Saturday, June 11, 2016

CT - 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

CT - 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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

ME - 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

NaGALs 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 NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

ME - Please, Give Us, "Access to Justice"!



This week the Maine Bar is hosting their annual meeting. This year the Bar is promoting the idea of Access To Justice (A2J). Their idea of what Access To Justice is different than what we would consider a consumers Access To Justice. Presented here is our letter to the Maine Bar regarding this very sensitive issue of Justice and how consumers are able to access this service:

This week the Maine Bar is hosting their annual meeting. This year the Bar is promoting the idea of Access To Justice (A2J). Their idea of what Access To Justice is different than what we would consider a consumers Access To Justice. Presented here is our letter to the Maine Bar regarding this very sensitive issue of Justice and how consumers are able to access this service:

Stephen D Nelson, Esq.
President
Maine Bar Association

Dear Mr Nelson:

Many members of the public are pleased to learn that the Maine Bar Association has chosen as this year's convention theme, "Access to Justice".  We hope that this uplifting theme inspires your membership to address the growing "Access To Justice" problem of self-representation in Maine courts.  In family courts, the statistic that 75% are 'pro se' means that the 'pro se' litigants outnumber lawyers by a wide margin, and family courts ought to be renamed, 'pro se' courts. The "new normal" in these courts is 'pro se'. Though 'pro se' litigants are the majority in family courts, one would never know it from the power dynamics as attempts to preserve the old ways prevail. And 'pro se' litigants receive 2nd class services (or worse).

I present the following extracts from actual cases for illustrative purposes. They are intended as examples that illustrate the human aspect of "Access To Justice". With a 75% statistic, there are literally hundreds of additional "access to justice" human problems. It needs action from the bar, unless the bar is to limit its legal practice in family courts to those with access to "money". No money, no service - except for limited 'pro bono' charity, which, though worthwhile, doesn't seem to reduce the 75% numbers.

Herewith samples that put a human dimension on the 'pro se'  problems:

1.)  Access to Justice: for many 'pro se' this means inaccessibility of access to 'pro bono"? A case example: one of many.

On several occasions, I sought out legal services that were pro bono, or 'a la carte,' or, in one instance, an hour consult to prepare for a 'pro se' two hour trial in which both myself and my former husband were to be 'pro se', I was told by attorney after attorney that neither pro bono, nor  "a la carte" was an option (not even a FREE one hour consultation).

One highly regarded law office was so bold as to point blank state, Attorney ******* will not meet with you because it would not be "cost effective for her". Cost effective?

2.)  Does "Access To Justice" have to mean bankrupting  clients?

"Once a post-judgement plaintiff and / or defendant has spent every last bit of savings - including all retirement funds- and has liquidated all material assets (as in my case: a home that was once the primary home for our two minor children, all home furnishings, etc....), there will no longer be "access to justice"?

3.)  Does Judicial Role Distortion in 'pro se' cases mean "access to justice"?  Or does judicial improvisation signal the collapse of courts as we have known them?

"In our last trial - as both parties were  'pro se' - the judge did all the questioning. I was unable to cross examine. The defendant told untruths and because the judge did not know the truth from Adam, he had no idea when to challenge a response from the defendant. If I had an attorney, I would have been allowed to challenge the untruths.

A few times I objected and attempted to shed light on what was spoken as truths as being untrue BUT I was not given the benefit to explain the "objections" without presenting as "difficult". Being 'pro se' and without being able to counter defendants claims - there was no access to justice on that day in court. In our first trial - with an attorney present on both sides - "no hear-say was permitted in court."

4.)  Attorney intimidation limits access to justice even for clients who can pay for a lawyer.

'Sua sponte' disciplinary complaints to the Overseers, if an attorney provides too robust a defense, is another factor limiting a client's "Access To Justice". Even those family court defendants who can afford a lawyer may find that their lawyer is intimidated by threats of sanction if a defense is perceived as too robust. In a family court system that is 75% 'pro se', an over-scrupulous concern about how things get done, seems misplaced.  What indeed are the legal standards for a 'pro se' court? Are there any? Selective scrupulosity, using "old normal", standard tools in a "new normal" situation seriously limits "Access To Justice" for clients who can pay, and, looks like a variant of the approach used to control lawyers in Boston in the heyday of the Catholic Church scandals.

Our proposal to the Maine Bar:

We would propose that the Maine state bar seek a legislative mandate to take immediate legal representation responsibility for all 'pro se' litigants in all civil courts, such as the 75% 'pro se' litigants, and that the bar make an equal, fair division of all 'pro se' litigants, to be allocated amongst all licensed bar members, as a condition of receiving a license to practice law in Maine. It would solve the 'pro se'  problem pronto (and the human hardship therein), while research goes on. Alternatively, the bar might decide to turn family courts entirely over to the 75% 'pro se', and establish a separate court for the wealthy, full paying parties.  It is rapidly reaching that point of inflection anyway.

Yours for seeking solutions to 'pro se' "outside of the box"!

MeGAL has been working for Guardian ad litem and court reform. Access to Justice (A2J) is another part of the problem with our Courts where over 50% of the population who consume judicial services are doing so on their own. The Maine Bar Association is having their annual meeting and the theme for this year is Access to Justice. Or is it? If you have had issues with the courts, as a Pro se litigant, represented by a lawyer who fears the courts - we ask that you contact us with your story. We can be reached at NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Further resources:

A2J Canada - Canadian Bar

Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

2013-08-13 Access to justice in Canada ‘abysmal’: CBA Report

2014-02-05 Access tojustice: Help coming for people headed to Canada’s civil and family courts

National Center for Access to Justice ( NCAJ )

Department of Justice - Access To Justice

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Because my ex abused my son/ daughter, this stranger (GAL) is deemed a more capable parent than me"

Parents 'prescribed' court ordered anger management.

Is it any wonder then why any parent when faced with a similar situation would feel anger towards a custody situation they find themselves in? Court vendors (Guardians ad litem, Parental Coordinators and other court experts) have been “prescribing” courses in anger management for quite some time. One Senior GAL is on record for recommending this because one of the parents was “caustic and controlling”. Are these parent(s) who are given these “prescriptions” by court vendors really in need of anger management? Or is this the “prescribers” attempt to control (and need to punish) the parent(s) as a result of an unfriendly or hostile interpersonal situation? The courts and court vendors appear not to have given much thought or “prescriptive” precision in recommending “anger management”.

Anger is an emotion and is not recognized as a diagnosable form of mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Anger is not a primary condition but is a secondary emotion and is a part of many situations. The courts order and or prescribe “anger management” without the knowledge, skill or professional experience to know what they are doing with this alleged tool. The courts and their vendors(GALs, Parental Coordinators and Special Masters) are not clinicians trained to “prescribe” anything, they are reporters to the courts. In making these 'prescriptions' the courts and officers of the courts never describe the anger as being mild, severe, appropriate, inappropriate, controlled or out of control. If it is secondary to psychosis, drugs or alcohol or whether the anger is threatening the safety of others. In 'prescribing' therapy the courts and vendors of the courts do not set goals or an end point to 'anger management'.

So are the courts helping the parent(s) that are 'prescribed' treatment or are they delving into an area that they have no business being involved in? Causing more harm to the parent(s) in an attempt to control and manipulate them. It appears that the courts in 'prescribing' 'anger management' are doing nothing more than playing witch doctor in their pseudo-psychological, court 'prescribed' punishment for what is perceived as bad behavior. The reality is that the parent(s) are showing their frustration with a process that is so twisted and warped that it is devoid of any reality.

If you have fallen victim to court 'prescribed' therapy please contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com for support or like us on Facebook for up to date information.


Your voice and opinion matters - please take a moment to take our anonymous survey on the state of Family Court [LINK].



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Speak Out - 2015 Survey on the State of our Family Courts

As a consumer of Judicial Services rarely have you ever been given the opportunity to provide feedback to your Family Court system on how they are doing. There is no exit survey on the experience you just had. As a result our Family Court system has no idea on how well (or badly) it is doing.

Until now.

We want to know what your experience has been as a consumer, lawyer, judge or Guardian ad litem (and other court vendors) within this system. The data collected will be used and provided to our representatives as well as the Judicial Branch and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The survey on the state of our Family Courts asks 13 questions anonymously and provides you an opportunity to expand on any and all of the topics.

In January 2016 we will be publishing the results of this survey.

2015 State of Family Courts [ LINK ]





Tuesday, December 15, 2015

ME - It is High Time for Court Reform - Current Process Invites Problems


In his recent opinion piece, Portland attorney, Peter Murray, has written a thoughtful, serious analysis of troubling symptoms coming from Maine's probate courts, along with a call for reform and his thoughts about how to do probate reform. In so doing, he appears to use as inspiration the recently reported symptoms of the Biddeford ProbateCourt and JudgeNadeau. It is encouraging for members of the public to hear a distinguished lawyer "thinking out loud" about any form of court reform, and Mr. Murray is to be congratulated for his courage and public spirited effort.  However, in our view, there is a great need for a much broader, more extensive public conversation about court reform, a conversation not limited to just probate courts, nor limited in participation to the "legal guild" talking to itself.

Our observation is that there are troubling symptoms pouring forth from other types of courts, as well that merit public conversation. We are aware of widespread, public dissatisfaction with Maine's familycourts. There are also noises calling for reform of criminal justice systems. While not claiming expertise in these matters - to us (and many others) there appears to be considerable symptomatic smoke in these various court sub-systems. Is there also fire? In this connection, it should also be noted that Maine courts seem to get consistently low grades (F) in national surveys, and also that a numerical grade of 43% (out of 100%) is not a brilliant grade. These outside evaluations suggest that we have no cause to be smug about the functional quality of our Maine courts. What to do and how to do it is a conundrum. Who is to take charge?  Who is to investigate, what is the nature of the problem(s) and who is to take responsibility for systemic repairs or remodeling?

To many, there is a problem with simply correcting a symptom. As an approach, it often ignores other fault lines in a total system and is inadequate for any complex systemic problem-solving. There is also another problem-solving danger for court reform: that of attempted "solutions" to such problems getting trapped by the perspective of a particular professional culture. An outside evaluation of the entire system and how it is working for client users, the public, is needed. We would ask the decidedly, populist question: who owns the court system (probate and otherwise)? For whose benefit are they working?  How do taxpayers fit into making the change-decisions involved in court reform? Many people today will feel that a "guild knows best" approach is elitist, exclusionary and wrong. These comments are not intended to be disrespectful of Mr. Murray. As we move forward, there will be more and more populist questions asked by a consumer-oriented public that is used to the open systems of media.  Paternalistic, professional answers by themselves will not suffice.

In this regard, Mr. Murray's remark that voting invites "problems for judges", comes across as distinctly exclusionary. With all due respect, it is "tone deaf" for populist times. No question but voting for judges does invite problems. The "root" problem he proposes to avoid is called "democracy". Democracy is a messy business. However, many would say: so is the current process admired by Murray for the selection of district and superior court judges. It operates below the public's radar:  Behind closed doors, oligarchic bar grandees select judicial nominees, these are then privately sold to the governor and then rubber-stamped by the legislature that is presented a near 'fait accompli' the tidal movement of which is difficult (nearly impossible) to reverse. The current judicial appointment process doesn't inspire awe or respect in the public who "consume" court service. The potential for cronyism and patronage in the current opaque process is nearly unlimited.

We would suggest to Mr. Murray et al that there is a serious need for an in-depth look at the total court system, that there is a need for a thoughtful, careful analysis by outside consultants who are experienced in advising on the rehabilitation and repair of large government systems. Some of the consulting resources of a Harvard Business School might come to mind- just as an example. To us, Mr. Murray appears to be prescribing a "band- aid" to cover probate courts. The public wants and deserves much more.

Mr. Murray has made a brave beginning to a much needed court reform "conversation" in the press recently.  For this he deserves our thanks. However, this "conversation" needs to continue and expand bringing in those civilians who use (and pay for the courts) while being denied the input of normal ownership. Those "who pay the piper" ought to have something to say about the "tunes" that get played. We all - civilians and legal professionals alike - need technical help from out of state consultants in how best to get our arms around the problem and how to set direction for the best interests of the public. 

We sincerely ask that the press continue this much needed conversation about Maine court reform.


MeGAL has been working towards reforming Family Court vendors (Guardians ad litem and the use of 'court experts') as well as Family Courts. We can be contacted at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.


Maine received an ( F ) recently in many aspects of our state government. Regarding Judicial Accountability Maine received a score of 43 ( F ). This is not the first time Maine has received an ( F ). For further information about Maine and other states follow this [ LINK ].

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Parents "What do I owe?" - Family Court "How much you got?"

Mr. Craig Kelly appears to be a politician whom the Guardian ad litem/ Court reform movement could use. He recently gave a speech earlier this month regarding the use of a court appointed expert who by all appearances took advantage of the situation he was in by gouging the divorcing family. This issue is quite common in our Family Court system where judges grant a monopoly to Guardians ad litem and other court 'experts'. We must educate our politicians to the problems within our court systems -


FAMILY COURT RORTS – Speech in Parliament (November 2015);

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (11:18): Deputy Speaker, this morning I would like to talk about a rort — a rort that is going on in the Family Courts of Australia.

It is a rort that involves excessive fees, price gouging and virtual extortion; it is nothing other than a scam.

I am not going to name names today, but I put those on notice involved in this rort. If necessary, I will name names in this parliament.

Now Deputy Speaker, in a truly competitive market, I have no objection to anyone charging what the market will bear. In our free market, capitalist society, they are entitled to charge as much as the customer will FREELY pay.

However, where we have a situation where the Family Court orders a so-called ‘single expert” to do what is called a 'report' or an 'analysis', the court is granting them a monopoly.

And these people should not be allowed to exploit that monopoly position granted to them by the Family Court, by price gouge and charge excessive fees.

This is an area which should have government regulation where we set and regulate the fees where the Court does grant them a monopoly.

Deputy Speaker, I would like to give you an example of one of the current practices. I have a Family Court order in front of me, and it states that the participants in the Family Court, the father and the mother, should attend a particular ‘Mr X’ (name withheld) on a certain date for a further ‘single expert report’.

It goes on that the cost of ‘Mr X's’ report will be borne equally by the parties and that they will pay the sum of $8,000 each.

So Mr X is entitled to a sum of $16,000. (And parent of the child is unable to pay, they will be denied the right to even see their child, so the child is a victim of this rort as well)

When it was asked how this is calculated, it worked out at a fee of $700 per hour. That’s right Deputy Speaker; $700 per hour.

Now this is for a psychiatrist. If I look at the Australian Psychological Society's national schedule of recommended fees—the recommended fee schedule in place from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016—it sets out the recommended level of fees for an hour of consultation at $238.

So, because the courts are giving this particular individual a monopoly position—

(debate interrupted - Proceedings suspended from 11:21am to 11:34am) (debate resumed 11.34am)

- I will continue where I left off.

I was giving an example of the current practice of this rort whereby the scheduled fee recommended by the professional association is around $238 an hour (that’s $9,520 for a 40hr week – nice work if you can get it).

But in this case because the so-called expert involved has a court-ordered monopoly, they are able to charge what they like.

And they are charging 200% ABOVE the scheduled fee recommended by their professional association — a charge, including GST, of up to $700 an hour.

Deputy Speaker, I have no objection if in a fair, free and open competitive market if they want to charge $7,000 an hour, and someone is willing to pay this of their own free will.

But where the court compulsory orders a participant in the court proceedings to see an ‘single expert’ thereby granting such an individual a monopoly, and they charge such an excessive fee — a 200 % uplift, a $500 per hour UPLIFT (on the scheduled fee recommended by the professional association) — it is nothing other than an absolutely rort.

Deputy Speaker, I am not one for excessive government regulation,however we should have legislation that sets a maximum schedule of fees for these 'single experts' if they are to be given a court ordered monopoly.

For the current situation is very similar to what I remember in an old Chevy Chase movie, 'National Lampoon's Vacation', where Clark W. Griswall (played by Chevy Chase) crashed his car and had to get his car repaired. He pulls out this wallet and asks, ‘What do I owe you?'

And the repairer said, 'How much you got?' And when Clark complains about such price gouging, the repair pulls out this sheriff’s badge.

Deputy Speaker, his is akin to the same situation that we have going on in our Family Court today, and it is totally unacceptable.

Secondly, I have great concerns over some of the secrecy provisions in the Family Court. I would like to quote one Mr J Robert Oppenheimer from the 1950s. He said, which well applies to our Family Court today:

“We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism … We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.”

We need to end a few practices in our Family Court. We need to end the practice of secrecy.

We need to shine a bright light on the practices that are currently going on in our Family Court.

If we are going to continue to have the practice of single experts, a practice which I am greatly concerned about, we must have a schedule of professional fees they can charge. which must be reasonable.

And Deputy Speaker, regarding the current practices—these current rorts that I have outlined — I am putting these people on notice that they are being watched. This parliament is going to shine a light on their activities. (time expired).


If you have been involved in a case which has turned sour or just does not make sense we ask that you contact us at NationalGALalaert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.