicial Branch for review by the Judiciary Committee might provide enlightenment for the very perplexed public.

Yours for understanding GAL "perfection".

Sincerely,

Jerome  A Collins, MD

Saturday, July 22, 2017

ME Judiciary Committee to Chief Justice Saufley on GAL Review Board and Complaint

In what was a surprise move by the Judiciary Committee - a letter was sent to Honorable Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice of Maine's Supreme Court regarding the Guardian ad litem Review Board and Complaint process.

The recommendations made - while they do not go nearly far enough in our opinion - is a start. It also shows that consumers of these services who spoke out or wrote in had an impact on the opinions of this committee. Below is the letter which was sent:



July 18, 2017

Honorable Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice
Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Cumberland County Courthouse
205 Newbury Street
Room 139
Portland, Maine 04101-4175

Re: Guardian Ad Litem Review Board and Complaint Process

Dear Chief Justice Saufley:

As you may know, the Judiciary Committee this session considered and unanimously supported LD 457, An Act To Repeal the Sunset Date on the Children Guardians Ad Litem Law. As the title suggests, this bill repeals the sunset provision in Title 4, Chapter 32, the comprehensive law enacted by the 126th Legislature to reform the statutes, rules and procedures involving the court-appointment, compensation, and oversight of children's guardians ad litem in guardianship, adoption, divorce, parental rights and responsibilities, and child protection proceedings.

At the public hearing on LD 457, we encouraged to learn from Chief Judge E. Mary Kelly about the reforms the Judicial Branch implemented after the enactment Of Title 4, Chapter 32: the development and adoption of the new Maine Rules for Guardians ad Litem governing the qualifications, standards of conduct, and appointment of guardians ad litem as well as the procedures governing oversight of guardians ad [item by the Guardian ad Litem Review Board, a new, independent unit of the Board of Overseers Of the Bar. We are satisfied that these reforms were necessary responses to address the concerns that led to enactment of Title 4, Chapter 32.

We were troubled, however, by the testimony we heard and received indicating that some parties in court proceedings where guardians ad litem have been appointed remain frustrated by the perceived lack of accountability enjoyed by guardians ad litem. Individuals who testified against LD 457 expressed confusion surrounding what they view as an overly complex and impersonal Guardian ad Litem Review Board Complaint system as well as dismay that the heavy representation of rostered guardians ad litem on the Review Board prevents complainants from receiving a fair evaluation of their grievances. We therefore respectfully request that the Judicial Branch and the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board consider implementing the following changes to the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board and the complaint process:

  • improve the balance in board membership between rostered guardians ad litem (currently 8 members) and members of the public (currently 4 members);
  • clearly inform complainants both on the complaint form and on the board's publicly accessible website that board staff are willing and able to assist complainants both with filling out the complaint form and with understanding the complaint process; 
  • remove question C. 1 from the complaint form, which inquires whether the complainant is aware of any past complaints against the guardian ad litem; 
  • require board staff to immediately acknowledge receipt of all complaints in writing; 
  • ensure complaints are processed in a timely manner, with periodic updates provided to complainants to keep them informed of the status of the complaint; and 
  • provide a written explanation to the complainant of the reason for dismissal whenever a complaint is dismissed at any point in the complaint process.
Thank you for considering these recommendations. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Senator Lisa Keim
Senator Chair


Representative Matthew W. Moonen
House Chair

To review a copy of the actual document please follow this link.



Monday, May 29, 2017

Change Takes Dedication and Perseverance

Change Takes Dedication and Perseverance

Family Court is one of the most in-humane institutions ever invented by humans. There is no quick fix to bringing about change. It takes education of those who can bring about change and there will be those (lawyers, Guardians ad litem and other court vendors) who will be there every step of the way to tell those same people that there is no problem.

For 10 years Peter Szymonik has been standing up to the Family Court system in Connecticut. It takes this kind of dedication to bring about change. On May 22 Peter went before Connecticut's Judiciary Committee to give testimony on the appointment of Barry Armata as a judge.

Please watch the video of testimony give by Peter:

Judiciary Committee Public Hearing on Judicial & Workers’ Compensation Commission Nominations Followed by Committee Meeting - Video

MeGAL has been working since 2012 to bring about change in Family Court system. We encourage you to be involved in the process by contacting your representative and start to educate him/ her with what the problems are.

Guardian ad litem -  Felicity Myers

 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Will Your Complaint Against A Judge Work?

An important question about any quality assurance (QA) program, such as the Judiciary Responsibility and Disability Committee, is:

"Does it work?"

To which we would add:

"And for whom?"

For the public users of court services? For Judges themselves? For the Judicial Branch of government? For Lawyers who use the courts? Here are some reflections on these "QA" issues that suggest quality protection is the M.O. of the Committee; rather than public quality assurance:

1. Can any honest probe of one judge's performance avoid tarnishing (or bringing to question) the performance of other judges? Part of the power of the judiciary comes from its unassailable, sacrosanct role image as honest, incorruptible, dispassionate, objective, fair, impartial, knowledgeable about the law and above the fray of whatever contention appears in their courts. A successful consumer complaint "dings" this vulnerable image and suggests that the product, as a whole may not be as advertised. The inevitable questions follow. Is this a "one-off" situation, or are there other product defects?

2. A successful complaint about a judge would be highly likely to attract the attention of other dissatisfied "consumers of court services", who have had the same judge, and complaints might start to come "out of the woodwork". Once there is a precedent of allowing exposure of and sanction for bad judicial behavior, the precedent can be applied to other similar cases. 

3. Apart from "just one bad judge", public complainants may start to examine similar behaviors in other judges. Transparent documentation of new complaints might embolden members of the bar to get into the act and use their legal skills to zero in even more incisively.

4. An open "hunting season" on judges along with better transparency about complaints and their handling would destroy forever the "sacrosanct" judicial image, an important marketing device which maintains public confidence (and lawyerly confidence) in judges.

So how do legitimate, worrisome complaints get handled by "the powers that be"? Dismissal can be "a many splendored thing." The 100% solution.

1. Dismissed. Because the legal complaint was not not well formulated, failed to specify the exact judicial canons or to cite the exact law that may have been infringed upon. In other words, you may have "something", but "WE" set the rules of the game, and "WE" enforce them.

2. Dismissed. For lawyers complaining, there is the above issue, but there are also various potential accusations of "disrespect" of the judge.
  • Too candid in criticism = disrespect. 
  • Too forceful = disrespect. 
  • Too persevering = disrespect. 
  • Too zealous in building a case = disrespect. 
Are you planning on practicing in this state? Will you ever again expect to appear in this judge's courtroom, if he/she is exonerated? Will you be "sanctioned for disrespect/contempt" with referral to the overseers of the bar - with an impact on your license - for disrespect? There are NO rewards for lawyerly zeal in complaining about judicial bad behavior.
3. Dismissed. But working behind the scenes in the "murk" of the Judicial Branch, the offending judge is subsequently "transferred" (for no particular reason), say, from Portland to Ft Kent. All the potatoes you can eat, judge, and you're just a stone's throw from Canada.

4. Dismissed. But the judge "retires", and moves out of state or goes back to being a lawyer.

5. Dismissed. But the behind the scenes maneuvers at the Judicial; Branch lead to someone(?) making an unpublicized decision not to request judicial re-appointment when reappointment time comes up. Now you see him/her; now you don't! 

It all bears a striking similarity to another totalitarian institution, and the now, long passed, Catholic Churches opaque handling of dysfunctional priests: retire, transfer, send away for therapy, move out of the country or to another jurisdiction. Judges appear to be the "new priests"? So far the Boston Globe's Spotlight hasn't assigned its star investigative reporters to this situation.

Do you still want to file a complaint?

In the past 30 years there has not been one successful complaint against a judge - that we are ware of.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Examined - A Parents Right to Free Speech

While this appeal does not center around a Guardian ad litem that has failed. It could have.

In an unusual case the Tennessee Court of Appeals indicated that some of the restrictions placed on the Mother regarding communications were vague or broad.

As an example the Mother was restricted from mentioning the Father at all on social media. This meant that the most benign reference would land the Mother in trouble.

What is even more interesting is that this was a Family Matters case and the Mother was Pro se.

For more details please follow these links:

Herston Law Group - Parent’s Right to Free Speech Examined in Nashville, TN Child Custody Modification: Gider v. Hubbell

Court of Appeals - SINAN GIDER v. LYDIA HUBBELL

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Kinship Providers Cri du Coeur

The expressive French phrase, 'un cri du coeur', says it all about the Picchiotti bills on behalf of kinship providers of custodial care for their grandchildren. These bills are truly a cry from the heart of good people, begging the Maine legislature to correct the daunting legal struggles they've had to go trough in Maine's courts to provide loving care for their grandchildren. These children have ended up in "kinship care", because of the gross dysfunction, neglect or abuse of their natural parents.

As one might say, "There ought to be a law!" Or, more reflectively, "Where has the law been?"

Listening to the intelligent, very well-crafted analyses of some of these bills by the Judiciary Committee analyst on Thursday, one had to concur with her astute reviews. The bills were frequently flawed with regard both to structure and content. And ... after very thoughtful discussion by the committee members, "OUGHT NOT TO PASS" was a logical committee decision. The bills were often described as:

  • Redundant: covered by existing laws.
  • Partially redundant- overlap with existing laws
  • Unconstitutional or challenging to the constitution
  • Apt to create confusion in the courtroom's analyses
  • There were other critiques of these bills that added to the "flawed status"


BUT... the grandparents 'cri du coeur' remains and cannot be silenced by very logical analysis a proposed law. The needs of these Maine children for loving care from a "kinship provider" don't evaporate, because a bill OUGHT NOT TO PASS.  

FURTHER, we'd say, "Redundancy, overlap, courtroom confusion and other critiques of the Picchiotti  bills don't answer our critique: IF THERE ALREADY ARE LAWS IN PLACE TO HELP THE KINSHP PROVIDERS AND THEIR GRANDCHILDREN, THEY MUST NOT BE WORKING. Or certainly not working as they should?

We smell a rat. A large rat!

All is not well. The Committee needs to dig deeper and understand why the bills were very seriously proposed.  Something isn't working for Maine Children and families. We need answers. We need corrective action.


MeGAL is working to bring about change to the "Family Court" system since 2012. We do so through the education of parents who are caught in the process as well as our representatives who are unaware of the issues involved in "Family Courts". For more information please email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Felicity Meyers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We Support Rep John Picchiotti's Bills For Kinship Providers

We strongly support all of Rep John Picchiotti's bills. All of them are very  much needed by those children who have been abandoned by parents, or whose parents are  determined to be "unfit". The bills fill a gap in healthy  support systems for children in the care of (non-parental) kinship providers. They also provide much needed public support to the dedicated kinship providers themselves. The bills address issues that have cried out for attention for a very long time.

THE PICCHIOTTI BILLS:

LD 063 An Act To Ensure Complete Investigations by Guardians Ad Litem - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill requires that a Guardian ad litem should do a complete investigation and report on standardized, court approved forms that list topic headings the GAL tasks to be investigated and outcome of investigation. Reports must be provided to both parties well in advance of hearings. Tasks assigned by judge must comply with GAL role. We do not support the aspect calling for removal of the SUNSET CLAUSE - in this bill, and Rep Picchiotti tells us that it was put there in error by the Revisor's office. He plans to explain its removal to the Judiciary Committee when the bill is presented on Thursday, March 23rd at 1 pm.

LD 363 An Act To Make a Child Living with a Custodial Relative Caregiver Eligible for State-paid Legal Services - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill aims at giving children, living with kinship providers, legal protection and legal representation in custody disputes between parents and de facto parents (foster kinship).  Guardians ad litem do not provide formal legal court representation to children in litigation situations. They gather information for the judge.

LD 429 An Act Concerning Guardians Ad Litem and Determinations Regarding the Best Interest of a Child in Custodial Relative Caregiver Cases - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. Act considers when the child's best interest is reviewed.  Giving custody to a relative must be considered.

LD 147 An Act To Amend the Maine Parentage Act - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill prohibits a child support order from requiring payment of child support from the 'de facto' parent to another parent of the child if the 'de facto' parent became a 'de facto' parent due to the unwillingness or inability of the other parent to provide care for the child.

LD 282 An Act to Support Caregivers when Children Have Been abandoned by their Parents - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This concerns caretaker relatives who take custody when a child's parents have abandoned them without formal guardianship or power of attorney. 'De facto' parents may petition the court to be appointed guardian. The law would amend factors for the court to consider in the child's best interest: parental participation in child's life, parental capacity, disposition of parent to uphold a normal parent-child relationship

LD 362 An Act to Allow Relative Caregivers Standing in Court - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill specifies that a relative caregiver involved in a child protective proceeding has an unconditional right to intervene in the proceeding.

From our perspective these several bills correct the severe legal disadvantages that dedicated kinship providers have faced in their efforts to provide good homes to the children of parents who are "unfit". Often these children are their grandchildren. That they have not been considered by courts as providers of child care "in the child's best interest" is hard to understand; that they do not have standing in court is another illogical injustice to them and the children they care for; that they might be "hit on" for child support is simply unbelievable; and that the children in these cases have no legal representation is a failing of the courts to protect these vulnerable children.

Representative Picchiotti and the Kinship Provider group deserve enormous credit for bringing these issues to public and legislative attention. We sincerely hope that the legislature acts in favor of these bills.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

We Are Asking the Sun Set On LD 872

To: Members of the Judiciary Committee for Thursday, March 23rd at 1 pm

From: Jerome A Collins,  Maine Guardian ad litem Alert

Re: LD 457, the "Sunset" Bill, sponsor: Rep Matthew Moonen


We strongly oppose this bill. The sun should set  on the law, a the law itself  specifies, in October, 2017..

The original version of this law was conceived by Sen David Dutremble and me over a long afternoon, in 2012, at my kitchen table in Kennebunkport. We based our action on the facts that (a) nothing was happening at the Judicial Branch to reform the GAL program, (b) we were both hearing heartbreaking complaints from numerous victims of the GAL program that was the result of no program oversight or management, (c) there already existed a "blueprint" for GAL reform waiting to be activated in the form of the nationally respected 2006 OPEGA Audit of Maine GALs. We expanded the focus of the 2006 OPEGA report to cover all GALs, wherever they worked: Probate, Children's Protective or Divorce and Custody.

The Dutremble bill, LD 872 was born in the grass-roots, nourished by the legislative process with extensive emotional public hearings and signed into law by the Governor in late Spring 2013. It was a "people's bill" all the way. It solved "people problems" in family courts. It was a solution that grew out of long neglect by the Judicial Branch of their GAL program; it corrected a problem for vulnerable groups, who were forced to use GALs.

As not uncommonly happens, with laws created by the Legislature with strong citizen input, the Judicial Branch worked over the "Dutremble Law" using their preferred process, committees composed of "stakeholders": family court lawyers, GALs and family court judges - all with significant conflicts of interest. The law was radically  transformed from "people friendly" to "family bar and GAL-friendly". It is NO LONGER THE PEOPLE'S LAW; IT IS A LAWYERS' and GAL's LAW.. THIS RE-WORKED LAW IS NOT THE ONE WE WORKED TO CREATE. It may have the same name and number but it is a very different "creature".

The centerpiece of this "new" Judicial Branch law is the GAL complaint procedure, safely tucked into the Overseers of the Bar.
  • The complaint procedure is said to be a substitute for actual oversight and nonexistent management. It is not either.
  • The legislature had called for a "user-friendly" GAL  complaint procedure. It is now about as de-humanized a process as one could imagine.
  • The current procedure provides pages of legalistic instructions, but no human help.
  • The steps in the procedure are carried out by mail (US postal service). No names of those making decisions appear.
  • The consumer making a complaint fires of a complaint into a nameless, faceless, bureaucratic "black hole".
  • 100 % of consumer complaints have been dismissed without any corrective action of the mildest kind being taken. This is in the tradition of all previous complaint procedures that go back for years.
It is unclear whether these consumer complaints are viewed as legal complaints (breaking the law) or vocational complaints (competence). Once a complaint is dismissed, however, the GAL's name is cleared and removed from the record. The complaint never happened. We'd suggest that the Judiciary Committee members do a "walk through" of this process to get a feel for it. We'd also suggest that they obtain information about professional complaints from the Bureau of licensure, a very different process, a different more humane approach.

There are many other details I could mention, if I was allowed the time, but they are covered in our extensive rebuttal to Chief Judge Mary Kelly's report to the legislature. Here are the troubled topic headings:

  • Consumer satisfaction survey: We dare you to ask for data.
  • Financial ceilings for GAL services: Just motion the judge you need more time (and money) and the ceiling lifts.
  • Reporting information systematically and computer friendly - Rep Picchiotti's bill attempts to fill this missing piece.
  • Management and oversight of GALs - Sorry, it's covered by the GAL complaint procedure. It is? How?
  • Enforcement of GAL Rules and Standards - Sorry it's embedded in the GAL complaint procedure. With 100% dismissal are GALs "perfect"?
  • Data for any aspect of the law? What's data? Or. The numbers are "confidential", proprietary, secret.
  • Double talk: not intentionally. We have to protect all parties, but numbers how can they hurt anyone except the Judicial Branch?
The Maine legislature needs to ask itself: Is this the law, you sent to the Judicial Branch in 2013? We say it has had radical surgery at the JB since 2013? We say it is now very consumer-unfriendly. Do you want to inflict it on the people of Maine? If you can't decide, if you are confused by the opposing views on this law, you need an outside, objective OPEGA study to examine the problems and give you recommendations for action. We are told that Rep Moonen has already communicated to the Government Oversight Committee (and OPEGA) that an OPEGA study would be "premature", that the Judiciary Committee needs time to review Chief Judge Mary Kelly's report (and our rebuttal report?). It is unclear to us whether Moonen was expressing his personal views aimed at stalling OPEGA, or whether he expressed the sentiments of the Judiciary Committee as a whole. If the latter, this would close further public discussion of the "sunset" bill, until you review the opposing reports and decide where to go in resolving the questions raised. We are not afraid of any OPEGA analysis, are you?

It;s an airtight system

Jerome A Collins
MeGAL

If you are unable to attend on Thursday (and even if you are) we encourage you to submit written testimony to the Judiciary Committee. In submitting testimony please send to the following email address:

susan.pinette@legislature.maine.gov


And ask that your written testimony be distributed to all members of the committee.







felicity myers GAL

Friday, March 10, 2017

Empty Promises: The Dutremble GAL Law in the Hands of the Judicial Branch

When courts get involved with families about any aspect of child custody, it is always a high stress situation for all concerned. For families and children facing divorce action, child protection considerations or probate mandated custody, the circumstantial dynamics are already dire for children and their parents. Courts add yet another level of stress to these situations, just by being courts. The courts  use unfamiliar language, an unfamiliar 'modus operandi' and a traditional adversarial model of problem solving that is imposed on top of the unstructured, human adversarial conditions.

Courts will frequently add a 'Guardian ad litem' to this volatile mix, and the total picture can  disintegrate further. A 'Guardian ad litem' is usually a lawyer or mental health professional, who works for the judge in the case, collecting data about the case that may not be easily accessible to the judge, such as home circumstances, parenting skills, health, education and mental health issues. All of this is to be carried out "in the child's best interest". It is a delicate balancing act, actively scrutinized by all the players, and, the stakes are extremely high - the child or children, who are up for varying custody arrangements.

Families involved with GALs, as they are called, have been very vocally unhappy with oversight of  the Maine GAL program for years. A nationally-respected, 2006 OPEGA Performance Audit of Maine GALs, did a careful analysis and made a series of recommendations aimed at program correction. It was largely tabled by the Judicial Branch. In 2013, Senator David Dutremble and many GAL victims decided to legislate reform of  the GAL program. They used the 2006 OPEGA Guardian ad litem Report as the basis for Chapter 406, a law to improve the functioning of GALs with respect to children. It involved many willing workers who were GAL program victims and lots of bipartisan legislative support - all the way the Governor. There was huge excitement and a great sense of accomplishment on the part of everyone who worked for the bill/law. After the bill was signed into law in the late Spring of 2013, it went to the Judicial Branch for implementation.

In the intervening time since 2013, the rumors about the fate of 2013, Chapter 406 have not been reassuring. Serious consumer problems continue under the new law. As required by the law, an extensive report on the program's progress was given to the Judiciary Committee by Chief Judge, Mary Kelly about 2 weeks ago. This was followed promptly with an equally extensive rebuttal to the Kelly Report by Maine Guardian ad litem Alert (MeGAL).

Here are a few of the concerns in our report.

The recent Kelly Report doesn't answer public questions: How are the various changes instituted by the Judicial Branch working? Are Consumers satisfied? Is there yet and oversight/ supervision of Guardians ad litem? If so, how? Is there any data to support public evaluation?

Judge Kelly's review ignores the important 2006 OPEGA Audit of Maine GALs, as a baseline measurement with which to gauge change.  OPEGA spelled out: "Here are the GAL problems - and here's what needs to be done to correct them!" To many consumers, the GAL problems in 2017 don't look too different from 2006. The significant issues for this program  continue to be the same: no managerial "oversight" of GALs., no enforcement of written changes dealing with the GAL role, no quality assurance and a complaint procedure that is not "user-friendly."

The cornerstone of the  recent Judicial Branch report is a detailed presentation of the new Guardian ad litem complaint procedure. This opaque, written procedure is handled exclusively by a mail exchanges of letters. It is the only avenue for enforcement of "oversight". It is coupled with a belief that judges appointing a Guardian ad litem exercise the best "oversight" of Guardians ad litem. It is a highly disputable concept, entangled in local Bench-Bar politics and power struggles - and it would require a judge to admit bad judgement in an appointment, calling attention to bad judgement in other decisions. Complaint procedures, which dismisses 100% of cases, seems highly suspect as oversight or quality assurance; particularly, when there is no other corrective action imposed. It raises the question: Doesn't the public deserve better? The complaint procedure is neither useful nor user-friendly.

It is time for the legislature to ask for an OPEGA audit, of the GAL program. An audit would analyze problems and lay-out a blueprint for change. Judge Mary Kelly could show leadership by joining in the call for OPEGA to evaluate her service.

Jerome A Collins

This piece ran in the Portland Press Herald on 03/10/2017 and may be found by following this link:

Empty promises: Guardian ad litem reform in hands of Judicial Branch

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Has the Guardian ad litem Problem Vanished - It Has According to the Judicial Branch

September 2012 the one public member on the Guardian ad litem  Task Force wrote a minority report to the Judicial Branch regarding issues with the task force. February 15, 2017 the Judicial Branch present their final report on LD 872. In reading the report and only this report one would assume that the problems associated with Family Courts and Guardians ad litem have been resolved or under control. It is a glowing report which may be found here - GAL Report 2-2017. In reading this report please keep in mind that while the Judicial Branch may feel that things are running like a well oiled machine. We would like to point out that this report is more self serving than anything and there are still very serious systemic issues which have only been whitewashed over. What follows is the minority report to the Judicial Branch September 21, 2012 (which has also been included in the recently submitted GAL Report.


TO: GUARDIAN AD LITEM TASK FORCE
FROM: JEROME A. COLLINS M.D.
DATE: SEPTEMBER 21, 2012
APPENDIX C

MINORITY COMMENTS ON REPORT TO THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT BY THE JUDICIAL BRANCH GUARDIANS AD LITEM TASK FORCE

CONTEXT:

From my position as the only public member of the 19-member committee, the only one with no personal financial interest in the Guardian ad litem problem, my perspective on the problem is quite from that of the majority of the committee. While I believe that the chairing of the meetings was fair and friendly, there were decidedly biased undercurrents among the participants. "Is there a GAL problem?" is still a serious issue for many. Why not just tweak the current system, which works so well (for GALS?) another fairly significant position. And, "if 'they' want change, make them pay for it," was the surprisingly hostile position of one prominent family lawyer. I mention these few (of many) examples of bias that I felt, to indicate a strong interest on the part of a significant number of the committee in clinging to the 'status quo' to the greatest extent possible. This protective conservatism of the majority colors the document and colors my current opinion of it.

THE CURRENT DOCUMENT:

The document I received appears to be very sketchy. It pulls together many threads of issues that wore discussed in our three meetings, but it leaves unresolved very significant questions of detail. There are no instructions for users. There are no guided forms for users. There is no explanation users in clear language the process would work, the steps they would lake, the algorithm. It is not geared towards a citizen complaint made without legal assistance. In general, user-oriented supports arc absent, It desires imitate the NH complaint process but in our estimation it falls short. Without more fleshed-out detail the document is a "tabula rasa" on which one can project ideas but without solid grounding. leaves a great deal to the input of the Supreme Court, but disallows helpful guidance to the court and forces to give the court a blank conceptual check, when we've never done business before and don't know if we share common ground.

THE UNDERLYING CONCEPTS:

What exactly is the conceptual nature of a complaint regarding a Guardian ad litem? Is it a legal complaint between two adversaries about allegations of harm or damage, or is it vocational complaint about GAL performance to an oversight agency from one or more members the public, which questions whether this worker's performance meets publicly approved/regulated standards of practice? In our opinion, the current document attempts to merge the two ideas unsuccessfully at the expense or the consumer complaint. It strives to address the vocational questions, but in a heavily legalistic context that is apt to suffocate the consumer. Part of the problem is that GAL's vocational considerations lack a standard of practice, and GALs themselves lack an experience in how to judge standard practices of colleagues. The document makes no mention of training for all concerned in oversight that might teach these skills even the use of the court room concept of "standing" belies a legalistic bias, which would be unfamiliar find constricting to consumers.

This awkwardness can be in the questions raised in committee about "standing." In consumer protection agencies, the notion of "standing as traditionally applied in court (who may participate) doesn't apply. It is off-topic. Any member of the public with direct actual experience of a worker's malfunctioning may bear witness. It enhances agency oversight. This awkwardness and conceptual model confusion makes the creation of the new complaint process worrisome. In NH it, was found after an initial placement of the complaint process in the Judicial Branch the lack of experience of this branch in dealing with vocational issues and consumer protection necessitated a move to the licensing bureau. We feel that this is very apt to happen in Maine.

THE 12 MEMBER REVIEW BOARD:

This board with 12 members, two of whom would be from the public, with the other 10 being Guardians ad litem, to us to stack the decks wildly in favor of GALS. But it is a problem, not just in terms of numbers and composition. It also a problem of how such board would function in carrying out its duties. There is absolutely no tradition amongst the GALs in Maine or within their trade organization tor self-policing. There is little in the role or experience of GALs that prepares them to address consumer protection issues. Trade organizations , such as MEGALI, (and others) are well known for their tolerance or malfunctioning even as it approaches level of public scandal. Further what standards of practice would the panel be using? How would they judge a failing? Would any the panels have experience in assessing vocational functioning? It raises a host of questions about the knowledge skill and experience necessary to make critical vocational and consumer protective judgments.

In addition, there is also the very important question of attitude towards the public on the part of GALs, They see themselves us allies of judges and of the children they deal with. They are habituated to stand apart from the parties and exhibit independence. From our experience there is very often significant defensiveness to criticism on the part of these lightly trained GALs and of their trade organization. Some of these attitudinal biases surfaced during the recent Committee meetings. Examples: "Is there a. problem?"; "Do we need a new program?"

In our view board composition and hoard training the oversight role need to be reconsidered.

FINANCING:

In brief, it is our view, as a matter of principle, that the public shouldn't have to pay to make a vocational complaint to the oversight agency about one or their workers, be that oversight the responsibility of the Judicial Branch or of the Administrative Branch. It should be noted that there is currently no charge for public complaints by Maine's licensing boards. A fee to make a complaint sends a perhaps unintentionally off-putting message to the public: your complaint will cost you. It is a deterrent; we don't really want to know. One member of the committee expressed the issue with considerable animus: "Make them pay!", and suggested complaints were "an ego issue." It raises a serious question: Does the Judicial Branch Truly want to know about malfunctioning officers of the court in order to correct these situations? "Make them pay"' is not an attitude that encourages the public to assist the Judicial Brunch in its oversight.

GAL OVERSIGHT AND LICENSING BOARD OVERSIGHT:

Although it was mentioned m the committee, the jurisdictional conflict about a GAL whose actions appear to be malpractice of their base profession is not addressed in the current proposal. It is a serious consumer protection issue that a professional could avoid corrective action from complaints to their licensing hoard by needing to address GAL complaints at the Judicial Branch first. It is a serious problem, troubling to the public. There needs to be a corrective plan developed with the licensing boards.

WILL THE "NEW COMPLAINT PROCESS" BE USED BY PUBLIC?

At the moment, then is an unofficial, recent embargo by the public on GAL complaints. This action has arisen, because many people felt that the current complaint process was demeaning, always resulted in dismissal-even in the face of serious considerations. People also felt that the seemly inevitable dismissal whitewashed malfunctioning GALS gave no consumer warning of bad actors. Will the new process be used? Hard to say, but its use will definitely be limited without out' endorsement, Your limited "statistics" are apt to be even better!

I regret having to address so many problems on the eve of submitting a proposal to the Supreme Court, but so many ideas were presented in the committee meetings without clear direction-other than broad principle-being agreed on that seeing a written proposal surfaces many concerns. These are expressed here as clearly as possible; however, I'd be pleased to explain further, if appropriate.


MeGAL has been working for Family Court change for over five years. In 2013 and 2015 we had a number of bills submitted to help bring about this change. We continue to work for this change and in 2017 we are requesting an audit much like what was done back in 2006. We encourage you to become involved in the education of family, friends, co-workers and your representatives as to what the issues are. You may also contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Vendor Services Survey - Ending 2/15/2017

As part of LD 872 An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine the Judicial Branch was required to survey consumers of their vendors services.

If your case is finished you have an opportunity to take this survey as a way to give the Judicial Branch constructive feedback as to how their GAL vendor did.

The Judicial Branch is requesting parents and attorneys in completed Family Court/ Law and child protection cases to answer a brief survey about the experience with the Guardian ad litem's service.

There are four survey's available. The majority of those reading this blog should take survey two. A link to the main survey page may be found here.

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Services Survey

If you were a parent who was involved in a family law matter, please complete Survey Two entitled, "Survey of Parents Regarding Guardians ad Litem in Family Law Cases." - Survey Two

The Judicial Branch is supposed to be making a presentation to the Judiciary Committee on 2/15/2017. As part of that presentation we expect that the Judicial Branch will be showing what statistics they have collected on their vendors. The survey is 12 questions in length with opportunity to comment. It is an an anonymous survey.

MeGAL works to educate parents and family members as well as our representatives to the issues that infect our Family Court system. If you have had a problem or feel that something just is not right with your GAL or Judge we encourage you to email us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Friday, February 3, 2017

On The ReAppointment of Hon Daniel Driscoll

Dear Committee Members

MeGAL, much like the Judicial Advisory Committee, conducted a survey on the re-appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll. We asked participants whether they thought the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll should have another 7 years as judge in our courts. The responses are anonymous to protect those who still may be involved in cases before Judge Driscoll.

While we had less than a week to collect responses comsumers of judicial services responded. Parents, grandparents, friends and lawyers voiced their opinion. Comments were welcomed but limited.

1. 9% of respondents approve of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll's reappointment
2. 91% of respondents did not approve or questioned the reappointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll.
3. Of those who responded we know that 19% were Pro se. Of the Pro se litigants almost 100% expressed in their responses that the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll had issues with handling a non lawyer in his court.

Some comments that were left:

1. My experience with Driscoll was not good. I was Pro se in his court and it was a nightmare. He kept telling me that I couldn't call witnesses, or entering in evidence. My ex had a lawyer and the lawyer was allowed to call any witness he wanted and the same with evidence.

2. I was as a Pro se litigant up against a lawyer in Driscoll's court. While warned that I should get a lawyer I could not afford one. It was hard if not possible to introduce evidence or witnesses during the trial. The lawyer had no issue. I think Judge Driscoll didn't know how to be fair and that is a problem. Did I receive justice and did my ex? My ex would say that justice was handed out. I would disagree. My story was not heard and was limited. I was prevented from telling it because I did not know how to act in this court room culture. I think Judge Driscoll tried but he just is not equipped to handle Pro se.

3. I was a Pro se litigant in judge Driscoll's court room many years ago. My case is slowly collecting dust.

At the time that I was going to court I had a deep disdain for the judge. Now I feel sorry for him because he, like many other judges in the Family Court system, are ill equiped to handle Pro se litigants. Pro se litigants in Family Court represent a litle over 74% of the cases. Of these cases 86% are Pro se litigants going up against a lawyer. As a Pro se litigant it is like a caveman or Roman Leginary going into battle against a modern day solider. We are scared and unknowing how to ask.

In court judge Driscoll gave the impression of not understanding what I was experiencing. My impression was that I was expected to know how to act in court, to know the culture of the court. He did not understand what I was going through in trying to plead my case to him. I was up against a lawyer and at almost every turn I was shot down either by the lawyer or by the judge when I tried to present evidence or witnesses. The lawyer by my perception at the time had no problems doing either. As a result I was crucified and lost custody and visitation with my children.

As a Pro se litigant I was not accustomed to the culture of the court. I knew how to get justice when I had an issue with let’s say Wal Mart, Hannaford or any number of businesses. The industry I worked in deals with people trying to get their issues resolved. To me the courts would/ should be the same. I did study cases and talked with others before going to trial. Because I am not a lawyer working in law how was I to know the tricks used. Imagine as a consumer you go to a store because you bought an item that proved to be defective. When returning the item and asking for a refund you ask the wrong way. For instance you ask for a refund on the purchase price. But because you ask of a refund and not a store debit back to your credit card the request is denied. Bad analogy but I hope you understand.

In looking back I was not prepared to go up against a seasoned lawyer and doing so in an environment that is still foreign to me. I had no choice in the matter. How to talk and address the judge or the opposing lawyer. How to ask questions within this culture. Judge Driscoll, in looking back, did little to help me understand why for instance the motion I just presented made little or no sense. Or the argument I am trying to make.

I believe at the time judge Driscoll had little to no guidance for dealing with Pro se litigants. It is my understanding that this is still the same. How can one who is giving the appearance of being impartial and just (as no one can push their bias aside) be a judge in situations that they are ill equipped to handle? How can someone pass "fair" judgment in situations that involve Pro se litigants up against lawyers?

I am asking that judge Driscoll not be re-affirmed until there is a time when he has the skill set needed to deal with those situations involving Pro se litigants. Thank you for your time.


The Judicial Advisory Committee in their surveys to vet any judge almost exclusivly seeks and receives the opinions of lawyers. Those who work within the judicial industry. The human element is lost on the committee. The pain that parents and families go through is lost and unrecorded. We ask that you consider what these people have experienced.

Tomorrow February 2, 2017 you will hear from judges, lawyers and possibly other court officials. They will tell you how great this judge is and has been. How great his court is. Yet - you will be missing the stories of those who lived through his court process. MeGAL asks that you weigh what your vote means to those future cases. Will they be fair, will they be just, will they be in the publics best interest.

Thank you for your time

Paul Collins
MeGAL
Rockland, ME

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Re-Appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll

Dear Members of Maine's Judiciary Committee,

Judges serve an important function within our society preserving the law. They do this by interpreting the law in a fair way and being consistent in that interpretation. The decision of reappointment should not be exclusive to lawyers, judges and assorted court officials as this leads to a legal professional perspective which does not take into consideration the real life experience of the public (consumers of judicial services). In re-appointing and doing so in a fair and equitable manner the views and experiences of the public (consumers of judicial services) of a judges service must be taken into consideration. Otherwise all we have is an “ole boy” network of approval. Every effort must be made to include the thoughtful input and experience of the people of Maine, who know from experience.

Without the actual human experiential dimension, any reappointment is just rubber stamping the judge back into the court. As our Judges are tasked with protecting and advancing our laws the current closed Judicial vetting system allows for the undermining of that task. Judges are not held accountable for their actions in this closed system. While it has been argued by the legal industry that complaints can be made against a judge by the general public. The process is alien and consumes a huge amount of their time and financial resources. The public (consumers of judicial services) is left with the feeling that their input is not wanted and it is better to leave things as they are out of frustration. Because of this dysfunctional system there is little recourse by the public to better the system. It results in a system that has and is slowly degrading, and judicial services becomes the tool of those who can afford justice over those who cannot. 

Are our Courts and specifically our Family Courts a public service for everyone - including the 74% who are Pro se. Or are they a publicly supported workplace for the Divorce and Legal Industry?

We see evidence that our Family Courts in Maine have a few Judges of questionable character. To be exact, there are four judges in our Family Court system, for whom we have very grave concerns about how they conduct themselves in their courts. One of these Judges is before you today and asking to be reappointed. While the decision to reappoint the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll may have already been recommended, we want to leave you with something to think about. Stop, look and listen then think:

If your decision is wrong, who will we (the public and your constituents) be able to hold accountable for the continued abuse, pain and suffering that families that we know, have gone through and will continue to go through?

Some before you on Thursday February 2, 2017 will be watching and commenting as the public and your constituents. They are risking much in being here before you.

Thank you for your time and efforts. It is time for an in depth audit of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll Family Court.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely

Paul Collins
MeGAL
Rockland, Maine

The above letter was submitted as testimony to the Judiciary Committee regarding the re-appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll,

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Consumer Survey On - The ReAppointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll

As a consumer of judicial services you have a unique opportunity to complete vetting of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll who is up for re-appointment. The Maine Judiciary Committee will be going through formalities Thursday February 2, 2017 at 2 pm in State House room 438.

The Maine Bar and Judicial Advisory Committee have sent out emails asking for the opinions of lawyers and have cleared the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll for the Judiciary Committee. Consumers were left out of the equation. Your views as consumers of Judicial Services are just as valuable - if not more so - than those of lawyers. Otherwise without actual human experiential dimension any reappointment is just rubber stamping the judge back into court.


Our survey is one question - whether you believe the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll should be reappointed. You then have the opportunity for comment before submitting. Wednesday February 1 2017 we will be submitting the results to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Our survey may be found here: Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll ReAppointment


MeGAL is bringing about change in our Family Court System through educating the public and legislative action. For further information please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com of find us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Are Our New GAL Rules and Complaint Process Working in Maine?


2016 was the first year that the new rules for Guardians ad litem were in use for consumers. It is also the first full year that these new rules and complaint process was in effect. For those who don't remember the old rules for Guardians ad litem (GAL) consisted of 14 pages of instruction and simply put that if you as a consumer felt a GAL did not follow the rules could file a complaint with the head Judge. The Judge would determine the merit of the complaint based on both sides telling their story and issue a verdict. The model is similar to the complaint process that just about every business in America uses.

Up to 2014/ 2015 there were no successful consumer complaint brought against GALs that resulted in any form of discipline.

The Judicial Branch determined that this old antiquated process needed improvement. In September 2015 the Judicial Branch unveiled their new and improved rules and complaint process. We as consumers now had 78 pages of legalistic rules to go through as part of this improvement. The portion that covered the complaint process alone covered 30 pages. In addition the process for filing a complaint became a multi layered process that is similar to the complaint process used by the Maine Bar.

So what happened last year?

24 Complaints were filed against Guardians ad litem using this new and improved process which resulted in the dismissal of 24 complaints. No GAL was disciplined in any way, shape of form. But it gets even better. As part of the improved complaint process if you as a consumer feel that the GAL Review Board got it wrong - you may seek review by a public member of the GAL Board. While we do not have a number for how many reviews were sought - we can tell you that none were successful.

100% of the complaints filed resulted in 100% being dismissed.

That is an amazing figure when one looks at how the Family Court system is set up - to encourage conflict. It is even more amazing when one experiences the personal bias of a GAL in a system which provides no actual oversight and management of these court vendors. In Maine we are truly blessed with this perfect system.

MeGAL provides support and education to parents, consumers and representatives about the issues which plague our Family Courts. If you would like more information we encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


For details on what members of the GAL Review Board have done since inception to help better GAL rules and complaint process we present minutes of their meetings:


2015-10-21 Organizational Meeting of the GAL Review Board
2016-01-19 GAL Review Board Meeting
2016-04-25 GAL Review Board Meeting
2016-09-16 GAL Review Board Meeting


Monday, January 16, 2017

Maine's 128 Legislature to Consider Bills Concerning Guardians ad litem

We are aware of three bills concerning Guardians ad litem which will be up for consideration in Maine's 128 legislative session. Currently all we have are the titles of three bills. They are as follows:

Under the heading of Domestic Relations / Child Custody - found in page 90

LR 688 An Act Concerning Guardians ad Litem and Determinations Regarding the Best Interests of a Child in Custodial Relative Caregiver Cases - Rep Picchiotti of Fairfield

Under the heading of Probate / Guardian ad litem - found on page 94

LR 383 An Act To Ensure Complete Investigations by Guardians ad Litem - Rep Picchiotti of Fairfield
LR 1937 An Act To Repeal the Sunset Date on the Children's Guardian ad Litem Law - Rep Moonen of Portland

We have written to both Representatives for a summary of these three bills to help us determine the impact on the consumers of Judicial Services - Maine's Families. More will be forthcoming on these bills,

MeGAL is working to bring about change to the Family Court process in Maine. We do this through the education of Parents and our Representatives of the issues regarding "Family" Courts and the vendors our courts support. If you would like more information we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

http://legislature.maine.gov/uploads/originals/128th-1st-regular-preliminary-list-of-legislator-bills-s-1.pdf

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pro se Civil Rights Abuse not Important Enough for Senator Susan Collins

In 2015 MeGAL approached Senator Susan Collins office for help in supporting the civil rights of Pro se parents who are being systematically abused by the justice system. It was pointed out that across the country over 50% of the "Family Court" cases are Pro se. Maine has the distinction of having 75% of court cases being Pro se.

As a Pro se litigant you are going into battle often knowing little or nothing about the rules of engagement. You are a caveman against a modern day soldier.

In June 2015 the process was started and in September of 2015 her office agreed to help and make inquires into this issue.

Almost two years later we are still being told that the office is working on the issue with the Department of Justice and that something maybe happening next month. This was the same canned answer given a month or so ago and the time before that. For all we know nothing has happened in the past two years other than being told that something maybe happening.

When pushed recently as to why Senator Collins did not go directly to Attorney General Loretta Lynch the staff person replied that the Senator only does that for "IMPORTANT" issues. Otherwise it is low level staff member to low level staff member for issues like ours. We asked if this meant that Senator Collins doesn't consider Maine and other families whose civil rights are being abused in Pro se "Family Court" cases as being important - we were told "Oh No. Every constituent is important! Everyone!".

Yeah sure they are Senator Collins.



That is why something is always going to happen "next" month.

MeGAL encourages you to contact Senator Collins to ask her why Pro se litigants whose civil rights are routinely abused by the system of Justice that should be protecting them. Why is this not important enough for her to pay attention to?

MeGAL is a grass root organization that is working for "Family Court" change and the management and oversight of court vendors like Guardians ad litem. If you are having a "Family Court" issue we encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Senator Susan Collins may be contacted by filling out this form