In the simplest terms, oversight means knowing what they do, how they spend their time. At the present no one in authority actually knows the full details. No one in the higher levels of the Judicial Branch has a complete picture of “time spent” on your case, my case, the hundreds of cases that pass through Maine’s family courts. No authority knows how many cases a Guardian ad litem is handling, which courts/judges use the most Guardians ad litem. Or what is the grand total amount of every rostered Guardian ad litem’s billable hours for, say, the month of May? No one knows. There is no oversight.
In a word, no one has administrative or managerial oversight of Maine’s Guardian ad litem program. No one has program numbers. And … without numbers, data, statistics, it is impossible to describe the scope and size of Guardian ad litem program problems rationally. It is impossible, to have a rational conversation between the public and various branches of government and impossible to seek rational solutions to a program that cries out for “oversight”.
We would suggest that there are two kinds of “oversight”, (a) oversight of ongoing cases in a divorce, which is sometimes called “case supervision”, and (b) programmatic oversight, also called “programmatic administration or management”. Supervision, though desirable is costly and would require a large, expensive cadre of supervisors to monitor and correct the work of Guardians ad litem. There is also the question of who would supervise the supervisors? Where would they fit in a bureaucratic chain of command?
To keep the complexities of an first-ever, Maine, oversight program relatively simple at the start, LD 872 has focused on program supervision, administrative supervision. Essentially it seeks answers to the questions about: “What are the numbers?” How is Guardian ad litem time spent? What are the billable hours? How do district courts differ in their use of Guardians ad litem? And … are there significant differences in the profiles of individual Guardian ad litem activities? These are questions of huge interest to Maine children and families who pay dearly for this program.
UNIT OF MEASUREMENT THE Guardian ad litem’s BILL: LD 872 already calls for standardization of all Maine Guardian ad litem’s bills. Bills should be done monthly and should follow the itemization format used by lawyers: date, type of service, time spent, fee charged. It would cover such topics as reading e-mails, phone conversations, report writing, time spent with parties, time spent with child, collateral contacts, travel, court appearances, etc. We maintain that a standardized bill is a snapshot of what the Guardian ad litem claims to have done in any given month. It is a work activity profile. It is a record. It will be mandatory. There is minimal cost for this change.
COPIES OF ALL Guardian ad litem BILLS TO ADMINISTRATOR OF COURTS: We are strongly recommending that it should also be mandatory for all 280 rostered Maine Guardians ad litem to send electronic copies of their standardized monthly bills to the Administrators of the Courts at no charge to anyone. It would immediately, for the first time give the Judicial Branch massive amounts of hard, Guardian ad litem program data, which is currently totally lacking. It would give the necessary data for first-ever program oversight of Maine’s 280 Guardians ad litem. It should prove interesting and useful to the legislature, the public and the Judicial Branch. It will help to guide beneficial program changes for Maine’s Guardian ad litem program. It will be capable of answering many important program questions.
OVERSIGHT QUESTIONS FOR NEW Guardian ad litem DATA: We believe that inasmuch as the proposed oversight data is a tool, the Judicial Branch should have a primary interest in deciding how to use this new tool. They should suggest their own questions for which they want answers from the data.
But in addition to the Judicial Branch we have our own questions too.
OUR QUESTIONS: How many Guardians ad litem are at work in Maine courts each month? How many separate cases are Guardians ad litem carrying? How much time is spent in reading e-mails? Doing reports? Making phone calls? Seeing the child in the case? Travel? Court time? Which courts use Guardians ad litem the most? How do Guardian ad litem activity profiles differ? What is the range of monthly billable hours for Guardians ad litem? What is the total amount for all Guardian ad litem bills in each month? In a year? Are there associations between certain Guardians ad litem, certain lawyers and/or certain judges?
This is for starters, as a “warm-up”.
WHO WOULD WORK WITH THIS DATA AND COSTING THIS ACTIVITY? We suggest that the Administrator of the courts would be the proper locus for this activity, and that it should be attached to the component already doing administrative statistics. By our reckoning the costs ought to be minimal. Billing is already being done by Guardians ad litem at no cost to the legislature, changing to a standardized billing format should not add to cost. Sending an electronic copy of all monthly Guardian ad litem’s bills to the JB should be a no cost event. There is the need for a clerk to organize the data in such a manner as to answer previously defined questions. There is the need for an existing administrative statistician to provide supervision and direction.
We would suggest that all of this could be done for $75,000.00 or less, including overhead. The $200,000.00 fiscal estimate currently attached to this bill for unspecified oversight functions seems expensive. We offer a competitive idea.
For more information on Guardian ad litem reform please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or like us on Facebook for up to date information. In addition Me GAL alert is conducting an informal survey on the cost and performance of Guardians ad litem. If you have 5 minutes we would encourage you to take one or both surveys. The data collected is being published and will be updated live in the future.