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.



Friday, November 20, 2015

IRE - Guardian ad litem reforms 'a step backward' says Council of the Bar of Ireland

Irish Examiner

The Government’s plans to reform the guardian ad litem (GAL) system constitute a “step backwards” and raise serious concerns around compliance with “constitutional and international standards”, the Council of the Bar of Ireland has warned.

GALs represent the wishes and best interests of children in court proceedings, but the system is currently unregulated.

Costs associated with GALs have brought the issue to the fore in recent years.

In 2014, the Child and Family Agency spent €16.5m on GALs, €6m for their solicitors, and up to €1.5m for their barristers.

In its consultation paper on plans for reform, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs states that it is seeking to set up a national service either through a dedicated body, or “utilising existing structures”.

It says “the approach being considered is that the status of the GAL would be that of a court-appointed adviser”, and that “the appointment of a GAL would be at the discretion of the court”.

The paper sets out the set of circumstances when a GAL might be appointed — essentially complex or disputed cases — and states that GALs would only to have access to legal advice/representation as an “exceptional matter”.

The Bar Council of Ireland contends that all children should be appointed GALs, unless there is a reason why they do not need one.

Full story: Irish Examiner

Thursday, November 12, 2015

TN - Mother jailed after not paying guardian ad litem

WREG 3

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- WREG has the story of a Bartlett mom who spent time behind bars, not because she committed a crime, but because she didn't pay a lawyer.

Guardians ad litem are often appointed in divorce cases to look out for the best interest of the children, but some parents are sounding the alarm on what they call a pattern of problems and pricey fees that have little to do with protecting kids.

"I was put in shackles as though I was some sort of violent criminal," said Angela Gilmore.

"I had to walk with handcuffs and shackles on my legs into a van and out on the street. I was marched through the courthouse."

Except Gilmore hadn't committed a crime. She got locked up for not paying a lawyer. One she didn't even hire.

"She went into court and demanded over and over to have me incarcerated," said Gilmore of the attorney.

Gilmore had sole custody of her children until last year.

A bitter custody battle led to Judge Donna Fields appointing Guardian ad Litem Shari Myers to the case.

Attorney Sam Blaiss says appointing a GAL is a move often necessary to cut through the "he said, she said" in divorce cases.

Full story: WREG 3

Related stories:

TN - Shelby County Woman Jailed for Failing to Pay Guardian ad Litem

TN - Shelby County Woman Jailed for Failing to Pay Guardian ad Litem

Tennessee Bar Association
Shelby County resident Angela Gilmore spent time behind bars after failing to pay Guardian ad Litem Shari Myers – an attorney Judge Donna Fields appointed to Gilmore’s divorce case involving children. WREG reports Gilmore claims she was unable to pay the $3,300 owed to Myers, prompting the attorney to file a petition of contempt against Gilmore.

For the original piece: TBA

Related stories

TN - Mother jailed after not paying guardian ad litem



Saturday, October 24, 2015

ME - Is the New Maine Guardian ad litem Complaint Process Fair to Parents?



The following was sent to Mary Ann Lynch of the Judicial Branch regarding the new and improved complaint process that the judicial branch has asked us (consumers) to use since September 1, 2015. While the new rules and complaint process is more robust it does present issues:

It is hard for some of us to understand the object of the "new" Guardian ad litem (GAL) complaint protocol. It is a confusing piece of work in terms of its aims or purpose!.  To some readers it appears to be a virtual Guardian ad litem Protective Society that aims at  discouraging complaints about GALs.  Not only is the multi layered complaint procedure very likely to intimidate, confuse and frustrate a 'Pro se' complainant, but also the committee, which will review and judge any of the complaints that may squeeze through the screening procedure, seems heavily slanted towards "friends of the GAL family".  To outside observers, both the design of the complaint protocol and the selection of a board  are nearly flawless, if one aims to suppress  public complaints.

Two guardian ad litem board members, Senator David Dutremble and Chair,  Dana Prescott, Esq.  appear to have other professional roles- which expose them to conflict with their GAL board role. One is a state senator with normal constituent obligations; the other has been an important leader in MEGALI, the Maine Guardian ad litem trade organization.  Mr Prescott has been rumored to be the successor to Toby Hollander, the organization's present leader.  MEGALI is a major support organization for GALs.  It provides educational supports, an online chatroom,, consultation on cases, group supervision of GALs and advises on problems associated with the GAL relationship with parties.  It may lead to Mr Prescott knowing about cases well before they wend their way through the formalities of the GAL complaint protocol.   Is this potential for "jumping the gun" before the usual steps in the complaint procedure permitted by the complaint protocol?

How might these potential organizational loyalty conflicts be handled by the program's creators or, for that matter, by compelainants?

As we understand it, the way the Board is structured for complaints,board members are not allowed to get involved in reviewing any actual case information until complaints have first gone through a staff screening process, and, then, their involvement is very structured, very legalistic, only in committee. Does this structure impact the ability of Senator Dutremble to hear the details of a GAL complaint from a constituent until it has been screened and presented to the committee by board staff? Would hearing a complaint directly from one of his constituent (such as me) create a "conflict of interest" for Senator Dutremble? Would he either have to abandon a constituent, or recuse himself from the committee?  It would appear that the senator might be bureaucratically hamstrung by accepting a board position.

There is also the matter of the senator (or any legislator) sponsoring possible GAL reform legislation while a committee member. As a member of the GAL board will he be limited legislatively? For instance, can he use his experience on the Board, as evidence to suggest needed reform of the GAL complaint protocol or of board make up? May he freely sponsor legislation, say, to move GAL oversight to the Administrative Bureau of licensing, using examples from his board experience? Or … will this present a conflict of interest?  Using data gathered from closed meetings to promote legislation aimed at demonstrating a problem and advocating reform legislation?

My worry, as one of Sen Dutremble's actual constituents, is that his role as a legislator and his role as a member of a Judicial Branch Guardian ad litem Board might at times present conflicts that would limit my access to him as a constituent. Have provisions been made for this sort of contingency?

Then there is situation of The GAL Complaint Board Chair, Dana Prescott. Mr Prescott  has been an intimate part of  the trade organization (MEGALI) that supports GALs.  Can The Chair of the committee even pretend to be "impartial" in dealing with GAL complaints with his base of case knowledge coming through the MEGALI system of which he is a member?  Or does impartiality in judging complaints matter to those who have created the complaint procedure?

There are other committee members perceived by the public as family court "warriors", with little sympathy for would be public complainers.  It looks like an airtight group.  Do you expect that any complaints will actually get through?  For many professional licensing boards there are projected annual averages or percentages of expected complaints needing corrective action of some sort.  Are you projecting any such numbers for this board.  From its structure and membership composition, it looks like 0% (zero)  sanctions for this board.

As the saying goes,  "the devil may be in the details", but many worry that the public is being short changed. We need your opinion on the several questions I raise about conflict management.


If you have had issues with Family Courts we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalaert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

CT - Judge Says Lawyers Can Face 'Emotional Distress' Damages in Professional Malpractice Lawsuits

The following was published on September 28, 2015 in The Connecticut Law Tribune. While the original case which resulted in this ruling originated as an automobile accident - the basis might/ could be used in Family Court where we see lawyers fail to represent their clients.

CT Law Tribune

A judge's recent ruling in a legal malpractice case against a Madison attorney allows a former client's claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress to remain, a decision which some in the legal malpractice defense field call "troubling."

Sharon Burns of North Haven sued her former lawyer, Ira Grudberg, in Superior Court in New Haven in 2014, asserting he failed to properly represent her in litigation which arose from an automobile accident.

In December 2014, Burns filed a four-count complaint against Grudberg. The first count, which claims legal malpractice, alleges Grudberg was negligent for failing to respond to discovery requests and for representing Burns when he knew he lacked the resources or time to do so diligently. The litigation also claimed breach of contract, violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Full story: CT Law Tribune.

If you are having issues in Family Court we would encourage you to find us on Facebook and share what you have been going through.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

National - Equal Access to Justice - Not as a Pro se litigant

In June of this year we wrote to the US Department of Justice regarding issues surrounding Pro se representation. Part of the issues a Pro se litigant has to deal with is the denial of equal rights and access to Justice. In Maine, Connecticut and New York the Pro se litigant makes up 74% or greater of the cases in court. In over 80% of these cases the Pro se litigant is up against a lawyer. Below is our letter to the Justice Department:


US Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington. DC 20530

To Whom It May Concern:

Subject: Civil Rights Complaint: 74% of Maine Family Court Users, Who are 'Pro se' Are Denied Equal Rights in Family Courts.

In Maine 74% of people in family courts are 'Pro se'. This amazing statistic comes from a personal communication from Maine's Chief Justice, and it has appeared in an essay by an Associate Chief Justice in the Portland Press Herald. There is also the statistic that in 86% of cases in family court there is only one lawyer. These limited numbers alone raise questions about whether equal justice is possible when a 'pro se' litigant is opposed by a lawyer.

Attempts to seek corrective action in discussion with leaders in the Maine Judicial Branch have gone nowhere.  Likewise, an attempt to obtain a legislative audit (see below) have been defeated, largely because of oppositional lobbying from the bar and the Judicial Branch. I am enclosing the content of the proposed bill, which aimed at obtaining further data about the nature of the 'Pro se' problem in Maine, so as to be able to move forward with rational planning to address the problem. It gives the gist of the civil rights problem in a nutshell. See below:

LD 953 An Act to Improve the Court Experience of 'Pro se' Litigants

Senator Burns, Representative Hobbins, members of the Judiciary Committee

It is a pleasure to endorse Rep Seavey's bill, LD 953, An Act to Improve the Court Experience of 'Pro se' Litigants. From my perspective as a member of Maine Guardian ad litem Alert, LD 953 is our most important piece of legislation this year. It calls for a legislative study, what one might call an audit, of the 'Pro se' experience of justice in one or more Maine family courts. The title of the bill calls for "an improvement of the court experience" of 'Pro' se litigants. But before we can "improve", we need to know "what exactly is that experience?"

We don't really know. Apart from the eye-popping statistic that 74% of litigants in family courts, we know almost nothing. I don't know, Mary Ann Lynch, Judicial Branch spokeswoman, doesn't know. The Chief Justice doesn't know. And ... most important - you as members of a legislative committee charged with constitutional "oversight of the Judiciary" don't know and need to know. You can't do "oversight" of any problem without knowing the nature of the problem and this requires data to work with.

Although the Judicial Branch will claim to be moving on the 74% 'pro se' problem, and though Justice Andrew Mead has had a committee working on the problem for a couple of years, these operations affecting the 74% majority users of family courts are not open to the public. Their deliberations are conducted out of public view. The from what we have learned, the committee aims to:

(a) raise money from lawyer donations to pay for legal services for some of the 74% 'Pro se' group,
(b) ask the bar to do more 'pro bono publico' work for the 74% 'Pro se' group,
(c) allow clerks in various courts to assist 'pro se' clients with paper work,
(d) ask judges to be more "user friendly" to 'Pro se' litigants and stop saying, "Don't come back to this court without a lawyer!" All of these efforts are fighting an ill-defined, gargantuan task with a "peashooter"! They are solving a problem with no data, no definition of the nature of the problem. From the feedback we get from our friends, these efforts are a well-intended, unsystematic, disorganized, "drop in the bucket". Normative family court pronouncements, coming from the Judicial Branch, continue to be written for lawyers. Shall we say, "Oops ... we forgot that only 26% represented by lawyers." The Norm, the usual, the average, the typical is 74% 'Pro se'.

The Judicial Branch is attempting to solve the 'pro se' problem, before they know the nature of the problem. They are posing unsystematic solutions for an unknown clientele, without involving this clientele in the solutions. Part of the problem in understanding the 74% 'Pro se' client is that the Judicial Branch has no electronic data that might shed light on these clients, so solutions are, of necessity, a "short in the dark", guess work, lacking an intervention model that fits the situation, driving blind. The Judicial Branch is not in the habit of conducting surveys or studies. The preferred approach is to assemble "stakeholders", to debate and recommend answers. Typically, "stakeholders" are politically powerful members of the "divorce industry", lawyers, judges at various levels, Guardians ad litem, who have a personal/professional stake in the answers. It is the "foxes" assessing the problems and needs of the "chickens in the hen-house"!

QUESTIONS IN NEED OF ANSWERS FOR CORRECTIVE ACTION:

1. What are the demographics of the 74% 'Pro se' group? What is the gender spread? Socioeconomic levels? Education levels? Immigrants? Linguistically handicapped? Disabled?

2. What are the decisional outcomes of the 74% 'pro se' court experience? Do cases go well for the 'Pro se' litigant? How do 'Pro se' litigants evaluate their experience as consumers of family court service? What services or supports do they feel would have helped them?

3. What do lawyers, judges and GAL think about the 'Pro se' problem? Do they see it as the norm in family court or as the exception? How have they (or haven't they) adapted formal procedure to untrained litigants?

4. The 'Pro se' trajectory: How many people start as 'Pro se'? How many move to "Pro se' after they run out of money? How much money has the average 'Pro se' litigant spent before they decide to go 'Pro se'? What is the impact on 'Pro se' litigants previous experience on their savings, retirement, mortgages, college funds, family borrowing, other forms of borrowing?

5. How much time from work, vacation time, sick time, etc. must 'Pro se' litigants take to handle appearances in court and administrative activities normally handled by a lawyer? Employment consequences?

6. How do courts handle the 74% 'Pro se' litigant's lack of knowledge of courtroom procedure, rules of evidence, cross examination techniques, non-compliance with various professional protocols? Are 'Pro se' litigants treated as lawyers or as parties? Are there standards for 'Pro se' in court? What impact has the huge number of 'Pro se' litigants had on family courts? Can family courts still be considered "courts" when the participation of litigants is so unequal, uneven and out of keeping with courtroom standards and protocols?

7. 'Pro se' appeals to the Supreme Court: how many? Do they get help? What if their brief is not up to legal standards? Can a 'Pro se' simply do his/her own thing in forming a brief, or must they try to be a "junior, untrained lawyer?

The above questions are just a limited sample of things one needs to know in advance of rational frugal goal-oriented problem solving. The answers to these questions might guide planners in developing a rational plan to correct and reform family courts and address the 74% 'Pro se' problem. Family courts, in our view, are in a state of 'free fall" at the moment. Just the limited facts we have give us a "peek" into a what is a "court" in name only. 74% 'Pro se' and getting bigger. No demographic or statistical or geographic spread data to work or plan with. No standards for the 'Pro se' litigant that recognize their non-professional status and their need for tools and assistance in the name of justice. . No idea of who these people are and no idea about what might help them in their advocacy. Current Judicial Branch planning is not data based, not reality based, not consumer based. It is prescribing for others without knowing them. From our direct, personal experience, Clerks of courts give the behavioral message; they are not sure how to deal with 'Pro se' litigants and whether the 74% majority should get service priority or the priority is to serve the 26% real lawyers. They are wary of helping the 'Pro se' litigants with forms (it might be misconstrued as "legal help"). They are inconsistent from court to court in their explanations and directions. Their inconsistency leads to confusion, duplication and time consuming errors. Time consuming errors are "time off from work" for a 'Pro se ' litigant- no billable hours for a lawyer! It is as simple as that.

Finally there are the heartbreaking stories of the human wreckage of 'Pro se' litigants caused by Maine's family courts with no supervision, no oversight, no management. It cries for an audit or whatever you choose to call an assessment of this very broken system. Should it be repaired, or should it be terminated or will it simply "crash and burn on its own, if no action is taken?

We ask that the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division help the 'Pro se'  citizens of Maine, who cannot obtain equal justice when they go to court on their own and "unarmed" with the "tools" of lawyers.

NatGAL is working to bring reform to the Family Court system. If you have had issues in Family Court we encourage you to reach out to us. We may be found on Facebook or via email at nationalgalalert@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Some questions to ask your Guardian ad litem


Our court system has us believe that the role of Guardian ad litem is at least in theory a person who is the eyes and ears of the court offering a neutral and unbiased view of the divorcing family. In practice the person who operates in this role is anything but. The Guardian ad litem’s personal values and agenda clouds the process and as a result this can be a source of conflict with you.

Ask yourself this:

How well do you know this person?

What happens if your values differ from that of this court appointed official?


Our Family Court system markets the belief that in the roll of Guardian ad litem we have a person who we are to believe is an expert in determining – where your child should live, the impact of divorce or domestic violence, visitation, custody, law, psychology and social work to name a few areas. This expertise comes from just a few hours of training with little or no focus. There is no test to determine whether or not this Guardian ad litem understands the material. There is no mentoring program after the Guardian ad litem completes training. To make matters worse - there is no oversight or management of this person in this role. Doctors, lawyers, judges, electricians, plumbers, nurses, oil burner technicians, chiropractors, social workers and dental hygienists have more training and oversight. In addition to the training and oversight we can ask people in these professions questions without the fear of being reprimanded for doing so.

You – as a consumer – need to inform yourself about the person who is being thrust into your life and making decisions which you have no control over. They should be asked before any Guardian ad litem has become a part of your life - chances are the Guardian ad litem is already wreaking havoc in your divorce/ custody. It is not too late.

These questions are being presented in no particular order or grouping. In most cases the answers will have meaning for you and should be used as a tool to help in understanding the Guardian ad litem. In asking any of these questions if the Guardian ad litem refuses to answer or gives a non-answer answer – that is a behavioral message and a clue as to the makeup of the person. The questions and answers should be entered in as evidence or asked in court of the Guardian ad litem. It becomes part of the record.

After going through this list if you can think of questions that may be appropriate to ask we would encourage you to share. A link will be provided to voice those questions. 

Presented here are some basic questions (depending on the answer there may be follow up questions): 

1     Do you have experience as a law enforcement officer in conducting investigations?
2.       What is your actual field of professional expertise?
3.       What makes you an expert in determining what is good for other people’s children?
4.       What makes you an expert in determining how other people should conduct their lives?
5.       What is your child hood family background?
6.       What is your own family history as an adult?
7.       What is your own marital history as an adult?
8.       What is your own relationship history as an adult?
9.       Why do you want to be appointed to this case?
10.   What do you see your role in this case to be?
11.   How do you separate your underlying professional behaviors from your role as Guardian ad litem functions?
12.   As a Guardian ad litem going through training were you ever tested on what you learned?
       a.       YES – What was the score you received?
       b.      NO – How do we know that you understand the material taught/ discussed?
13.   As a Guardian ad litem you are tasked as being neutral and unbiased in conducting your investigation and in making recommendations.
       a.       How do you maintain neutrality during your investigation?
       b.      How do you keep your personal bias and agenda out of the cases?
       c.       Does the judge provide supervision and oversight when you are appointed to a case?
14.   As a child did you ever experience issues involving the absence of one or both parents?
        a.       YES – What was that experience like for you?
        b.      NO – How can you understand what the issues are?
15.   Do you have experience with research in dealing with child custody?
       a.       YES - What specific research can you sight?
       b.      NO – If not then please explain how you are able to conduct an investigation?
16.   Please describe what was/ is the relationship you had/ have with your Mother?
17.   Please describe what was/ is the relationship you had/ have with your Father?
18.   Are there any ongoing issues with either?
19.   Did you grow up in a divorced home?
20.   Do you have siblings?
21.   Do you have Grandparents?
22.   As a child did you have contact with your extended family?
23.   Do you come from a religious home?
       a.       YES – What is your religion currently?
24.   Did/ do you come from a particular ethnic background?
25.   We grow up with a belief system. It is a part of what defines us as a person.
       a.       Has your belief system ever interfered with an investigation?
       b.      Did/ will your belief system interfere with this case?
       c.       NO – How do we know?
26.   Do you apply your own values in making recommendations to the court?
       a.       YES – Can you describe what some of your personal values (political, social as example).
              i.   If my values are different than yours how will that affect your perception of me as a             parent?
       b.      YES – As a neutral observer – why are your values better than either parent?
       c.       NO – How can we be sure?
       d.      NO – As a neutral observer – are you saying that your investigation is neutral with regards to the values you have?
              i.   If so then what test do you use to verify this?
              ii.  How can we be sure your values will not influence how you view this divorce/ custody?
27.   In making your recommendations to this court please explain how you arrived at the following:
       a.       The visitation schedule?
       b.      Custody?
28.   Have you ever been married?
       a.       YES – How many times?
       b.      NO – How are you able to understand the dynamics of married life?
29.   Have you ever been divorced?
       a.       YES – How many times?
       b.      YES – Did you ever go through litigation?
              i.   YES – Did you have issues with child support?
              ii.  YES – Did you have issues with the custody agreement(s)?
       c.       NO – What experience do you draw upon in order to understand what a divorcing family goes through?
30.   Do you ever refer cases you are involved in to Child Protective services?
       a.       YES – What are your criteria for such a referral?
       b.      YES – Is the claim of child abuse always a criminal claim?
       c.       YES – Should criminal allegations be removed from Family Court to an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office?
31.   Which Judges do you frequently work with?
32.   Which lawyers do you work with on cases?
33.   How many of your cases have been appealed to a higher court?
34.   Have you ever been sanctioned:
       a.       By a Judge?
       b.      By a Higher Court?
       c.       The result of a complaint?
35.   How many cases have you been involved with as a Guardian ad litem?
36.   How do your clients respond to the work you do as a Guardian ad litem?  

While these questions should be asked before the Guardian ad litem has been assigned by the judge - quite often it will not be until after you recognize there is a problem with the way this person operates. It is never to late to start asking. Make the questions and answers for the record. If you have any questions which you think may be appropriate we ask that you follow this [LINK] to submit. We will maintain a running list of questions.


National GAL Alert is working for reform in our Family Court system. This includes the role of Guardian ad litem, Parent Coordinator, Special Master and court evaluators. If you have issues we ask that you contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Am I the only one who sees this GAL is wrong?

The stages of realizing there is a problem with the Family Court System is universal for families, relatives and friends who have experienced the system first hand. In our frustration with the courts we spend different lengths of time working through a series of 5 steps that are similar to the 5 stages of Loss and Grief as first proposed by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” No one person will go through this list in the order we have them and many will only experience a few.

Like the Five Stages our model is based on how we try to rationalize a process which cannot be rationalized. We may go through each stage in order or out of order. We may associate with each step or only a few. The Stages of Family Court Dysfunction (FCD) are:

1. Belief - As consumers of judicial services we enter the court system with the idea that this country has the best judicial system in the world. That the professionals who operate within this system do so with neutrality and fairness.

2. Self Doubt and Puzzlement - As the divorce/ custody process gains momentum and hints of flaws with the process start to show we think these issues are the result of things we are doing. "It must be me" that this is happening. We become puzzled by the direction of the divorce/ custody. We realize that things are not going in a direction which makes sense. There is often a flip flop of common sense and values. Black becomes White and White becomes Black.

3. Reason and Disillusionment - We begin to try reasoning with the players. The Guardian ad litem, lawyers and court. Presenting evidence and facts because if they only just read or viewed they would understand what is going on. Disillusionment creeps in when we realize that no matter how much evidence and facts presented - the system is unwilling to listen and understand what your concerns are.

4. Anger - As the reality of the situation starts to settle in we become upset that 'justice' does not exist. That those whom we have invested with our trust are untrustworthy. A system which is supposed to protect our children is more concerned with our behavior and whether or not a Guardian ad litem, Special Master or Parent Coordinator will get paid. Our anger can be aimed at anything - our ex, the children, the family pet even the court system.

5. Settlement - Sadly we may never find settlement as the process can continue far into the future. There are parents who settle and do so for far less than what they should and are grateful for what they have. Then there are others who carry on the fight long after their divorce/ custody is over to that future divorcing families will not have to go through what they have experienced.

The process one goes through is one of personal attitude change with exposure to more and more data. This data can come from many sources - from talking and sharing with others, the internet and those who have taken the issue publicly as well as personal experience. Some will try to fix this system with the hopes of repairing their own case; others do so as public spirited citizens, who hope to help others who are going through what they themselves have experienced. How one publicly markets both the human experience in need of fixing and the fixing itself is critical. It will require educating the public and politicians on what the issues are not only for your case but those of others. It took some time for you to understand that your case had problems. Imagine how others who have no experience with family court will respond? They will have a hard time understanding - some will get it. Many will not.

It is important to note that you are not alone and that others have experienced what you have gone through. There are many grassroots organizations that one can find offering support and help on a national as well as local level. It should be noted that out of 50 states there are very few instances of court officers who have been disciplined for malpractice.

If you have had issues with a court officer - Guardian ad litem, Special Master, Parental Coordinator or some other flavor of court appointed officer. We urge you to contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

IRE - Judges need to be more 'inquisitorial', says Tusla head

RTE News

Gordon Jeyes - "We need to take this by the horns and sort it out. It is about costs, but it's also about the effectiveness of the system, reaching a decision in a timely way, in the interests of the child," he said.

A short piece regarding the issues the Irish are dealing with in their Family Court system.

Full story: RTE News

Friday, May 29, 2015

CT - Rally & Party for Family Court Reform

Rally & Party for Family Court Reform

Come to a beach gathering to promote change so that divorcing families will be less emotionally and financially burdened.

Come join the camaraderie with people that have been there and who can offer support. Or, forget about the issues for the night and just have fun.

There will be speakers on different topics covering family court activity.

The Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform on Tuesday June 8, 2015. 6 - 10 pm
at the Jacky Durrell Pavillion, Fairfield Beach. 410 Fairfield Beach Road, Fairfield CT

$20 per person/ $30 per couple

For more on this event please find on Facebook:

Or:

Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform

Monday, May 25, 2015

MN - An Opportunity for the Public to Comment and Provide Feedback to the Minnesota State GAL Board

URGENT UPDATE - This is an important opportunity for the public to provide input to the Minnesota State GAL Board. A group of concerned parents has been fighting for reform, and specifically asked to improve the complaint procedure so when you file a complaint against a Guardian it is actually heard and investigated. The Board responded and has published a draft of the proposed changes to the complaint procedure: 

http://mn.gov/guardian-ad-litem/Notices/

You can submit feedback to Program Admin Suzanne Alliegro via instructions on the site. OR you can contact this group of parents, and work together with them to give feedback. They may offer public comment at the next GAL Board meeting.

E-mail: victimsofmanning@hotmail.com

OR

https://acalltoactionblog.wordpress.com/

ME - Sen David Burns Replies to our Open Letter

Within hours of our letter going out to Senator David Burns we received a response back from him. Below is Sen Burn's response.

Dr. Collins,

Thank you for your questions. First and foremost, the Judiciary Chairs follow the Maine Constitution and Joint Rules to conduct the process of reviewing Judicial nominees. As I said on the Senate floor, our Committee listened to a very long and, we feel, fair Committee hearing on Judge Moskowitz, as we do for each nomination. The Chairs did all in our ability and power to give everyone opportunity to be heard on the issue. It is very difficult to be exact on just how much time each speaker gets without rudely cutting someone's time short. I believe that was done fairly, in spite of what some have protested about. Everyone's testimony is equally important. When there is written testimony, we try to keep oral comments as close to the allotted time as possible.

As you know, the Committee had much written comment and materials provided to them before, during and after the Public Hearing. Also, the rules that are set before us, allow for the nominee to have opportunity to respond to testimony given. After the hearing, there was a break where our individual caucuses had an opportunity to talk among themselves, which is consistent with the Legislature's Joint Rules in any issue brought before us. The Chairs were in agreement that a sufficient amount of time was needed for each Committee member to review and consider all that had been provided to them on this issue, before voting. It was also important for any response from the nominee to come forward. For these reasons the Chairs decided that we would hold the vote, as the rules allow, until after the weekend. As you also know, there was a considerable amount of unsolicited e-mails that were circulated to us during that time period. Each of those were provided to the clerk to be made a part of the public record. There were no inappropriate meetings or discussions that took place during that time that the Chairs are aware of. All testimony and written comment that the Committee was provided is public and available for public access.

When we reconvened, the Committee members had each come to their own conclusions of the "fitness" for this nominee to be reappointed and cast their vote accordingly. This is a process that is in place for us to follow and I believe that each Judiciary Committee member takes it very seriously. It is unfortunate that some individuals and legislators have tried to impugn the integrity of the Committee members. Having spent the last, nearly 5 months, with them, I can assure anyone that they are all very committed to fairness, transparency and of the utmost integrity. We all understand that some of the criticism over this "process" and some of the judicial nominees comes as a result of very difficult personal experiences with family courts and none of us minimize the importance of those experiences and the significance of those perspectives. However, some of the slanderous statements that have been made surrounding these proceedings are unconscionable and do not have any place in legitimate and constructive debate and discussion!

Respectively,

David Burns

NatGAL is working on Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. If you are or have been a consumer of judicial services and have had an issue with the court. We would encourage you to contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Letter to Sen David Burns may be found here:
2015-05-23 An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz


Saturday, May 23, 2015

ME - An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

In an effort to have government transparent we are publishing the following letter to Sen David Burns. The letter deals with the confirmation deliberations that the Judicial Committee had over a weekend before a unanimous vote was given. It was emailed to all committee members the Senate President and the Bangor Daily News as well as the Portland Press Herald. We are presenting to you the letter:

May 23, 2015
Senator David Burns
Chair Judiciary Committee

Dear Dave,

I’m writing you as chair of the Judiciary Committee to ask that you help us understand the committee's "deliberations" on the reappointment of Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz. Like many people who followed the May 12 proceedings, I'm puzzled.

What we witnessed that day was the committee entering the hearing room, sitting, and immediately giving a round of 13 "yeses" – with no comment and no questions. It was a stunningly synchronized delivery, and many people are wondering how this degree of orchestration was achieved.

From some of the committee members, we've heard a variety of “explanations” that shed little light on what actually transpired to arrive at a unanimous decision, and Sen. David Dutremble related some of these in his speech from the Senate floor on May 15. The Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald both have published several stories on the Moskowitz reappointment, but there clearly is more to this than was reported.

We'd like to understand why you chose not to include the public in your committee's deliberations on this "controversial judge."

I greatly would appreciate a reply. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jerry Collins

NatGAL supports any effort to bring about Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. Please contact us if you have had any issues in or with either at NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Friday, May 1, 2015

ME - May 7, 2015: Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz expected to face opposition in reappointment

Many thanks to Judy Harrison (BDN) for the recent article: “Judge who levied gag order expected to face challenge in reappointment

The article is about Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz and the issues surrounding his court room and the endorsement by Judicial Selection Committee (headed by Joshua Tardy Esq.) to Maine's Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary. May 7, 2015 will see the confirmation hearing of this judge at 2 pm.

It is also the story of one woman's experience in this court. She is not unique in the experience. It is a story of personal pain.

In addition we have a survey asking anyone who is willing to voice an opinion on his reappointment. The public (majority) was left out of the process. A committee consisting of lawyers ( headed by Joshua Tardy Esq. ) conducted a survey which went out to members of Maine’s Bar (minority). The results of our anonymous survey will be presented to the committee on May 7 and posted online. To take the survey click here. Survey will open in a new window/ tab.


Related articles:

Complaining About Judicial Conduct - The Oversight of Judges

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ME - Is the Re-appointment Process of Judges Broken - the Endorsement of the Hon Patricia Worth

On Thursday March 19, 2015 was a moment of truth at the re-appointment hearing for the Hon Patricia Worth. A gang of lawyers, a representative of the bar, a judge and the head of the Judicial re-appointment committee came to give testimony about Judge Worth - which was glowing. Stating that we are lucky in this state to have such a judge, that this judge is caring about the clients before her, helping those who are Prose and involved in the community. If the testimony stopped there (and quite often it does), one would come away from the hearing that there is nothing wrong with our judges in this state. Classic lawyer references of another lawyer

But these fawning views are out of touch with reality in our Family Courts and courts in general.

A unique and quite different "reality check" was offered by several parents and concerned citizens. They did something that was previously unthinkable. These parents and citizens stood before the States Judiciary Committee, a room full of lawyers and judges and told true, personal stories of Judicial abuse which was inflicted and suffered in the Judge Worth Family Court.

These parents and citizens who went before the Judicial Committee were scared, upset, concerned and outnumbered by those testifying from the legal profession. They were in a personally uncomfortable position but had the strength to stand up and let the committee know - their elected Representatives - that there is a problem. A BIG problem that has been festering for years which needs to be addressed.

Their testimony touched all listeners, as they presented the human face of parents ripped away from their children. Stripped financially. Emotions drained by the process that a judge put them through.

Are our Family Courts there to inflict punishment on good parents? In the Worth Court one would think that is the case where good solid parents are prevented from having a relationship with their children. Supervised visits are common, testing, screening and various questionable courses with no end in sight. No goal for outcome - but there is always a carrot being dangled in front of their faces to keep them hoping, keep them hooked. These parents would be better served by Child Protective - because the worse of abusers has a goal. Not in this court.

How many lawyers came out to testify that there might be a problem with this court? By our count not one. You see there is a disincentive to tell the truth when the committee is collecting testimony. As a lawyer working in Hon Patricia Worth's court, if I speak ill of her performance and behavior I put my professional career at risk. I put my family's financial lives at risk. Because now the Judge can pay back my testimonial truth in unfavorable judgements.  Or… engineer a 'Sua sonte' complaint with the Overseers of the Bar against me.

These parents and concerned citizens took a risk. You can also. It you have been hurt by the Family Court process. By a Guardian ad litem. Speak up and let your representatives know what you went through. Rock the boat and educate those around you. If you remain silent - change will never come. You can bet the other side is talking. Support Family Court reform. Contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com - find us on Facebook or call/text 207-370-9801

Provided here is some of the testimony given by concerned citizens and parents:

Dr Jerome A Collins - Audio

Kirk Thomas - Audio

Laurie Ryan - Audio

Christie Griffin - Audio

Christie Starett - Audio