In Family Courts parents are often faced with paying crushing fees for court vendors (Guardians ad litem) and lawyers or face jail time. The Department of Justice has indicated that this practice must stop in all courts as it infringes on the rights of citizens of this country and consumers of judicial services. We present here the first in a series of email exchanges between MeGAL and the Judicial Branch about this topic.
From: J M Coll
Sent: Mar 20, 2016 1:37 PM
Subject: DOJ letter to State Judges re practices that run afoul of the US Constitution: 3-14-16
Mary Ann Lynch Esq
Maine Judicial Branch
Dear Ms Lynch,
I am in receipt of an important letter from the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of Access to Justice, dated March 14, 2016. It is signed by Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division and Lisa Foster, Director Office of Access to Justice. The letter is addressed to those responsible for the assessment and enforcement of fines in state and local courts. Its stated aim is to address common practices that run afoul of the United States Constitution due to illegal enforcement of fines and fees in certain jurisdictions, and it speaks to the harm caused defendants by these practices. Can you confirm that the Maine Judicial Branch has received this letter and is prepared to act on its specifics.
It is a lengthy letter- and fairly detailed; however, here are a few of the specific issues in very skeletal form:
1.) Courts must not incarcerate persons for nonpayment of fines without first conducting an indigence determination.
2.) Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to pay fines or fees.
3.) Courts must not condition “access to judicial hearings” on prepayment of fines or fees.
4.) Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel she enforcing fines and fees.
5.) Courts must not use arrest warrants and license suspensions as a means of coercing payment of court debt when individuals have not been provided constitutionally adequate procedural protection.
6.) Courts must not employ bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release.
7.) Courts must safeguard against unconstitutional practices by court staff and private contractors.
I am including a pdf link that connects to the original letter from DOJ.
I would add that, in my opinion, the letter needs widespread circulation as a matter of professional and public education. It also seems to call for immediate action to amend practices, which “run afoul of the US Constitution”.
When- may we expect implementation of this DOJ call for “corrective action” from Maine’s Judicial Branch?
Jerome A Collins, MD
MeGAL is working for the reform of our dysfunctional Family Court system and the vendors (GALs) which are used. We do this through education and legislation actions and encourage you to get involved with this process. You can start by contacting us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or by finding us on Facebook.