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.

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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.

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