Has the Guardian ad litem Problem Vanished – It Has According to the Judicial Branch

September 2012 the one public member on the Guardian ad litem  Task Force wrote a minority report to the Judicial Branch regarding issues with the task force. February 15, 2017 the Judicial Branch present their final report on LD 872. In reading the report and only this report one would assume that the problems associated with Family Courts and Guardians ad litem have been resolved or under control. It is a glowing report which may be found here – GAL Report 2-2017. In reading this report please keep in mind that while the Judicial Branch may feel that things are running like a well oiled machine. We would like to point out that this report is more self serving than anything and there are still very serious systemic issues which have only been whitewashed over. What follows is the minority report to the Judicial Branch September 21, 2012 (which has also been included in the recently submitted GAL Report.

TO: GUARDIAN AD LITEM TASK FORCE
FROM: JEROME A. COLLINS M.D.
DATE: SEPTEMBER 21, 2012
APPENDIX C

MINORITY COMMENTS ON REPORT TO THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT BY THE JUDICIAL BRANCH GUARDIANS AD LITEM TASK FORCE

CONTEXT:

From my position as the only public member of the 19-member committee, the only one with no personal financial interest in the Guardian ad litem problem, my perspective on the problem is quite from that of the majority of the committee. While I believe that the chairing of the meetings was fair and friendly, there were decidedly biased undercurrents among the participants. “Is there a GAL problem?” is still a serious issue for many. Why not just tweak the current system, which works so well (for GALS?) another fairly significant position. And, “if ‘they’ want change, make them pay for it,” was the surprisingly hostile position of one prominent family lawyer. I mention these few (of many) examples of bias that I felt, to indicate a strong interest on the part of a significant number of the committee in clinging to the ‘status quo’ to the greatest extent possible. This protective conservatism of the majority colors the document and colors my current opinion of it.

THE CURRENT DOCUMENT:

The document I received appears to be very sketchy. It pulls together many threads of issues that wore discussed in our three meetings, but it leaves unresolved very significant questions of detail. There are no instructions for users. There are no guided forms for users. There is no explanation users in clear language the process would work, the steps they would lake, the algorithm. It is not geared towards a citizen complaint made without legal assistance. In general, user-oriented supports arc absent, It desires imitate the NH complaint process but in our estimation it falls short. Without more fleshed-out detail the document is a “tabula rasa” on which one can project ideas but without solid grounding. leaves a great deal to the input of the Supreme Court, but disallows helpful guidance to the court and forces to give the court a blank conceptual check, when we’ve never done business before and don’t know if we share common ground.

THE UNDERLYING CONCEPTS:

What exactly is the conceptual nature of a complaint regarding a Guardian ad litem? Is it a legal complaint between two adversaries about allegations of harm or damage, or is it vocational complaint about GAL performance to an oversight agency from one or more members the public, which questions whether this worker’s performance meets publicly approved/regulated standards of practice? In our opinion, the current document attempts to merge the two ideas unsuccessfully at the expense or the consumer complaint. It strives to address the vocational questions, but in a heavily legalistic context that is apt to suffocate the consumer. Part of the problem is that GAL’s vocational considerations lack a standard of practice, and GALs themselves lack an experience in how to judge standard practices of colleagues. The document makes no mention of training for all concerned in oversight that might teach these skills even the use of the court room concept of “standing” belies a legalistic bias, which would be unfamiliar find constricting to consumers.

This awkwardness can be in the questions raised in committee about “standing.” In consumer protection agencies, the notion of “standing as traditionally applied in court (who may participate) doesn’t apply. It is off-topic. Any member of the public with direct actual experience of a worker’s malfunctioning may bear witness. It enhances agency oversight. This awkwardness and conceptual model confusion makes the creation of the new complaint process worrisome. In NH it, was found after an initial placement of the complaint process in the Judicial Branch the lack of experience of this branch in dealing with vocational issues and consumer protection necessitated a move to the licensing bureau. We feel that this is very apt to happen in Maine.

THE 12 MEMBER REVIEW BOARD:

This board with 12 members, two of whom would be from the public, with the other 10 being Guardians ad litem, to us to stack the decks wildly in favor of GALS. But it is a problem, not just in terms of numbers and composition. It also a problem of how such board would function in carrying out its duties. There is absolutely no tradition amongst the GALs in Maine or within their trade organization tor self-policing. There is little in the role or experience of GALs that prepares them to address consumer protection issues. Trade organizations , such as MEGALI, (and others) are well known for their tolerance or malfunctioning even as it approaches level of public scandal. Further what standards of practice would the panel be using? How would they judge a failing? Would any the panels have experience in assessing vocational functioning? It raises a host of questions about the knowledge skill and experience necessary to make critical vocational and consumer protective judgments.

In addition, there is also the very important question of attitude towards the public on the part of GALs, They see themselves us allies of judges and of the children they deal with. They are habituated to stand apart from the parties and exhibit independence. From our experience there is very often significant defensiveness to criticism on the part of these lightly trained GALs and of their trade organization. Some of these attitudinal biases surfaced during the recent Committee meetings. Examples: “Is there a. problem?”; “Do we need a new program?”

In our view board composition and hoard training the oversight role need to be reconsidered.

FINANCING:

In brief, it is our view, as a matter of principle, that the public shouldn’t have to pay to make a vocational complaint to the oversight agency about one or their workers, be that oversight the responsibility of the Judicial Branch or of the Administrative Branch. It should be noted that there is currently no charge for public complaints by Maine’s licensing boards. A fee to make a complaint sends a perhaps unintentionally off-putting message to the public: your complaint will cost you. It is a deterrent; we don’t really want to know. One member of the committee expressed the issue with considerable animus: “Make them pay!“, and suggested complaints were “an ego issue.” It raises a serious question: Does the Judicial Branch Truly want to know about malfunctioning officers of the court in order to correct these situations? “Make them pay“‘ is not an attitude that encourages the public to assist the Judicial Brunch in its oversight.

GAL OVERSIGHT AND LICENSING BOARD OVERSIGHT:

Although it was mentioned m the committee, the jurisdictional conflict about a GAL whose actions appear to be malpractice of their base profession is not addressed in the current proposal. It is a serious consumer protection issue that a professional could avoid corrective action from complaints to their licensing hoard by needing to address GAL complaints at the Judicial Branch first. It is a serious problem, troubling to the public. There needs to be a corrective plan developed with the licensing boards.

WILL THE “NEW COMPLAINT PROCESS” BE USED BY PUBLIC?

At the moment, then is an unofficial, recent embargo by the public on GAL complaints. This action has arisen, because many people felt that the current complaint process was demeaning, always resulted in dismissal-even in the face of serious considerations. People also felt that the seemly inevitable dismissal whitewashed malfunctioning GALS gave no consumer warning of bad actors. Will the new process be used? Hard to say, but its use will definitely be limited without out’ endorsement, Your limited “statistics” are apt to be even better!

I regret having to address so many problems on the eve of submitting a proposal to the Supreme Court, but so many ideas were presented in the committee meetings without clear direction-other than broad principle-being agreed on that seeing a written proposal surfaces many concerns. These are expressed here as clearly as possible; however, I’d be pleased to explain further, if appropriate.

MeGAL has been working for Family Court change for over five years. In 2013 and 2015 we had a number of bills submitted to help bring about this change. We continue to work for this change and in 2017 we are requesting an audit much like what was done back in 2006. We encourage you to become involved in the education of family, friends, co-workers and your representatives as to what the issues are. You may also contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.