Hon. Leigh Saufley
Maine Supreme Court
Dear Chief Justice Sauflley,
I am responding to the request from the Judicial Branch for comments from the public on the proposed “new” Rules for Guardians ad litem. In my opinion, they are badly off the mark, if their aim is to help the majority of those public consumers, who might use them to understand how GAL’s function and how to make a complaint about a GAL’s defective performance. Perhaps unintentionally, they seem to distort the aims of the Maine legislature and the Governor who created the law in 2013. The Dutremble law was aimed at clarifying GAL functioning with appropriate boundaries and protecting consumers of Guardian ad litem services from abuse by GAL practitioners. The proposed “new” Rules, as I read them, shift aim and focus of the 2013 Dutremble law, and, by proposed regulation seem designed to defend and protect GALs, as members of “the legal guild”. Self-represented consumers of service are out of the picture altogether.
The proposed “new” Rules are lengthy (77 pages), often ambiguous and subject to many escape clauses. There are many statements in the Rules that are followed by exceptions to the rule. This oppositional duality throughout the Rules neutralizes and confuses the intent, meaning and strength of the initial rule, and it probably reflects the anxiety of “stake holders” on the working committee, who created the document. They may not want to be hampered or hemmed in by any Rules.
The section dealing with consumer complaints (see page 35 RULE 9. Guardian ad litem Review Board Complaint System) about GAL services is written in complex legal language, full of references to other laws, unfamiliar to the general public. It prescribes a labyrinthine, multi layered procedure for making a complaint. Even relatively trivial, minor complaints must follow this protocol. As I read it and imagined using it myself in a ‘pro se’ effort, I felt shut out and stymied. The complaint procedure is written by lawyers for lawyers. It also proposes that all consumer complaints be managed by the lawyers’’ “guild”, the Overseers of the Bar, considered a formidable entity by most of the public. The complaint procedure is an airtight, legalistic, time-consuming, intimidating piece of work that virtually no untrained, unrepresented “consumer” will be able to use to complain about service. Preventing complaints from self-represented members of the public appears to be its purpose. Kill all public complaints with legalistic complexity. “Pro se” be damned, is the message I read!
The most troubling problem is represented by the authorship of the proposal “new” Rules for GALs. It appears to be the work of a “Stakeholder’s committee”, almost exclusively members of the powerful “divorce industry”. The authors show no consideration for how a ‘pro se’ (self represented person) is supposed to use the arcane, complaint “tool”. As you reported to me earlier this year, a startling 74% of family court users are ‘pro se’. It is being proposed by “stockholders”, who authored it, that this 74% majority be given a complex, “legal tool” that they will be unable to use in making a complaint about GAL service. The Rules, as a tool, by their complexity, would exclude the majority of public users from making a complaint on their own. Shouldn’t ‘pro se’ persons also be considered significant “stakeholders”? Their stakes are their children, their time and their life savings; not professional financial advantage. Their kids are priceless to them (and to all of us) and represent future, valuable human resources for Maine. Why are ‘pro se’ stakeholders denied a seat at the table that would reflect their proportional, numerical dominance in courts? It might be viewed as an exclusionary problem of vast proportions that needs correction in the interest of public fairness, and in the interests of reality. It is an awkward commentary on family courts in a democratic society.
We need to understand the present reality that Family courts at this time are no longer the exclusively purview of an elite, professional group of the legal profession when 74% of users are self-represented non-lawyers! It is time for everyone to awaken to these startling facts and address the major, unstoppable systems change that is going on right now!
It also should be noted that the public complaint protocol is the only “quality assurance” mechanism for the public governing the actions of Guardians ad litem. Without supervision, with just 18 hours of “education”, with quasi judicial immunity, with no meaningful “oversight”, a complaint from a consumer is the only way to request major or minor “corrective action” for a malfunctioning GAL. If this procedure is so complex as to be unusable by non-lawyers, GALs are essentially in a position of being granted secular infallibility by the Judicial Branch. One has to ask rhetorically: “Don’t GALs ever need some form of correction; are they always “perfect?” Can’t one find a more responsible way to correct and improve their function?
My opinion is that the Judicial Branch needs to go back to the drawing board and begin again in writing new Rules for GALs. It needs to include proportionally the biggest group of players in family courts, the 74% ‘pro se’ users, on any planning committee addressing “officers of the court”. It needs to approach the whole issue of GAL management in a much less defensive, overprotective manner. It needs to listen to and care about the systemic changes catalyzed by amazing numbers of ‘pro se’ representatives. The present document is “tone deaf” to ‘pro se’. Is this its aim, or is it impossible for the Judicial Branch to escape the political influence and power of the divorce bar?
We sincerely hope this document can be rewritten in tune with current realities, and with participation of those who are major users of the GAL system. Would it help the Judicial Branch to overcome the powerful, internal, self-serving, lobbying politics of the “divorce industry Bar”, if there were to be grass roots legislation empowering ‘pro se’ representatives on JB committees and throughout the family court system?
Your 74% ‘pro se’ statistic is a powerful number that cries for legal fairness and appropriate democratic empowerment!
Jerome A Collins, MD
For further information on the Family Court and divorce industry crisis please email at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.
For further reading:
2014-03-18 Maine Voices: We must work together to ensure justice truly is for all in Maine – a response