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

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

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

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

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