An Open Letter to a Maine Family Court Judge

Maine Family Court

Dear Judge,

I am writing this open letter, both for public educational purposes and as a “heads up” for the courts.  Along with other observers, I feel serious concern about recurring reports of  human rights violations emanating from your court in an ongoing  family dispute over child custody.

In one case in question, the “back story” has been going on for a considerable time, and the core issues in the case are not uncommon. One party’s aim seems to be to keep the other party from any normal custody sharing of their minor child. The strategy being used to achieve this is also a very common one: repeated allegations of abuse, anger and poor control. Despite the fact that the standard investigations into these allegations have found no substance to them, the allegations are repeated over and over.  As we know, this tactic can be an effective courtroom maneuver to hold off “the enemy”. This type of dramatic claim effectively renders the court nervous and indecisive.  No evidence appears to be enough to lay such allegations to rest.  The accused party is unable to escape this persecution. There will be no end to strategic claims. So the court, not uncommonly, orders therapy; therapy for unspecified purposes or problems, with unspecified goals or end point, presuming that it might do some, nonspecific good, or at the least it puts off a decision. The court fails to realize that only a hungry therapeutic charlatan will accept a “therapeutic” task from a referral source that lacks a treatment focus (diagnosis), goals or a definable end point. Our core question is: what is the specific clinical problem for which therapy is being ordered? Key words: “Clinical problem”.

Most of these scientifically unfounded therapies with claims to treat some character trait which a judge finds undesirable are “junk” and produce no measurable or sustainable results. They are ordered by the court often under threat of “contempt”. And those subjected to this court prescription must pay for questionable therapeutic “goods”. They are a human rights affront, and they are such a regular part of the Maine family court ‘armamentarium’ as to be imagined by many as having some proven therapeutic validity (they don’t!).  It is about court enforced bogus therapy for non-criminal family court parties. Conceptually, it is akin to doing experimental treatment on people under order from the court! One asks, “Is forced participation in questionable “therapy” acceptable in a democratic society?”

Even more troubling to many observers, than “Junk” therapy is the not uncommon forced disclosure of a party’s personal therapy by family courts in  non-criminal cases.  It appears as if nothing is considered “privileged” in some courts but one’s attorney-client conversations. There are well-established, professionally-endorsed, standard protocols for disclosure of personal clinical information. They call for a freely granted informed consent for disclosure by the one who owns the actual information, the client. They also require that casual, speculative remarks made by a patient about others, who might be harmed by disclosures made in therapy, be redacted.  Patients will commonly talk about all sorts of people in their lives who may be harmed or damaged by publicly disclosing such comments. They are made by a patient who has assumed total confidentiality at the time of making them. Unredacted disclosure of this information and insensitive, unprotective handling of the content might spotlight (and harm) innocent persons and lead to further additional legal problems. We are told that opposing lawyers frequently desire a “peek” at these records and so does the lawyer’s client, the opposing party. The common claim we have heard is that it will ease the opponent’s mind to see what is going on in the therapy of the other side. We’d ask, to what purpose would the judge allow for such forced sharing with an open adversary? How will this disclosure help to achieve shared custody or benefit the child? How will the opposition read and (more importantly) understand the process from a therapist’s notes or- worse- a face-to-face interview with another’s personal therapist? The therapy will be “trashed by such a violation of confidentiality, and there will be a concomitant violation of the necessary trust for personal therapy. What sort of person is so grossly disrespectful of the individual privacy needed for personal healing as to demand a “peek” at therapy notes and in the process destroy the future of trust-based therapy?  Why would a court support this obviously demeaning, unethical request? It is a rude, destructive assault on treatment and on the person in treatment.

We are not trying to blame just one particular family court judge in our expression of concern about “human rights”. Unfortunately, we hear these gross, human rights violations all too often in many parts of the system. It desperately needs oversight and correction.

We write this in order to ask, “How can we correct these frightening human abuses? One suggestion is that the Maine legislature endorse a formal audit of selected courts to assess the occurrence of these substandard practices. While one might choose to audit all of Maine’s family courts, we’d suggest that given scarcity of resources for this undertaking that priorities might be given to courts in Biddeford, Rockland, Belfast and Portland. We’d be pleased to supply more specific details upon legitimate request.


Jerome A Collins, MD

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