Questions we would like our Judges to answer

Dear Member of the Maine Judiciary Committee of the Legislature,

Re: Judging judges: hearings on judicial appointments or reappointment

At MeGAL we are writing you-in our role as grassroots advocates for Guardian ad litem and family court reform-about your committee’s work on judicial appointments and reappointment. You will soon be reviewing the appointment status of a number of judges. From our perspective, it is “a moment of truth” – the question being: are these judicial candidates good for the public who use Maine’s family courts? Historically, judicial confirmation activity has been largely a series of privileged decisions by a special interest oligarchy composed of the Maine Bar and members of the Judicial Branch, with a near automatic, stamp of approval from your committee. We would strongly argue that public users of family courts also have a vital interest in this topic. Bad or inadequate judges are a public hazard. They can cause untold cruelty and harm to families and children with bad judicial decisions. Yet, they are virtually impossible to correct or remove using judicial review procedures – just check the numbers of corrective actions yourself. We know of none. We look to the legislature to act to remove judges with a troubled public record. As a start, we would suggest a series of questions for judicial candidates, the answers to which ought to be tied to decision making by your committee.

There is a time – limited window of opportunity defined by your confirmation hearings. We propose these standardized questions as a sort of a “job interview” by committee members for judicial candidates. It is a way of making enlightened Committee decisions about the judges who come before you. It is about the legislature responsibly judging judges for public protection.

Here are our “job interview” questions:

1.) Do you feel that judges ever make mistakes in their judgments? Do the current mechanisms for correcting judicial mistakes work? How many judges have ever received correction or removal from the use of these mechanisms? What mistakes have you made? How do you correct mistakes you have made?

2.) Maine has a statistically serious “access to justice” problem. 74% of people using family courts are represented ‘pro se’ and receive second class court service as a result. What do you think needs to be done in your court to improve “access to justice” for ‘pro se’ representers? What plans to improve “access to justice” do you support for the Judicial Branch as a whole?

3.) Do you afford a ‘pro se’ person, as their own case advocate, the same rights and privileges as lawyers? Do you become irritated or openly conflicted with ‘pro se’ advocates? How do you separate the dual client and advocate roles with ‘pro se’ advocates?

4.) During any attorney conferences by phone or in chambers how do you handle ‘pro se’ advocates? Are they always included with lawyers and Guardians ad litem in such sessions? If not, why not? Do you feel that failure to include ‘pro se’ advocates in such events further diminishes “access to justice” by sending a derogatory (“you are not equal”) message to those forced to self represent?

5.) Have you ever found errors or bad practices in the actions of Guardians ad litem whom you’ve appointed; who work in your courtroom? What kind of errors have Guardians ad litem appointed by you made? How many Guardians ad litem have you ever sanctioned? Sanctioning by judges is extremely rare. Is this because you consider Guardian ad litem functioning “flawless”? What are common mistakes made by Guardians ad litem? What do you do to improve the performance of Guardians ad litem in your court?

6.) How do you handle complaints from parties about a GAL? What tools do you use to evaluate GAL performance, complaints about Guardians ad litem? Do you regularly use the Rules for Guardians ad litem to evaluate such complaints? How well do you know the Rules? Do you keep a copy of Rules in your chambers?

7.) How would you suggest that Guardian ad litem performance might be improved: specific course content, a supervised internship, personal tutoring, supervision, “corrective actions”, other – what would you suggest? Please, give details.

8.) What “tools” are most useful to you for psychologically evaluating a parent? How do you handle clinically privileged, personal information? Do you allow all parties in a contentious divorce full access to confidential personal therapy records? What ethical standards of protection for this information do you observe in order to preserve treatment? Would you like to see a seminar or some teaching sessions for judges about this topic? Are you aware of federal standards for disabled children? How do you comply with these? Have you ever been criticized for noncompliance with professional standards of clinicians?

9.) How would you address complaints from parties about “junk science” used in court? Do you know what “junk science” is? What types of “junk science” and “junk therapy” are commonest in courts? Do you have reference sources within the Judicial Branch that might be used to identify “junk science” and eliminate its use? How do you decide the validity of proposed treatments for parties in your court? Do you order unorthodox or experimental treatments/counseling, such as “scream” therapy (one of many examples)? Why? Does court mandated, forced therapy for parties work? How enduring is mandated court treatment? What are the arguments pro and con for this practice?

10.) How many appeals have been made about your family court decisions. Which of your judgments have been disputed? How often have you dismissed motions from parties for “findings of fact and law”?

11.) How, and in what areas, do you need to improve your knowledge, skill and experience as a judge, if reappointed? What steps will you be taking? When?

Do you feel that these questions are unnecessary, because you see “no problem” with the ‘status quo’ in Maine’s family courts?

Thank you for your participation in this review.

Sincerely,

Maine Guardian ad litem Alert.

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