In Maine the Judicial Branch has a Management Dilemma with Guardians ad litem

In thinking about why the Judicial Branch has such difficulty in creating a management system for its GAL program, a number of conceptual and structural impediments come to mind. The most readily acknowledged issue is no money for supervision or for a bureaucratic structure that would allow for normal bureaucratic management of Guardians ad litem (GAL). The financial excuse is probably true given the dire financial straights of the state, but we would say in addition that even were money available, there are more serious conceptual impediments preventing Judicial Branch’s internal management of Guardians ad litem. There are at least three conceptual issues that would make supervision or management of Guardians ad litem in any Judicial system fraught with legal and ethical problems unique to judicial branches of government.

The issues involve internal conflicts inherent in normal organizational role shifts, within a judicial system, from the role of supervision of vocational functioning of a supervisee to the administration of justice in cases involving complaints about supervision which seek legal solutions. Both GAL management and adjudication of formal, legal complaints about a Guardian’s management get very complex when these inherently conflicting activities have to occur within the same, small, fairly tight system. It would require a tight control over supervisory information and rigid compartmentalization of this information, so that information about supervision and management – and any conflict therein – does not seep into formal adjudication channels and pollute the fairness of any possible, future legal complaint process. Can it be done?

1.) Judicial Independence. In the spirit of Common Law, a judge is supposed to form his/her judgment about a case independently, uninfluenced (unswayed) by other branches of government or by partisan, community (or bureaucratic) politics.

This means standing apart from and being independent of politics and influence from the other branches of government. It should include not only formal political influence of the branches, but also government bureaucratic influences, including those of the judge’s own internal bureaucracy. This means using data presented in court by both parties to form an independent opinion and not to be swayed by outside influences or outside information or previous knowledge of the case. It would be difficult for a judge to resolve independently legal actions of any kind involving a Guardian ad litem; especially, a GAL with whom he/she has worked in court or even one who is known to the judicial system. Judicial independence gets damaged by foreknowledge of the GAL, by working relationships, by the rumors, by system gossip, by the system grapevines and by private awareness of the contentions.

A theoretical problem might start with supervisory discord between a GAL and his/her supervisor about an issue of supervision, leading to an internal management hearing and subsequently pursued in a formal court complaint. It might go the full route in court and continue as a case of higher level appeal. Administrative supervision within any such JB system – if there were conflicts – might at some point be apt to tangle with the branches’ system for administering formal justice, as those with supervisory grievances may seek legal appeal. It poses a huge bureaucratic challenge to keep information from these supervision and justice boundaries clean, separate and non-communicating in a single, small bureaucracy. This is a very special supervisory problem (unique?) for judicial systems, one that is not faced by administrative bureaucracies in other branches of government. Judicial independence, while an active member of a bureaucratic branch of government is challenging to say the least.

Having a non-judge be supervisor of a GAL would necessitate a bureaucracy to supervise the supervisor, a supervisory appellate process for conflicts arising out of supervision, and links within the same system to the judiciary for conflicts that “go legal”. Judicial independence in Judicial Branches would necessitate a “Rube Goldberg” organizational structure and be strained to the degree that all judges would have to adopt an antisocial, personal ‘modus operandi’ to avoid contamination of their independence by normal internal organizational grapevines and normal organizational politics. And this would have to be at all times for perhaps an actually limited number of internal legal complaints. Can independence of one’s home bureaucracy be carried out, always, with any kind of credibility? What sort of person would avoid all informal social communications with system wide colleagues to be judicially independent? It is an example of the latent conflicting strains between supervision and legal functions within the same system that inevitably impinge on judicial independence.

2.) Judicial Impartiality. There are special challenges to maintaining judicial impartiality when one sits in formal judgment of a person who works in the same bureaucratic system, who is appointed by colleagues, who works for colleagues and friends in that system, who may be known personally or by reputation or rumor. The potential role conflicts and/or impartiality conflicts would seem enormous when colleagues, friends, coworkers must attempt to render impartial judgment. Can it happen? Can one have oversight of a working colleague (and at the same time maintain impartiality), with the unavoidable risk that the working colleague might at some point go to law with a formal complaint for some sort of problem resolution, which cannot be resolved in supervision? It is another serious conceptual impediment to the Judicial Branch system supervising or having oversight of GALs.

3.) Due Process. Implies that in a conflict, all parties and the judge will share in common, knowledge about the complaint and the case at the same time, and that everyone has equal opportunities to respond to all steps in the process. No one has the special advantage of being able to use secret information unknown to the other players or privately to exert undue influence. Well run courts are scrupulous about keeping all relevant information shared by all participants and to avoid ‘ex parte’ communications so no one has use of special knowledge not available to the others. Information has a power of its own to determine or influence outcomes. The idea of protecting due process poses special challenges to the hypothetical idea of supervision or of oversight within a judicial system, where all supervisory and oversight information would have to be kept rigidly apart from the justice side to avoid contaminating possible future due process in a hypothetical legal complaint from the same players. Can any organization – even a formal espionage organization – implement this degree of control over information that is internal to one part of the system in order to prevent seepage into another part of the same system?

These ideas are just a few conceptual and system reasons, why it is virtually an impossibility for the JB to construct a system of GAL oversight without violating very important traditional principles that are embedded in administering the law. This is not in any way to suggest that these principles are not vitally important and necessary in a court of law and need to be respected. It is simply to try to understand why these same respected principles that work so well in court render supervision of GALs virtually impossible in Judicial systems. It is the reason why many states have surrendered to the impossibility of doing supervision/oversight within their judicial branch and moved these activities to the administrative/executive branch.

Maine should do this for the same reasons.


For more information on the issues of Guardians ad litem we encourage you to read the 2006 OPEGA report. Provided is a link to a summary – OPEGA. In addition there is the report the Power of the Powerless which addresses many of the same issues. If you have had any issues with Guardians ad litem we encourage you to contact us for support at or like us on Facebook for information.