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.


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

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:

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