Sunday, June 24, 2012

Time is running out - only 3 days left

Three days is all you have to speak your mind on Guardian as litem reform. Don't let that time slip away.

Maine's Judicial Branch has given the public an opportunity to give comments on how Guardian ad litem oversight should be addressed. We are encouraging our readers to comment. Your thoughts and ideas can range from simple to complex. From a one line thought on oversight to “War and Peace”. It does not matter. What does matter is that your voice is heard.

Comments can either be mailed or emailed to the court. They will be posted for the public to view with any personal information removed. Your view does matter. Comments can be viewed here:

Maine– Public comments on GAL oversight- Click here

And your thoughts on GAL oversight can be emailed to this address:
Or mailed to this address:
Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court
205 Newbury Street, Room 139
Portland, ME 04101. 
The deadline of July 1, 2012 is fast approaching.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How can we say this? Tactfully...........

We have been thinking a lot lately about why consumer complaints to the Chief Judge seem to go nowhere. Two warnings in two years; one written; one verbal. It is an amazing set of statistics. Either there is great consumer contentment with their GALs and they are doing a near perfect job, or there is huge, bigoted, unfair "bad sportism" about GALs that has to be weeded out with "tough love". The stories we hear from many consumers suggest that more than 2 GALs have done bad things and should warrant some form of corrective action. What gives?

Then we started to dig a bit. Who creates GALs? Who trains them? Who has worked with them in the courts? Who has worked with GALs in the legislature? Who acts on consumer complaints about GALs? As they say, "Three guesses and the first two don't count." It is analogous to asking the Director of General Motors to deal with consumer complaints about Chevrolets. Sure he knows a lot about Chevrolets, but how on earth can he keep his judgment fair, and avoid it being tainted by pride in his "product".

It is an amazing example of asking the manufacturer be exclusively in charge of consumer's rights, protection and consumer's complaints. How is the judge in this role to avoid a rampant perception of all consumer's complaints as evidence of consumers being "bad sports"? And ... viewing these consumer's complaints as a sort of temper tantrums? It leads to a "tough love" handling of perceived tantrums. It leads to minimal instruction/help in how to do a complaint, no identification of criteria for a complaint, no consumers at hearings. It leads to consumer unfriendliness in the final response. These responses are becoming notorious: terse one line responses to consumers after their complaint has been dismissed and they have poured their hearts out about lives that have been wounded by a GAL.

We sense that it is the pride of the "manufacturer" in his product that gets in the way of consumer protection. The manufacturer is a GAL's best friend!

Other states are moving the consumer complaint process away from the office of the manufacturer. We need to too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Is 1% really a problem with Maine's Guardian ad litems?

According to Maine's Judicial Branch the number of complaints filed against GALs is small. On average about 13 to 14 a year, or 1% of the total divorce/custody cases with GALs, end up with complaints. Of these complaints in the last two years (2010 and 2011) the Chief District Court Judge Charles LaVerdiere issued a written warning in 2011 and a verbal one in 2010. From this scant data one might say that there really is no problem with the GAL system we have in the state of Maine.  All is well, or is it?

What do these numbers, which were  presented at the hearing on May 31, 2012, really tell us? Nothing. Nothing other than there were 13 cases where one or both parties felt strongly enough about the integrity of the GAL on their case to pursue a complaint, a course of action that for the average person will consume both time and money with little hope of corrective action and miniscule feedback from Judge LaVerdiere.  A person might be as well off investing that money in the lottery – to many there appears to be an equal chance of a favorable response.

What are the numbers at the district court level? How many complaints are filed there, and what is the out come of those complaints? If there were records would they be accurate? How many legitimate complaints never made it to the judge, because, as one concerned parent wrote to the Judiciary – a complaint against the GAL “would hinder my case, and the GAL could deal with the case not in a favorable way”.  Fear of what may happen in custody judgments if one makes an unsuccessful complaint about a GAL is a big deterrent.  A GAL's wounded ego may make things worse for the complainer.  How about supervised visits with your child until the age of 18?  And ... for you, a lifetime program of anger management, if you want those supervised visits.

So how big is the numbers  problem with the GALs in Maine? Big numbers, or are things okay. It really depends on how you define the complaint "problem". From a GALs perspective, looking top down, there is no problem with a system that generates 13 complaints a year. From a parents perspective 13 does not accurately reflect the issues we are hearing about from consumers who are actually dealing with GALs and their behavior.  The anecdotal data we are getting is significant.  But GAL malpractice lacks a series of open criteria or definitions for framing a complaint from the Judicial Branch.  Then there is the reporting problem.  As consumers, we are intimidated and sometimes coerced into keeping silent. When we have a complaint there is no user friendly system to record that complaint at the District Court level. As we have mentioned earlier, no records or statistics at this level does not mean the system is functioning as it should. It only means that no one has established a system for collecting and counting the numbers.