A flawed complaint process for Guardians ad litem in Family Court.

A “Make-Believe” Complaint Process for Guardians ad litem in Maine Family Courts.

While there is little to no current data to tell us exactly what happens with consumers’ complaints about Maine Guardians ad litem, some have actually received action – in the past. We have talked with people who complained (years ago) and were – hold your breath – successful in getting  “corrective action” using the then existing complaint process. That was back then – before GAL immunity – over ten years ago.

In 2001, a bill, LD 164 HP 153 was submitted, which proposed that anyone serving as a Guardian ad litem and acting as the courts agent would have quasi-judicial immunity “for acts performed within the scope of duties of the Guardian ad litem“. This bill in its final disposition was recommended to not pass – and it did not. In 2004, however, Guardians ad litem were given quasi-judicial immunity which did not take effect until 2005.

Since 2005 out of an estimated 150 possible complaints from consumers about their GALs, submitted to Maine’s chief judge – not one – zero complaints ever received  any “corrective action”.

What we have for the past 9 – 10 years is a broken, make-believe, complaint process.  Either it’s “make-believe”, or … we’d all be forced to say, all Guardians ad litem are perfect and don’t ever need any correction or improvement. How could this be where the emotional toil of divorce is so high and a parents child(ren) is at stake.

It should be noted that any time a consumer of Guardian ad litem services takes the time to give feedback – or to complain – about the services, they are giving, what most organizations would consider, valuable information service. Consumers (parents) are telling our court system that there are apparent flaws in the product and/ or service that is being provided. While the complaints and feedback may not be flattering and may expose flaws within the system, complaints/ feedback would give Maine’s judiciary an insight into their service product flaws and an opportunity to improve the quality.  Or … to prevent tragic internal abuses, public harm and scandal.

Businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Apple and Amazon want to know what the public’s thoughts are about the service they provide. They understand the cost involved in acquiring and retaining the good will of a customer, and that an upset customer can cause untold damage. In a closed system that operates with no competition, like Maine’s Judicial Branch, the concepts of customer service and customer good will and respect go right out the window.  It is an increasingly out of touch anomaly in a consumer driven society.

What are some of the problems that we see with our current and proposed court complaint process:

1. The use of an inflexible and out dated information system. The data that the Judicial Branch retains is on pieces of paper in boxes at widely scattered district  court houses. In order to access this data, one must go to a particular court house in person and deal with court clerks who are often busy, inefficient and feel put – upon – unless you are a popular lawyer. Further, there are limits as to how many records one may examine on a given visit without a fee. (As an aside please note that customer service is often a foreign concept as there is no reason for giving good customer service. My experience with court clerks is that they do not know the product, are rude to customers – unless as noted above a popular lawyer – and look down upon customers). The current date is not useable and/ or meaningful.

2. Any information that one may glean is fragmented, often hand – written and insufficient. There is no common integrated system to collect and process data. This makes it virtually impossible to properly analyze any outcomes of any complaint.

3. Because there is a lack of transparent data and systemic protocol for data collection about Guardian ad litem complaints, this impairs the ability to do a proper external analysis/review/oversight. What little fragmented data there may be for public review, is all but useless to tease out any meaningful data.

4. The inconsistent handling of complaints. While there is a published complaint process on the Maine Judicial Branch web site, it is more or less a series of descriptive steps, with no examples. With no examples the consumer has to do their best in crafting a complaint. Do I just tell the problem like it is (as the justices on the Supreme Court told us back in November) or should the consumer point out why there is a legitimate complaint by citing law and statutes? It is a guessing game.

You are provided instructions on where to file that complaint. Without how to instructions, some ‘prose’ people write pages and pages of their “story”; others try over and over, like a game of “20 Questions”.  Is this how to do it? How about this? It is a conundrum. There is no clearly defined complaint process and or procedures. No one to help a ‘prose’ or consumer of Judicial services.

Where do the Rules for Maine Guardians ad litem fit?  Are they the gold standard?  Oops … !  Your case involved “judicial discretion” about the Rules, and the judge (with discretion) threw the Rules out the window! Sorry, complaint dismissed! No Rules, No instructions, No limits on judicial discretion! It all equals no real, functional complaint process!  None.

Functionally, it also means absolutely NO oversight of any kind for GALs.  THEY ARE PERFECT! Bad sports, whiners, complainers, get lost!

Until the Judicial Branch decides to take the complaint process seriously there will be a public user problem. The Guardians ad litem role will be an unsupervised, non-functioning, cruel imposition on the public, who are forced to pay for a product with NO “quality assurance” from Maine’s Judicial Branch whatever.

We, as members of the public, are asking the Maine legislature act so as to move the “oversight” of Guardians ad litem to the Bureau of Professional and Financial Regulation.  This would place complaints under the purview of an organization that is well set up to address public complaints on professions of various kinds and that has a strong “consumer orientation”. The current situation is a travesty.

For more information on what we are doing in court reform please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook. Our number is: 207-370-9801.