To: Members of the Judiciary Committee for Thursday, March 23rd at 1 pm
From: Jerome A Collins, Maine Guardian ad litem Alert
Re: LD 457, the “Sunset” Bill, sponsor: Rep Matthew Moonen
We strongly oppose this bill. The sun should set on the law, a the law itself specifies, in October, 2017..
The original version of this law was conceived by Sen David Dutremble and me over a long afternoon, in 2012, at my kitchen table in Kennebunkport. We based our action on the facts that (a) nothing was happening at the Judicial Branch to reform the GAL program, (b) we were both hearing heartbreaking complaints from numerous victims of the GAL program that was the result of no program oversight or management, (c) there already existed a “blueprint” for GAL reform waiting to be activated in the form of the nationally respected 2006 OPEGA Audit of Maine GALs. We expanded the focus of the 2006 OPEGA report to cover all GALs, wherever they worked: Probate, Children’s Protective or Divorce and Custody.
The Dutremble bill, LD 872 was born in the grass-roots, nourished by the legislative process with extensive emotional public hearings and signed into law by the Governor in late Spring 2013. It was a “people’s bill” all the way. It solved “people problems” in family courts. It was a solution that grew out of long neglect by the Judicial Branch of their GAL program; it corrected a problem for vulnerable groups, who were forced to use GALs.
As not uncommonly happens, with laws created by the Legislature with strong citizen input, the Judicial Branch worked over the “Dutremble Law” using their preferred process, committees composed of “stakeholders”: family court lawyers, GALs and family court judges – all with significant conflicts of interest. The law was radically transformed from “people friendly” to “family bar and GAL-friendly”. It is NO LONGER THE PEOPLE’S LAW; IT IS A LAWYERS’ and GAL’s LAW.. THIS RE-WORKED LAW IS NOT THE ONE WE WORKED TO CREATE. It may have the same name and number but it is a very different “creature”.
The centerpiece of this “new” Judicial Branch law is the GAL complaint procedure, safely tucked into the Overseers of the Bar.
- The complaint procedure is said to be a substitute for actual oversight and nonexistent management. It is not either.
- The legislature had called for a “user-friendly” GAL complaint procedure. It is now about as de-humanized a process as one could imagine.
- The current procedure provides pages of legalistic instructions, but no human help.
- The steps in the procedure are carried out by mail (US postal service). No names of those making decisions appear.
- The consumer making a complaint fires of a complaint into a nameless, faceless, bureaucratic “black hole”.
- 100 % of consumer complaints have been dismissed without any corrective action of the mildest kind being taken. This is in the tradition of all previous complaint procedures that go back for years.
It is unclear whether these consumer complaints are viewed as legal complaints (breaking the law) or vocational complaints (competence). Once a complaint is dismissed, however, the GAL’s name is cleared and removed from the record. The complaint never happened. We’d suggest that the Judiciary Committee members do a “walk through” of this process to get a feel for it. We’d also suggest that they obtain information about professional complaints from the Bureau of licensure, a very different process, a different more humane approach.
There are many other details I could mention, if I was allowed the time, but they are covered in our extensive rebuttal to Chief Judge Mary Kelly’s report to the legislature. Here are the troubled topic headings:
- Consumer satisfaction survey: We dare you to ask for data.
- Financial ceilings for GAL services: Just motion the judge you need more time (and money) and the ceiling lifts.
- Reporting information systematically and computer friendly – Rep Picchiotti‘s bill attempts to fill this missing piece.
- Management and oversight of GALs – Sorry, it’s covered by the GAL complaint procedure. It is? How?
- Enforcement of GAL Rules and Standards – Sorry it’s embedded in the GAL complaint procedure. With 100% dismissal are GALs “perfect”?
- Data for any aspect of the law? What’s data? Or. The numbers are “confidential”, proprietary, secret.
- Double talk: not intentionally. We have to protect all parties, but numbers how can they hurt anyone except the Judicial Branch?
The Maine legislature needs to ask itself: Is this the law, you sent to the Judicial Branch in 2013? We say it has had radical surgery at the JB since 2013? We say it is now very consumer-unfriendly. Do you want to inflict it on the people of Maine? If you can’t decide, if you are confused by the opposing views on this law, you need an outside, objective OPEGA study to examine the problems and give you recommendations for action. We are told that Rep Moonen has already communicated to the Government Oversight Committee (and OPEGA) that an OPEGA study would be “premature”, that the Judiciary Committee needs time to review Chief Judge Mary Kelly’s report (and our rebuttal report?). It is unclear to us whether Moonen was expressing his personal views aimed at stalling OPEGA, or whether he expressed the sentiments of the Judiciary Committee as a whole. If the latter, this would close further public discussion of the “sunset” bill, until you review the opposing reports and decide where to go in resolving the questions raised. We are not afraid of any OPEGA analysis, are you?
Jerome A Collins
felicity myers GAL