Saturday, July 22, 2017

ME Judiciary Committee to Chief Justice Saufley on GAL Review Board and Complaints

In what was a surprise move by the Judiciary Committee - a letter was sent to Honorable Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice of Maine's Supreme Court regarding the Guardian ad litem Review Board and Complaint process.

The recommendations made - while they do not go nearly far enough in our opinion - is a start. It also shows that consumers of these services who spoke out or wrote in had an impact on the opinions of this committee. Below is the letter which was sent:




July 18, 2017

Honorable Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice
Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Cumberland County Courthouse
205 Newbury Street
Room 139
Portland, Maine 04101-4175

Re: Guardian Ad Litem Review Board and Complaint Process

Dear Chief Justice Saufley:

As you may know, the Judiciary Committee this session considered and unanimously supported LD 457, An Act To Repeal the Sunset Date on the Children Guardians Ad Litem Law. As the title suggests, this bill repeals the sunset provision in Title 4, Chapter 32, the comprehensive law enacted by the 126th Legislature to reform the statutes, rules and procedures involving the court-appointment, compensation, and oversight of children's guardians ad litem in guardianship, adoption, divorce, parental rights and responsibilities, and child protection proceedings.

At the public hearing on LD 457, we encouraged to learn from Chief Judge E. Mary Kelly about the reforms the Judicial Branch implemented after the enactment Of Title 4, Chapter 32: the development and adoption of the new Maine Rules for Guardians ad Litem governing the qualifications, standards of conduct, and appointment of guardians ad litem as well as the procedures governing oversight of guardians ad [item by the Guardian ad Litem Review Board, a new, independent unit of the Board of Overseers Of the Bar. We are satisfied that these reforms were necessary responses to address the concerns that led to enactment of Title 4, Chapter 32.

We were troubled, however, by the testimony we heard and received indicating that some parties in court proceedings where guardians ad litem have been appointed remain frustrated by the perceived lack of accountability enjoyed by guardians ad litem. Individuals who testified against LD 457 expressed confusion surrounding what they view as an overly complex and impersonal Guardian ad Litem Review Board Complaint system as well as dismay that the heavy representation of rostered guardians ad litem on the Review Board prevents complainants from receiving a fair evaluation of their grievances. We therefore respectfully request that the Judicial Branch and the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board consider implementing the following changes to the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board and the complaint process:

  • improve the balance in board membership between rostered guardians ad litem (currently 8 members) and members of the public (currently 4 members);
  • clearly inform complainants both on the complaint form and on the board's publicly accessible website that board staff are willing and able to assist complainants both with filling out the complaint form and with understanding the complaint process; 
  • remove question C. 1 from the complaint form, which inquires whether the complainant is aware of any past complaints against the guardian ad litem; 
  • require board staff to immediately acknowledge receipt of all complaints in writing; 
  • ensure complaints are processed in a timely manner, with periodic updates provided to complainants to keep them informed of the status of the complaint; and 
  • provide a written explanation to the complainant of the reason for dismissal whenever a complaint is dismissed at any point in the complaint process.

Thank you for considering these recommendations. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Senator Lisa Keim
Senator Chair

Representative Matthew W. Moonen
House Chair


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To review a copy of the actual document please follow this link.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Change Takes Dedication and Perseverance

Family Court is one of the most in-humane institutions ever invented by humans. There is no quick fix to bringing about change. It takes education of those who can bring about change and there will be those (lawyers, Guardians ad litem and other court vendors) who will be there every step of the way to tell those same people that there is no problem.

For 10 years Peter Szymonik has been standing up to the Family Court system in Connecticut. It takes this kind of dedication to bring about change. On May 22 Peter went before Connecticut's Judiciary Committee to give testimony on the appointment of Barry Armata as a judge.

Please watch the video of testimony give by Peter:

Judiciary Committee Public Hearing on Judicial & Workers’ Compensation Commission Nominations Followed by Committee Meeting - Video

MeGAL has been working since 2012 to bring about change in Family Court system. We encourage you to be involved in the process by contacting your representative and start to educate him/ her with what the problems are.


 Guardian ad litem - Felicity Myers

Thursday, May 11, 2017

TN - Examined - A Parents Right to Free Speech

While this appeal does not center around a Guardian ad litem that has failed. It could have.

 In an unusual case the Tennessee Court of Appeals indicated that some of the restrictions placed on the Mother regarding communications were vague or broad.

As an example the Mother was restricted from mentioning the Father at all on social media. This meant that the most benign reference would land the Mother in trouble.

What is even more interesting is that this was a Family Matters case and the Mother was Pro se.

For more details please follow these links:

Herston Law Group - Parent’s Right to Free Speech Examined in Nashville, TN Child Custody Modification: Gider v. Hubbell


Court of Appeals - SINAN GIDER v. LYDIA HUBBELL

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ME - We Support Rep John Picchiotti's Bills For Kinship Providers


We strongly support all of Rep John Picchiotti's bills. All of them are very  much needed by those children who have been abandoned by parents, or whose parents are  determined to be "unfit". The bills fill a gap in healthy  support systems for children in the care of (non-parental) kinship providers. They also provide much needed public support to the dedicated kinship providers themselves. The bills address issues that have cried out for attention for a very long time.

THE PICCHIOTTI BILLS:

LD 063 An Act To Ensure Complete Investigations by Guardians Ad Litem - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill requires that a Guardian ad litem should do a complete investigation and report on standardized, court approved forms that list topic headings the GAL tasks to be investigated and outcome of investigation. Reports must be provided to both parties well in advance of hearings. Tasks assigned by judge must comply with GAL role. We do not support the aspect calling for removal of the SUNSET CLAUSE - in this bill, and Rep Picchiotti tells us that it was put there in error by the Revisor's office. He plans to explain its removal to the Judiciary Committee when the bill is presented on Thursday, March 23rd at 1 pm.

LD 363 An Act To Make a Child Living with a Custodial Relative Caregiver Eligible for State-paid Legal Services - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill aims at giving children, living with kinship providers, legal protection and legal representation in custody disputes between parents and de facto parents (foster kinship).  Guardians ad litem do not provide formal legal court representation to children in litigation situations. They gather information for the judge.

LD 429 An Act Concerning Guardians Ad Litem and Determinations Regarding the Best Interest of a Child in Custodial Relative Caregiver Cases - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. Act considers when the child's best interest is reviewed.  Giving custody to a relative must be considered.

LD 147 An Act To Amend the Maine Parentage Act - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill prohibits a child support order from requiring payment of child support from the 'de facto' parent to another parent of the child if the 'de facto' parent became a 'de facto' parent due to the unwillingness or inability of the other parent to provide care for the child.

LD 282 An Act to Support Caregivers when Children Have Been abandoned by their Parents - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This concerns caretaker relatives who take custody when a child's parents have abandoned them without formal guardianship or power of attorney. 'De facto' parents may petition the court to be appointed guardian. The law would amend factors for the court to consider in the child's best interest: parental participation in child's life, parental capacity, disposition of parent to uphold a normal parent-child relationship

LD 362 An Act to Allow Relative Caregivers Standing in Court - Sponsored by Rep Picchiotti. This bill specifies that a relative caregiver involved in a child protective proceeding has an unconditional right to intervene in the proceeding.



From our perspective these several bills correct the severe legal disadvantages that dedicated kinship providers have faced in their efforts to provide good homes to the children of parents who are "unfit". Often these children are their grandchildren. That they have not been considered by courts as providers of child care "in the child's best interest" is hard to understand; that they do not have standing in court is another illogical injustice to them and the children they care for; that they might be "hit on" for child support is simply unbelievable; and that the children in these cases have no legal representation is a failing of the courts to protect these vulnerable children.

Representative Picchiotti and the Kinship Provider group deserve enormous credit for bringing these issues to public and legislative attention. We sincerely hope that the legislature acts in favor of these bills.


felicity myers Guardian ad litem

Saturday, March 11, 2017

ME - Empty Promises: The Dutremble GAL Law in the Hands of the Judicial Branch

When courts get involved with families about any aspect of child custody, it is always a high stress situation for all concerned. For families and children facing divorce action, child protection considerations or probate mandated custody, the circumstantial dynamics are already dire for children and their parents. Courts add yet another level of stress to these situations, just by being courts. The courts  use unfamiliar language, an unfamiliar 'modus operandi' and a traditional adversarial model of problem solving that is imposed on top of the unstructured, human adversarial conditions.

Courts will frequently add a 'Guardian ad litem' to this volatile mix, and the total picture can  disintegrate further. A 'Guardian ad litem' is usually a lawyer or mental health professional, who works for the judge in the case, collecting data about the case that may not be easily accessible to the judge, such as home circumstances, parenting skills, health, education and mental health issues. All of this is to be carried out "in the child's best interest". It is a delicate balancing act, actively scrutinized by all the players, and, the stakes are extremely high - the child or children, who are up for varying custody arrangements.

Families involved with GALs, as they are called, have been very vocally unhappy with oversight of the Maine GAL program for years. A nationally-respected, 2006 OPEGA Performance Audit of Maine GALs, did a careful analysis and made a series of recommendations aimed at program correction. It was largely tabled by the Judicial Branch. In 2013, Senator David Dutremble and many GAL victims decided to legislate reform of  the GAL program. They used the 2006 OPEGA GAL Report as the basis for Chapter 406, a law to improve the functioning of GALs with respect to children. It involved many willing workers who were GAL program victims and lots of bipartisan legislative support - all the way the Governor. There was huge excitement and a great sense of accomplishment on the part of everyone who worked for the bill/law. After the bill was signed into law in the late Spring of 2013, it went to the Judicial Branch for implementation.

In the intervening time since 2013, the rumors about the fate of 2013, Chapter 406 have not been reassuring. Serious consumer problems continue under the new law. As required by the law, an extensive report on the program's progress was given to the Judiciary Committee by Chief Judge, Mary Kelly about 2 weeks ago. This was followed promptly with an equally extensive rebuttal to the "Kelly Report" by Maine Guardian ad litem Alert (MeGAL).

Here are a few of the concerns in our report.

The recent  "Kelly Report" doesn't answer public questions: How are the various changes instituted by the Judicial Branch working? Are Consumers satisfied? Is there yet and oversight/ supervision of Guardians ad litem? If so, how? Is there any data to support public evaluation?

Judge Kelly's review ignores the important 2006 OPEGA Audit of Maine GALs, as a baseline measurement with which to gauge change.  OPEGA spelled out: "Here are the GAL problems - and here's what needs to be done to correct them!" To many consumers, the GAL problems in 2017 don't look too different from 2006. The significant issues for this program  continue to be the same: no managerial "oversight" of GALs., no enforcement of written changes dealing with the GAL role, no quality assurance and a complaint procedure that is not "user-friendly."

The cornerstone of the  recent Judicial Branch report is a detailed presentation of the new Guardian ad litem complaint procedure. This opaque, written procedure is handled exclusively by a mail exchanges of letters. It is the only avenue for enforcement of "oversight". It is coupled with a belief that judges appointing a Guardian ad litem exercise the best "oversight" of Guardians ad litem. It is a highly disputable concept, entangled in local Bench-Bar politics and power struggles - and it would require a judge to admit bad judgement in an appointment, calling attention to bad judgement in other decisions. Complaint procedures, which dismisses 100% of cases, seems highly suspect as oversight or quality assurance; particularly, when there is no other corrective action imposed. It raises the question: Doesn't the public deserve better? The complaint procedure is neither useful nor user-friendly.

It is time for the legislature to ask for an OPEGA audit, of the GAL program. An audit would analyze problems and lay-out a blueprint for change. Judge Mary Kelly could show leadership by joining in the call for OPEGA to evaluate her service.


Jerome A Collins





Friday, March 3, 2017

CT - Six On Judiciary Committee Vote Against Reappointment - Judge Wetstone

Today, six non-attorney members of the Judiciary Committee voted against corruption in our state's "family" court system. They did so by voting against the reappointment of Judge Wetstone.

Judge Wetstone is one of three "family" court judges in this state who ran the AFCC. A private corporation where these "family" court judges extorted and funneled MILLIONS of dollars from already suffering parents into the hands of a very small, select and secretive group of well-connected divorce attorneys, "therapists" and Guardian ad litems.

As they kept children from seeing their parents for no valid reason or cause.... other than to prolong cases and conflict - to drive up their billable hours and to essentially traffic in children in the name of attorney profit and greed.
These legislators are:

McLachlan (R), Gonzalez (D), Markley (D), Porter (D), Sampson (R) and Suzio (D)
If these are your legislators - PLEASE reach out and thank them!

They are the ones who are LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE of this state. Not the attorneys on the committee who profit from all of this and who have been outright lying to other legislators by claiming that "everything is fine!" in our broken and inherently corrupt "family" courts.
This means you Sen. Doyle (D), Rep. Tong (D) and Rep Rebimbas (R), and as you have KILLED every family court reform bill proposed by THE PEOPLE for the second year in a row.

Now Wetstone goes into front of the whole legislature for a vote. Let's hope she becomes the first "family" court judge held fully accountable for the lives of the children and families she destroyed.

As Judges Bozzuto, Adelman and Suarez should have also have been accountable for their misdeeds and violations of state and federal law and the Constitution earlier this year, but were not as evidence of their misconduct was excused away by these attorneys.

The above was posted on Facebook by Peter T Szymonik regarding the reappointment of Judge Wetstone. The fact that six representatives voted to not reappoint sends a powerful message that something is wrong with the Family Court system and the "court officers" which work in it. Get involved with your state government to bring about change. Educate those you meet as to the issues in Family Court, Guardians ad litem and other court officials.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Vendor Services Survey - Ending 2/15/2017


As part of LD 872 An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine the Judicial Branch was required to survey consumers of their vendors services.

If your case is finished you have an opportunity to take this survey as a way to give the Judicial Branch constructive feedback as to how their GAL vendor did.

The Judicial Branch is requesting parents and attorneys in completed Family Court/ Law and child protection cases to answer a brief survey about the experience with the Guardian ad litem's service.

There are four survey's available. The majority of those reading this blog should take survey two. A link to the main survey page may be found here.

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Services Survey

If you were a parent who was involved in a family law matter, please complete Survey Two entitled, "Survey of Parents Regarding Guardians ad Litem in Family Law Cases." - Survey Two

The Judicial Branch is supposed to be making a presentation to the Judiciary Committee on 2/15/2017. As part of that presentation we expect that the Judicial Branch will be showing what statistics they have collected on their vendors. The survey is 12 questions in length with opportunity to comment. It is an an anonymous survey.

MeGAL works to educate parents and family members as well as our representatives to the issues that infect our Family Court system. If you have had a problem or feel that something just is not right with your GAL or Judge we encourage you to email us at NatGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Friday, February 3, 2017

ME - The Re-Appointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll

Dear Members of Maine's Judiciary Committee,

Judges serve an important function within our society preserving the law. They do this by interpreting the law in a fair way and being consistent in that interpretation. The decision of reappointment should not be exclusive to lawyers, judges and assorted court officials as this leads to a legal professional perspective which does not take into consideration the real life experience of the public (consumers of judicial services). In re-appointing and doing so in a fair and equitable manner the views and experiences of the public (consumers of judicial services) of a judges service must be taken into consideration. Otherwise all we have is an “ole boy” network of approval. Every effort must be made to include the thoughtful input and experience of the people of Maine, who know from experience.

Without the actual human experiential dimension, any reappointment is just rubber stamping the judge back into the court. As our Judges are tasked with protecting and advancing our laws the current closed Judicial vetting system allows for the undermining of that task. Judges are not held accountable for their actions in this closed system. While it has been argued by the legal industry that complaints can be made against a judge by the general public. The process is alien and consumes a huge amount of their time and financial resources. The public (consumers of judicial services) is left with the feeling that their input is not wanted and it is better to leave things as they are out of frustration. Because of this dysfunctional system there is little recourse by the public to better the system. It results in a system that has and is slowly degrading, and judicial services becomes the tool of those who can afford justice over those who cannot.

Are our Courts and specifically our Family Courts a public service for everyone - including the 74% who are Pro se. Or are they a publicly supported workplace for the Divorce and Legal Industry?

We see evidence that our Family Courts in Maine have a few Judges of questionable character. To be exact, there are four judges in our Family Court system, for whom we have very grave concerns about how they conduct themselves in their courts. One of these Judges is before you today and asking to be reappointed. While the decision to reappoint the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll may have already been recommended, we want to leave you with something to think about. Stop, look and listen then think:

If your decision is wrong, who will we (the public and your constituents) be able to hold accountable for the continued abuse, pain and suffering that families that we know, have gone through and will continue to go through?

Some before you on Thursday February 2, 2017 will be watching and commenting as the public and your constituents. They are risking much in being here before you.

Thank you for your time and efforts. It is time for an in depth audit of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll Family Court.

Paul Collins
MeGAL



Saturday, January 28, 2017

Consumer Survey On - The ReAppointment of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll

As a consumer of judicial services you have a unique opportunity to complete vetting of the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll who is up for re-appointment. The Maine Judiciary Committee will be going through formalities Thursday February 2, 2017 at 2 pm in State House room 438.

The Maine Bar and Judicial Advisory Committee have sent out emails asking for the opinions of lawyers and have cleared the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll for the Judiciary Committee. Consumers were left out of the equation. Your views as consumers of Judicial Services are just as valuable - if not more so - than those of lawyers. Otherwise without actual human experiential dimension any reappointment is just rubber stamping the judge back into court.


Our survey is one question - whether you believe the Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll should be reappointed. You then have the opportunity for comment before submitting. Wednesday February 1 2017 we will be submitting the results to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Our survey may be found here: Honorable Daniel F. Driscoll ReAppointment


NaGAL is bringing about change in our Family Court System through educating the public and legislative action.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Connecticut To Review Nominations Tomorrow - Act NOW

The Judiciary Committee in Connecticut meets tomorrow to consider the renomination of several judges.

Public comments, which are limited to 5 pages, may be submitted to: Judtestimony@cga.ct.gov. Anything you submit will be public and indexed by search engines. Testimony may be submitted anonymously - but in doing so the testimony may be given less weight.

Absent a Committee vote to the contrary, the judges will likely be considered in the order specified in the Agenda below. Note that Bozutto is second, Suarez is ninth and Adelman is tenth.
The CT Constitution requires judges be renominated after 8 years. For some judges (Not sure which ones), the 8 years expires as early as January 20th. Thus in all likelihood:
(i) the Judiciary Committee will vote to approve all of the judges listed below tomorrow night; and
(ii) the House and Senate will vote next week to approve all of these judges.

Thus, NOW is the time to contact your legislator about these judges.

Judiciary Committee
300 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
10:00 AM in Room 2C of the LOB


NOMINATIONS FOR REVIEW


I. To be a Judge of the Superior Court

1. The Honorable Salvatore C. Agati of Watertown
2. The Honorable Elizabeth A. Bozzuto of Watertown
3. The Honorable Mary-Margaret D. Burgdorff of West Hartford
4. The Honorable Robert J. Devlin, Jr. of Shelton
5. The Honorable Kevin G. Dubay of Hartford
6. `The Honorable Bruce P. Hudock of Old Greenwich
7. The Honorable Corinne L. Klatt of Meriden
8. The Honorable Douglas C. Mintz of Redding
9. The Honorable Jose´ A. Suarez of Chester

II. To be a State Referee

1. The Honorable Gerard I. Adelman of Meriden
2. The Honorable Joseph P. Flynn of Derby
3. The Honorable Richard P. Gilardi of Stratford
4. The Honorable Flemming L. Norcott, Jr. of New Haven
5. The Honorable William J. Sullivan of Waterbury

Thank you goes out to Peter and Monica Szymonik for the Facebook post and letting us all know. For additional third party data visit - The Robing Room


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pro se Civil Rights Abuse not Important Enough for Senator Susan Collins

In 2015 NaGAL approached Senator Susan Collins office for help in supporting the civil rights of Pro se parents who are being systematically abused by the justice system. It was pointed out that across the country over 50% of the "Family Court" cases are Pro se. Maine has the distinction of having 75% of court cases being Pro se.

As a Pro se litigant you are going into battle often knowing little or nothing about the rules of engagement. You are a caveman against a modern day soldier.

In June 2015 the process was started and in September of 2015 her office agreed to help and make inquires into this issue.

Almost two years later we are still being told that the office is working on the issue with the Department of Justice and that something maybe happening next month. This was the same canned answer given a month or so ago and the time before that. For all we know nothing has happened in the past two years other than being told that something maybe happening.

When pushed recently as to why Senator Collins did not go directly to Attorney General Loretta Lynch the staff person replied that the Senator only does that for "IMPORTANT" issues. Otherwise it is low level staff member to low level staff member for issues like ours. We asked if this meant that Senator Collins doesn't consider Maine and other families whose civil rights are being abused in Pro se "Family Court" cases as being important - we were told "Oh No. Every constituent is important! Everyone!".

Yeah sure they are Senator Collins.

That is why something is always going to happen "next" month.

NaGAL encourages you to contact Senator Collins to ask her why Pro se litigants whose civil rights are routinely abused by the system of Justice that should be protecting them. Why is this not important enough for her to pay attention to?

NaGAL is a grass root organization that is working for "Family Court" change and the management and oversight of court vendors like Guardians ad litem. If you are having a "Family Court" issue we encourage you to contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.


Senator Susan Collins may be contacted by filling out this form