“Healthy disagreement, debate, leading to compromise has always been the American way.” Donald L. Carcieri

Upon review of the day’s events, like most of the attendees, we found that the Judicial Branch’s hearing on May 31st was a rewarding experience. They have heard- and are hearing- us. At the hearing they listened carefully, many of us spoke and offered a variety of diagnoses of the GAL problems, as well as proposing an amazing range of ideas for fixing them.There was a good human feeling, coming from a respectful process.  But … though we say it was a  very good beginning, we’d also say, “We’re not home free yet!” There is work to be done on an actual plan for reform.

The meeting on Thursday from 4-5:30 was well attended.  It is hard to estimate numbers, but we’d guess from the crowding in the hearing room somewhat over 50.  We know of many people, who wanted to attend, who had to work or who were too far away to make a round trip. It was a mixed crowd. Lawyers, GALs, and “consumers”, in a range of socio-economic status. It was a Maine crowd of people who were all deeply concerned that the broken GAL program in Maine needs an overhaul. There was excellent testimony giving different opinions, reflecting the different perspectives of the speakers.  Consumers were very candid about systems problems, but respectful and focused.  Lawyers and GALs had  the different “takes” of each of their groups on the problem.  We have to say it was very interesting and very educational for everyone, both for participants and for Justices.

At the end of the meeting, in a conversation with Chief Justice Saufley, we learned that the Judicial Branch is seeking out-of-state consultation on the Judicial Branch’s GAL systems problems. We gathered that consultants are already engaged and about to start on their assessments. There are a number of issues that concern Chief Justice Saufley, which she touched on very briefly. The roles and functions of GALs are presently somewhat amorphous and  ill-defined. They need clarification and control of “mission creep” (non-statutory GAL role expansion). Saufley is deeply concerned about the punishing costs of GAL’s services, which can impoverish families and which may take money for future education of children and retirement. In another context (not the Thursday meeting), Saufley stressed the importance of updating information systems and data collection and use in management. We were pleased that many of  the concerns Saufley expressed were also concerns which Maine Guardian ad litem Alert expressed in its May 15th, 2012 report to the Chief Justice.

We deeply appreciate the mere fact that this hearing was held, that so many people attended and participated, that the press has helped to highlight the issues, that the legislature has given a charge to the JB and that the Chief Justice and other Justices are responding with energy, openness and all due speed.

But we are wary of counting our chickens before they are hatched, and we strongly feel that consumers need to be involved in the planning process at the JB.  We don’t want to be reacting to a “done deal”.

This has been a great start and we certainly have gotten the attention of those who matter most in the State of Maine. But to relax before changes are implemented would be a huge mistake.

If you have questions or concerns please contact us at Megalalert@gmail.com, on our Facebook page Megalalert or comment on our blog Megalalert.blogspot.com

Please send your ideas for the improvement of the guardian ad litem system to: lawcourt.clerk@courts.maine.gov