Public Comments on Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Oversight

Guardian ad Litem Task Force Created and Meeting Schedule Announced:

July 17, 2012: Open Letter From Chief Justice Regarding GAL Oversight

Report to The Judiciary Committee on Guardian ad Litem Oversight, October 1, 2012

Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley, Chief Justice Thomas Humphrey of the Superior Court, and Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere and Deputy Chief Judge Robert Mullen of the Maine District Court held a well-attended public meeting on May 31, 2012 to hear public comments on the establishment of a cost-effective professional oversight process for GALs in Child Protective and Family Matters proceedings.

As a follow-up to the meeting the Judicial Branch has extended the time for written comments to July 1, 2012. Comments should address suggestions for the oversight process. Because the comments will be published here, they should not contain personal information or information about confidential matters.

Comments published here are redacted to remove any personally identifying information.

Comments received:


Comment by Kenneth Altshuler, Esq.:

Dear Justice Saufley:

I am sorry but I will be unable to attend the public hearing on GALs tomorrow. It is even more unfortunate because I have some fairly strong opinions about GALs, both good and bad, as well as thoughts on the current statutory law governing GALs (of which, you may recall, I was involved in drafting).

You may recall that I am the President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. In 2011, the AAML promulgated standards for attorneys representing children in custody cases. Frankly, at the time of this production I did not agree with some of the recommendations of the committee. In particular, I believed its recommendation that a GAL not present a recommendation to the Court was in error.

However, based upon my more recent experience with GALs, I am now of the opinion that perhaps the system could be improved by GALs not presenting recommendations to the Court. This would certainly eliminate the appearance that judges "rubber stamp" the recommendations of Guardians.

Obviously, there are other issues pertinent to GALs, but that is one area in which I wish I had presented a different point of view when the statute was being drafted.

I am attaching a PDF of the Standards in case you find it helpful to your analysis. Needless to say, I am happy to chat with you about this, or any other issue, if you so desire.

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 2:

To all concerned:

My name is [redacted], I live in [redacted] county. I have worked in a [redacted] Maine Law firm for 6 years. I am also a parent who has been involved in a court case involving a GAL. I was at the hearing today and I refrained from speaking. However after I left I regretted my decision. I was mainly deterred due to the GAL that was previously in my case being [present at the hearing].

I was pleased to hear all the testimony today from so many respected professionals however I was dismayed that we did not hear from parents. I think that is the fundamental problem. We have no voice, not in any way. At the hearing one gentlemen said he thought the system was working due to only 27 past complaints. I hope that the court understands that we as parents did not know where to go or feel we mattered to anyone much less to the GAL or the court. I can say I feel the fundamental problem is the disconnect between the GALs and the parents.

We are not criminals nor are we bad people due to divorce or separation but people needing assistance that we are not getting. If the GALs would communicate With the parents work with them instead of acting as though we have automatically been labeled "bad" there would not be half as many problems. I can say from being in a law firm seeing others as well as my own bad experience with a GAL I can say that this is a fundamental problem that is at the core of this. I dare say that is why you did not hear from parents today. To get the "best interest of the children" you must know what is going on and to get all the information parents should not be labels or excluded or judged. I know as a parent I felt that if I had complained if that was even possible ( I was told No it is not No one will listen ) that it would also hinder my case and the GAL could find the case not in a favorable way due to my filing a complaint. So repercussions would happen had I attempted to file anything . I know a lot of parents feel the same way.

The GALs feel as someone did say they are judge as well as Therapist in these cases and the therapist are not taken into consideration.

My suggestions : a Childs Therapist needs to be HEARD and not have them taken a back seat, this is about the children I would hope that could be a key issue, I had several therapist say they had no voice and the GALs don't listen. This needs to change.

More time with Therapist Lawyers GALs as in a team meeting that are REQUIRED and done regularly if the case is past a certain point to get all parties together. My case went on for over a year causing irreparable damage to all if we can get team meetings and if there are problems they are discussed.

We as parents need to feel we are important and not told the GALs have all the power. While the GALs make Recommendations I was told by my GAL the court Always listens to the GAL. So why bother talking as a parent? It is very upsetting. If we can know we are not going to pay for speaking to the GAL you will see a drop in complaints.

If a GAL is not working for the parties or they are not getting it, it should not be till the end that they are removed, this is about a child and these children are put into a scary situation and to draw it out with someone who is causing damage is wrong

Last Emotional abuse is abuse GALs do not care if a child is being emotional abused. It is mute point This will come back to the therapist. They need to be heard!

I hope you hear what I am saying

Thank you

[signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 3:

To Whom it May Concern,

A co-worker recently sent me an article concerning issues with GAL's in our state. My husband and I have some major concerns with the GAL that has been involved in my husband's case for that past several years.

Honestly, prior to reading this article we thought we were alone in what seemed to be our own personal nightmare with our GAL and his bias and "out of line" recommendations, but from the sounds of it several other cases have involved GAL's making recommendations that have been completely biased and out of line as well. The article mentioned a retired psychiatrist, Dr. Jerome Collins, and his mission to change the wording from "In the child's best interest" to "Is the child safe". He states that the GAL in his son's case made recommendations that were completely of of line and had nothing to do with the safety of the child. I am trying to contact him because the GAL in my husband's case has made recommendations that I'm sure he would be interested in hearing about such as: [list of conditions redacted], these recommendations have nothing to do with my step-daughter's safety or her best interest for that matter. I have never done anything out of line in any way shape or form that would warrant such drastic restrictions being places on me. My step-daughter's counselor agreed that these recommendations from the GAL were not in my step-daughter's best interest but the GAL would not allow the counselor in the court room to share her professional opinion with the judge. (I also wanted to mention that my step-daughter has a counselor because her mother convinced the GAL to put that in his recommendations as well. My step-daughter is an amazingly well adjusted and happy kid. She does outstanding in school academically, emotionally, and socially. She spends [redacted]% of her time in our home and the other [redacted]% of her time with her mother. In our home she just seems like a happy kid who loves and looks forward to being with us. Her mother wants to portray that she has extreme anxiety over having divorced parents. My step-daughter is [redacted] years old and her parents divorced when she was [redacted] years old.) After several months of counseling my step-daughter's counselor told my husband and I that she has not seen any signs of anxiety with my step-daughter and she does not feel she needs to continue seeing her. Her mother would not accept this as is insisting that she continue to receive counseling services. This seems extremely costly and time consuming but once again her mother seems to be able to convince people to give her everything she demands and so my daughter continues to see a counselor.

The GAL in my husband's case has been completely biased and unreasonable which has caused this case to continue for over three years. My husband's case finally went to trial [dates redacted] because my husband would not agree to the [conditions recommended by the GAL], or the "restrictions which feel like a restraining order" placed on me [redacted]. Actually to clarify, my husband was willing to compromise and allow the [redacted] if the GAL and his ex-wife would give up the other demands. That did not happen. Truly, these were the unresolved issues that caused a two day trial. In the court room the GAL took the stand for over 4 hours as he built a case against my husband and his ex-wife's feelings of being disrespected simply because my husband doesn't feel comfortable being alone with her. It has been two long weeks with very little sleep as my husband and I continue waiting to see what the judge decides. We are scared because in the court room for whatever reason our lawyer seemed to be afraid and intimidated to question the GAL's recommendations and so he did not build a very good case for us. We have been told that judges go with 99% of the recommendations made by the GAL. Our only hope we feel is to pray for a miracle at his point. If the judge sides with the GAL we need to find out what will happen if my husband refuses to attend these dates or the school conferences with those unrealistic and unwarranted restrictions.

This case started [redacted] weeks before my husband and I were getting married. My husband's ex-wife started calling my husband and demanding alone time with him to discuss their daughter. My husband was not comfortable meeting her alone. She has made crazy accusations against him in the past and she has created rumors that have destroyed previous relationships that he had been in. My husband wouldn't meet her alone as she was demanding and that made her angry enough to attempt to shut down all communication with him regarding their daughter. his ex-wife even went to the extreme of threatening both my husband and I with protection from harassment orders if we tried to communicate with her in any fashion regarding this child. My husband and I made the mistake of sharing with this with the GAL right from the beginning...we shared our concerns of not feeling comfortable around this woman alone, and he has taken those concerns and written into his order the complete opposite [recommendations redacted]. In our opinion this is out of line and has done nothing but create extreme frustration, stress, conflict, and of course a $50,000 GAL bill.

My husband had some issues of safety that he brought to the GAL's attention such as 3 broken arms on her mother's watch (and the mother waiting days and sometimes an entire week before taking the child to a doctor when the child was clearly in severe pain with a broken bone) but the GAL just dismissed it all and told my husband that he was only creating conflict for their co-parenting relationship by keeping dates, facts and records of things that concerned him. When this case started my step-daughter's mother was taking my step-daughter ([redacted] years old at the time) to bar rooms on a monthly basis because her boyfriend at the time was in a band. This band didn't even start playing until 9 pm. The GAL used this concern that my husband had about his daughter being in a bar room late at night and flipped it to say that my husband was showing extreme disrespect for his ex-wife's parenting and he thought my husband's concern were completely unreasonable even though his daughter would share with us the fact that she was scared because drunk men were swearing, fighting, yelling and at times pushing her mother's boyfriend around. Of course my husband was out of line for bringing this to the GAL's attention because the GAL felt my husband was once again "keeping score". From there the GAL and my husband's ex have built this entire case around trying to force my husband into some type of "intimate relationship" with his ex-wife because it is what she WANTS because she FEELS it will make her feel MORE RESPECTED as the child's mother. And the war rages on............ but now thanks to the article my co-worker sent me we have some contacts and we are feeling not so alone in this GAL nightmare. In addition to emailing you, my husband and I are going to be in contact with Dr. Jerome Collins, [email address redacted], and Judy Harrison from Bangor Daily News (she wrote the article that was sent to me). We have no money left to fight this battle but we do have a voice.

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by Mary Frances O'Brien, Esq.:

Your Honors,

I am an attorney, GaL, and Parenting Coordinator in Maine. After attending the public hearing on 31 May 2012, I have some thoughts:

Most of the stakeholders obviously wished to present their cases – which Chief Justice Saufley effectively forestalled by her repeated statements about process v. facts. The direction of their statements, specifically the emphasis on safety (made by several of the stakeholders), showed a lack of understanding of the role of GaL's in general and the differences between 19-A and 22 cases. More information on the Order of Appointment might clarify this point for parents and parties.

1. Increase the number of continuing education hours required from 6 to 8 (10?).

2. In the initial application to attend the GaL training, prospects are invited to take advantage of a 'scholarship' if they will agree to accept two cases pro bono within a certain period. I am not suggesting that we change that portion but rather augment it by requiring all graduates to accept two cases as a 'second chair', i.e. have a mentor with whom to work on the first two cases accepted. This would mean that all newly rostered (conditionally rostered?), GaL's would have to be mentored on their first two cases and those who accept the scholarship would have an additional obligation to provide pro bono services once they complete their mentored cases.

a. This process would address the concerns of those stakeholders who believe that GaL's should have more training before being set loose on an unsuspecting populace – at least in part.

b. The question of payment for the mentor arises... and it occurs to me that if the mentoring GaL is working on a matter, whether paid or not, mentoring the conditionally rostered GaL should be the responsibility of the Senior GaL, without extra remuneration.

c. There might be an exit survey (accounting for personal strife or bias), for both the mentor and the 'mentee' at the end of each of the two mentored cases.

d. GaL's having completed the initial training, might be conditionally rostered pending completion of the mentoring process.

3. Another thought is that maybe the conditionally rostered GaL could work with two separate mentors... (expand the horizon's and see more various points of view).

4. The shared cases – as they are a learning experience – might be valued as half of the continuing education credits for each GaL?

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Mary Frances O'Brien
Law Offices of O'Brien & Sprague
170 Glenwood Avenue
Portland, ME 04103-3131

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 4

To Whom it May Concern,

I was unable to attend the meeting in Portland yesterday, however I wanted to give some of my comments and recommendations to the problem of Guardian Ad Litem Oversight based on real life issues I have had.

Guardian Ad Litem Handbook is a guide, if the GAL is not bound to follow this as it is written, there needs to be clear and concise rules for their job description just like any other job. Since the Guardian Ad Litem holds Quasi Immunity by working as an expert witness for the court, they should still be bound to professionalism and other rules that lawyers have to live by or they should be subject to be sued. As a Maine State Employee (Maine State Prison) if I were to break certain rules or take something away from a prisoner that violates his rights or civil liberties I can be sued. A GAL should not have immunity if he or she breaks the law period. This in my opinion would include Rules of the Bar if they are a lawyer.

Best Interests of the Child. Definitely too vague. Who determines the best interests of the child, the GAL? This makes whatever their interpretation of this the best interest because they are the one writing the report. The Safety of the child is more definitive. My ex-wife has not worked for over 8 years due to mental health/stress reasons, she collects SSI for her, my son, child support from me, WIC and fuel assistance because she plays the system. She makes over 35K a year tax free. She refuses to go back to work for training in another field because she would lose money. If she refuses to do this and my son starts school in September why should she be able to do this. This child is her meal ticket for money. She is currently on 15 or more prescription medications including Vicodin, Ativan, Oxycontin and drives my son around in her car regularly without heeding the directions or safety precautions on the label. However since they are prescribed by a Physician, no one cares. Two educated lawyers that were my GALs even wrote it in a report so that must make it true. Should my ex-wife get in an accident after these GAL's wrote in reports that there is no problem with prescription medications and driving my four year old son around, who is responsible for that, the Doctor that prescribed the drugs, the person driving, the two GAL's that said that taking these prescription drugs did not violate the best interests of my child? I don't know the answer, but for two years I have complained about this and to deaf ears. The court system did nothing, DHHS did nothing, two GAL's hired for the best interest for my child did nothing. In the end my ex-wife in mentally challenged as a borderline, prescription drug addict, cannot work. I am retired from the Navy, gainfully employed, do not drink or drug in anyway and she has primary residence and I pay for everything with hardly any parental rights whatsoever. This is wrong.

Parental Alienation: The parent that has physical custody of the child when you separate holds the cards. My ex-wife and her attorney by design did this to me and my family members. Not only did she end up with primary custody when she has long history of severe mental health problems including suicide ideation (self-mutilation) in front of her now adult children, she also has a long history of prescription drug abuse and inability to work. Nearly everyone in her circle of friends also do not work and collection Social Security/Disability. What kind of values does this teach my son? I went through a period of five months without seeing my son because my ex-wife for no plausible reason and without an order from the court. This was basically accomplished by my GAL withdrawing and making a recommendation that I receive a Psych Eval because she sent me to a counselor for anger management and the counselor stated I had no anger managment issues. She agreed to the counselor, she just didn't like the recommendation. After not seeing my son for five months, the court finally let me hire a GAL, not one that I requested but one they appointed. The GAL lived 70 miles away and he was handpicked by Judge Mathews.

Billing: My first GAL charged me over 8K in fees. She never left the comfort of her own home except two five minute visits to my home. 95 percent of the fees were from monitoring emails and writing GAL Reports ($100 per page average). My initial meeting I was told I pay 80 percent and my ex-wife pay 20 percent based on our incomes. I told her at that meeting I was uncomfortable with that because she and her attorney would inundate her with emails and phone calls. She advised me that I could talk to the judge and make them pay for a higher portion if that happened. It happened, but I never was able to see a judge.

My second GAL who was appointed by Judge Mathews took a high retainer but never sent me a bill until he was into the case for nine months. By that time it was 4K over the retainer and he had done one interview. So all the rest of the fees were for email monitoring, phone calls. My second GAL even told me and my lawyer that I was wronged by my first GAL, however when he was pressed because he was charging me so much money without actually do any interviews, he finally wrote a report that basically concurred with Guardian One. However his facts were totally wrong. Most of his report was either taken from the previous GAL or from a letter from my ex-wifes attorney that he received prior to taking the case (I was never given a copy of this letter, therefore I don't even know what that letter said). In the end their were many untruths in this report and we never went to court so how can you challenge a GAL and his expert witness status when you do not go to court. My handwritten bill of 13 pages covering a 9 month period had codes on it, I had no idea what I was looking at or what he did to charge me the inordinate amount of fees that he charged.

Trailing Docket: The trailing docket is the second worst thing in my divorce other the the Guardian Ad Litems assigned. Here is what happened: We go to court and establish child support, however we never establish anything about visitation rights or anything else in the interim. The Trailing Docket trails for 18 months and then gets assigned to county where my ex-wife's attorney happens to practice on a daily basis because the county where it was filed is too busy. At no time did I ever see Judge Mathews in over 18 months that he was assigned to my case. There were however a few meetings of the secret squirrels (exparte communications) that I was not privvy or invited to. The Trailing Docket exhausts you because it takes forever to get to court, in the meantime every single time you call or send an email to your lawyer or GAL, the cash register rings yet another time. I paid 70K in Lawyer/GAL Fees without ever going to court. When I went to Mediation #2 I wanted closure. In the end illegal things were even done at the 7 hour mediation that was rushed to get signed by a judge the next day, I had no idea what was in the document because I was never given a copy of that document until 9 days after the mediation. For example, I was told to pay her attorney fees to avoid a long trial, my paperwork read that it was a property settlement for $13,500. I did not agree to this and it was never spoken about. I put over 10K of improvements in her house and she has it all, I should have been given property settlement. I was told I was getting a reduction in my child support as my overtime was done away with during budget cuts. My child support was reduced by $20 per month then a statement was added that I was to pay 77 percent of my son's daycare based on my income. My wife does not work and has never been entitled to childcare, this does not compute that anyone ever would agree to this and I did not. After this happened, I was harassed by her lawyer every week by mail about the $47 per month, this is crazy.

Mandated Reporting: My child was noticed to have several unexplained injuries and what appeared to be a cigarette burn on his hand. I reported this to the first GAL and DHHS, never checked on by DHHS by was told it was unsubstantiated. My told by his child care provider that she filed the appropriate paperwork with DHHS also as a mandated reporter. When I asked for a copy via facebook, she called the police and said I threatened her staff which was totally untrue. When investigated by DHHS Child Care, they told me it was not against the law for her to lie. My second GAL was out of state on business and my son was found to have two bruises on his back the size of dinner plates, it was reported to the 2nd GAL by an social worker that was doing supervised visits. The second gal filed no reports either. When I asked him why, he said he could lose his license for reporting something that could not be proven. At that point I lost all respect for GAL #2 because he too wasn't looking out for the best interests of my toddler child. To me, mandated reporting is that, there were at least three instances that this was not done nor was it mentioned in the GAL Reports.

Oversight is needed now for the Guardian Ad Litems. Too many children are falling through the cracks. We don't need anymore excuses we need reform. Ethan Henderson is a prime example of things falling through the cracks. I don't want my son to be the next victim of the bureauocracy called the Guardian Ad Litem that looks out for the best interest of my child.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 5:

GALS BEING OVER THEIR DEPTH CREATE DANGERS OF A TRIPLE DROWNING FOR THE JB. AND FAMILIES

A large part of Maine's GAL problem is the number of junior mental health workers, who as GALs confront challenging family situations and lack the professional knowledge, skill and experience to deal with them effectively as independent practitioners. Social workers and "therapists"in mental health settings do not practice as lead professionals in the diagnosis or treatment of family or individual problems Yet they are frequently treated by Maine courts as mental health "experts", which adds grandiose expectations to their performance burden. This in turn leads to "fake it till you make it" approaches: shallow clinical presentations and shallow formulations of what is happening, shallow formulaic prescriptions for handling very complex situations, empty ideological postures, frequent avoidance of the opinions of other more competent professionals and, most problematic, increasing, rigid dogmatism in the face of family (or other) criticism. Not least, to add to this mix is a slender knowledge of ethics and the law. The outcome of these factors operating together is disaster for families and children and embarrassment for the courts. To us, these are the symptoms of professionals who are out way over their depth.

Possible solutions to correcting this common problem pose their own difficulties, because at present the GAL role suffers from a lack of clear definition and has undergone significant, unauthorized "mission creep". With an amorphous, ill defined GAL role, there are fundamental issues of how to define a basis for oversight and complaints about function. Should it be the core statutory role, or the new expanded role with mental health "bells and whistles"? It is our sense that the mental health functions, though reassuringly familiar to GALs, ought to be eliminated for several reasons. Without an expensive program to teach these skills- as they apply to family courts, without programs to update them at regular intervals and without programs for supervision, the Judicial Branch walks back into the trap of a complex human services mandate without the capacity to institute, evaluate it or enforce it.

Lest our judgement seem too harsh or without basis, lets look at just a few GAL performance problems drawn from various sources. Let the Judicial Branch and interested parties decide whether these are problems and how they speak to role confusion (and confusion of clients). Is the system helping people dealing with divorce and custody? Is it helping Maine's children?

1) Ethical conflicts of interest (or the appearance)-such as, when a GAL has previously done clinical (or other) work with one of the parties and not the other. This is just one example of ethical boundary issues to which many GALs seem "tone deaf". Many would ask: Is this an ethical red flag or not? Would most people feel that it needs further review? Doesn't an unresolved ethical challenge taint ensuing court transactions, and cast doubts about fairness for all?

2) Failure to comply with GAL statutes in terms of conducting an investigation, not following up on leads provided by lawyers and consumers, relying exclusively on anecdotal, hearsay data from one side only to justify decisions and write reports. Failure to document or to pursue serious child health problems. These are a clear cut problems that seem to stem from cutting corners, short changing the child and family; most likely they are due to a low skilled practitioner working independently without a supervisor or manager.

3) Illogical choices in determining residential custody of a child. Unwillingness to give reasons behind seemingly irrational decisions (Overworking "not in the child's best interest") Failure to do in depth studies, assess health and mental health of custodial parent with known, diagnosed mental illness, drug and alcohol problems, failure to study child safety when there are serious reportable risk symptoms. Failure to report dangers to child to Protective agency.

4) Many reports by consumers of GAL's exhibiting a visibly vindictive, prejudiced attitude toward one side, prolonging the process (thereby generating expense), heightening contention and becoming a part of the divorce/custody problem,as opposed to being part of the solution.

5) There are widespread complaints about GAL's reports having poor documentation, being loaded with persistent errors that had previously been corrected by clients and lawyers and using shallow, meaningless characterological adjectives to justify actions.. Many complain that reports are submitted at the last moment, allowing inadequate time for correction or protest. GAL's recommendations that lacked common sense.

[No item 6 in comment received.]

7) Gal's billing practices are a very frequent complaint. Billing are felt by many consumers to not be user friendly, unprofessional; not done regularly, not itemized with identifiable charges. Many consumers say GAL invoices were a "huge surprise" dropped on them out of the blue at the last court hearing. The total for unspecified activities was exorbitant (say, $40,000.00 for a working family!), financially crippling and beyond the means of a struggling couple. GAL attempted to embed the bill in the divorce judgement, making the court a bill collector. This is alleged to be a technique suggested in GAL training sessions.

8.) There is deep concern about the use of our personal family information as a topic of discussion in so-called GAL peer supervision without our knowledge, our permission, without a legal release of information and without informed consent alerts in the original GAL contract. We have learned (after the fact) that "our case" was discussed by the GAL group in so-called peer supervision. Not only is this a behavioral message to us that our confidences are disrespected, it leads to every GAL being in on our case. It also makes us wonder about outcome of this "peer supervision". Was it advocacy support from the GAL peers for a dysfunctional GAL (Good job!!), or did it lead to improved function? We never saw any improvement. How wopuld a peer group be able to judge? Do they ever take "corrective action"? Is it ethically seemly for court official to be discussing cases out of court in a group setting? Do judges discuss active cases with "peers"?

9.) Our last concern is a fairly widespread sense among "consumers" of GAL services; that the Judicial Branch has an "attitude problem" about consumer complaints. Grass roots users of GAL services perceive a JB attitude- at all levels of the system- that almost universally sees complainers about GALs as being "sour grapes" or "bad sports". The perception of many consumers is that complaints are not taken seriously by judges, who are courtroom colleagues (and friends?) of GALs, but, who see the GAL's operational activities from a limited perspective. A too easy dismissal of complaints by judges, keeps malfunctioning GALs swimming in the deep end of the pool, over their depth. It leads to JB statistics that incorrectly suggest that limited "corrective action" action on consumer complaints means that there are few valid complaints. With all due respect we would say that this is wrong. Our anecdotal data suggests a much larger, more serious problem. We applaud the JB for its recent moves to address problem definition and problem solving. We stand ready to help anyway we can.

These complaints in one form or another are relatively common. That is not to say universal. They are symptoms of a system in which there is no oversight, no supervision, confused role definition and resulting GAL malfunctioning that impinges badly on Maine families and children. To ask citizens to pay for such defective service with no quality assurance and ineffective corrective action available in the system is unfair to say the least. At its worst, it is a form of tyranny forcing consumers to buy a defective human instrument.

[signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 7:

The Honorable Leigh Saufley, Chief Justice of Maine:

For the postings on the Judicial Branch web site re: public Guardian ad litem testimony:

I am the Aunt of a child who I believe is currently at risk based on the decisions (recommendations) of the GAL in the divorce/custody arrangement. It is with great concern for this child that I write to express and share my view.

Background: The GAL in this case made decisions and recommendations that were blatantly one sided against the father and any family member or friend of the father. Once it became obvious that the GAL was making unprofessional and irrational decisions and recommendations, the family attempted to have the GAL removed from the case. We attempted to do this via the process outlined on the State of Maine Judicial Branch: Guardians ad Litem Complaint Process web page. Several family members wrote letters to the judge (Tucker) outlining the issues and concerns, and requesting removal of the GAL. The GAL was not removed.

The family was dumbstruck. How could it be that the judge could not see that the child was not safe under the current conditions?

The GAL in the case is also a licensed social worker. In reviewing the code of ethics for social workers we determined that this individual was in violation of that code and attempted to file a complaint with the licensing board. Social workers have an obligation to report children who may be at risk. Family members again wrote letters, this time to the Office of Licensing and Registration. We all gave examples of poor judgement and violations of standards. The board decided that because the individual in question was acting as a GAL and not a social worker, that they could not rule on the case until the judicial branch ruled. Another dead end.

Recommendations for reform:
That GAL's have oversight and accountability from the board of licensing and registration.
That the complaint process be simplified and less costly.

Respectfully,

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 8:

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win." We are paraphrasing a very famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi for dramatic effect. The same dramatic effect that a GAL we know said she was trying to achieve when she wrote a letter stating that a child she had yet to meet could become the next Jeffrey Dahmer or Unabomber if his mother had to go to prison as scheduled. One of the many problems that need to be resolved is the GAL able to diagnose a child? Of course, in the case mentioned, two issues are in play. First, the guardian ad litem hadn't met the child to diagnose any perceived problem. The second issue is, even if she had met the child, is it within a GAL's ability and/or job description to make such a diagnosis?

Another problem as we see it, is that no matter how badly a case is handled, not in the results produced or custody determined but in procedures followed or lack thereof, the guardian ad litem has immunity. In several cases we have read about the court of appeals reviewed the cases and noted that immunity only applies if the guardian ad litem is acting within the scope of her duties. If a guardian ad litem is exceeding the scope of those duties then immunity does not protect the guardian ad litem. Those rulings are very rare but we do not understand why they should be.

The removal of a guardian ad litem, as in the case listed above, was attempted but the judge refused to do so even with another letter written on behalf of the mother. We believe that switching GAL's should work in the same way as obtaining a different attorney. If your guardian ad litem is deficient in his or her duties or if you have a complete disagreement in all aspects of what both of you see as an agreeable situation for custody or visitation, allow a change in the guardian ad litem.

Mandate detailed billing that is updated and available to you, the client, on a monthly basis. Having a bill loaded with vague phrasing as in 'sent an email' or 'wrote a letter' tells you nothing. We would never accept that from a doctor, a lawyer or a plumber, why should it be acceptable from a GAL?

Potential changes on oversight:

? Move the Office of the Guardian ad Litem to the executive branch,and place it in an existing department. Or
? Move the Office of the Guardian ad Litem to the executive branch and make it an independent executive branch agency that reports to an appointed oversight board Or
? Move the Office of the Guardian ad Litem to the executive branch and make it part of the Attorney General's Office. Or
? Leave the Office of the Guardian ad Litem in the judicial branch but have it report to a board appointed by the Judicial Council. Oversight by this new board could at least partially resolve the ethical conflict of having the Judicial Council supervise the GAL.

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 9:

GAL oversight and accountability

The issues:

1. Complaints to the presiding Judge
2. GAL communication with involved parties
3. GAL billing
4. ex parte communication
5. 'in the best interest' model vs. the safety of the child

Solutions:

1. Panel for GAL complaints
2. GAL recording of fact
3. Elimination of ex parte between Judge and GAL
4. Open transparent communication
5. GAL billing standardization
6. Standardized complaint process for District Court/FM and Supreme Court
7. Posting of complaints
8. Safety of the Child

The Issues:

The issues of GAL oversight and accountability go beyond the issues listed here for consideration. It would be almost impossible to address every issue and offer solutions given the time constraints on this project undertaken by the Judicial Branch.

1. Complaints to the presiding Judge: It was brought up several times during the meeting by GALs that the complaint process should start with the presiding Judge for various reasons. While in theory this is a sound idea as this Judge is closest to the source it is for this reason why this idea fails. The presiding Judge is for all purposes the manager of the GAL that the complaint is focused upon. The complaint is a comment not only on the deficiency of the GAL but also about the Judges management ability. The Judge also has a working relationship with the GAL - the GAL is a colleague. A complaint forces the Judge to lose his/ her neutrality in the ongoing case. In order to maintain neutrality the complaint process must be removed from the hands of the managing Judge.

2. GAL recording of fact: In every case that we are aware of the GAL has been deficient in the way he/ she communicates with one or both parties involved. Because of this lack of communication it leads to mistrust and misunderstanding of what the GAL is doing or attempting to do. Lack of communication with the GAL also prevents for correction of data being collected by the GAL. There should be standardization in the way a GAL communicates with both parties that is transparent.

3. GAL billing: GAL bills should be on a month or bi-monthly basis. With many of the cases we are aware of the GAL uses cryptic terms in his/ her billing statements. In one case the GAL indicated that he/ she does not bill until the final hearing (having done so for many years). These are unacceptable practices and ties in with the way the GAL communicates.

4. ex parte communication: ex parte communication between the GAL and the presiding Judge means that the GAL is able to present his/ her case before the parties involved are able to do so. If the GAL has a leaning towards one party over the other then this gives an unfair advantage to that party. It leaves the losing party having to disprove the GALs recommendations. The other party is left accepting.

5. 'in the best interest' model vs. the safety of the child: "Best interest of the Child" as the gold standard for determining the needs of the child(ren). The best interest standard though is ambiguous and is based on the opinion of the GAL. It is open for interpretation and for conflict. In every case we are aware of the use of "the best interest of the child" coupled with recommendations that appear to lack any common sense infuriates those that this term is used upon. In addition because this term is so ambiguous it can lead to abuse by the GAL. The term is more a weapon used against these people rather than a tool to help.

Solutions to the issues:

Because of tight budgets all of these recommendations are budget neutral or revenue enhanced ideas.

1. Panel for GAL complaints: By establishing a panel for GAL complaints it removes the complaint process from the presiding Judge in a custody case. In effect the management of the GAL is squarely in the hands of the GAL, the parties to the case and the panel. The panel would be made up of an odd number of members that is suggested to be comprised of: (1) judge, (1) GAL, (1) Citizen as its core. To keep the cost to a minimum these panel members could be made up of volunteers who would meet on a monthly basis.

2. GAL recording of fact: Traditionally the recommendations that a GAL makes is based off of the information he/ she has gathered during the course of an investigation. This information is then composed into a recommendation by the GAL. The issue is that these recommendations are based on hearsay with little or no fact involved. When presented to the court this is then taken as fact by the court system. So for example if a GAL recommends to the court that restricted visits to one parent or grandparents is in the child's best interest the court takes this recommendation as fact. There is little or no fact to back up this kind of recommendation other than the opinion of the GAL. If as a result of this recommendation a dispute results it is now up to the party that the recommendation is made against to fight the GALs recommendation. The other party only has to accept. This current model is also open for abuse by the GAL - whether intentional or not.

If on the other hand the GAL has been recording facts, taking photos and bases the recommendation on this recoding of fact, then there is less opportunity for dispute by one party vs. another. It is also harder for the GAL to abuse the situation. Couple the recording with transparent communication (see point 4) and disputes between the GAL and parties involved should be nonexistent. It also makes the GAL accountable for her recommendations. Part of the oversight issue.

3. Elimination of ex parte between Judge and GAL: According to the standards for GALs ex parte communication between the presiding Judge and GAL is allowed for if it is in the best interest of the child. Ex parte communication though is a case before the case. By allowing this type of privileged communication the GAL is able to present a case before the judge has heard the case between the parents. This removes any neutrality the Judge may have had. It also eliminates any fairness that the proceedings may have had. Allowing ex parte communication allows for protected court sanction abuse by a GAL.

4. Open transparent communication: By making standard open communication between the GAL, the lawyers and the parties involved levels the "playing field". It also makes sense - common sense to openly communicate to the parties involved and encourage that same communication between them.

A GAL is able to do the following:

- Observe and document the living conditions of the parties.
- Meet with the child
- Require the parties to document their positions regarding complaints or disputes that arise against each other
- Document the factual issues that the parties agree on

Most GALs will meet with the child to understand the child's perception of his/ her living condition. The other three are rarely done if ever. The GALs role because of their ability to document in real time is why the GAL can be effective in helping the judge make custody decisions. Documentation of what is observed. Taking photographs of the living conditions that the child will be exposed to. A photograph is hard to dispute by a lawyer, a GALs recollection of the scene can be. Furthermore the GAL can subpoena records to substantiate data collected.

As data is being collected it should be shared between the parties. It will give both parties an opportunity to correct any errors that the GAL may have made in recording information. Any dispute would be done in writing. Sharing the information also allows both parties to suggest further areas for the GAL to investigate. In the sharing of information the GAL should do the following:

- Provide a summary of the initial interview that was had with the parties.
- Provide copies of the photos taken of the living conditions to both parties
- Provide copies of the other's response to any questions
- Provide a summary of the home study
- Offer the opportunity for follow up investigation.

If there are any disputes between the parties. For example a dispute over the arrangements of child pick up and drop off and how it happened. The GAL should immediately ask for a written version of what happened from both parties. Once the GAL has the reports the GAL should provide copies to each party so as to allow the parties to respond.

Often disputes could be avoided if there is an understanding of not only what the GAL is or has been doing but if the GAL is also making sure the parties are well informed of what the other is thinking. Not knowing or understanding the process the GAL is using will create an environment of mistrust with this person and can lead to stonewalling the GAL and their efforts.

5. GAL billing standardization: As part of having open communication with the parties the GAL should have a standard billing practice. This should be across the board. Billing should be clear and transparent to the parties involved. Having line items such as:

- 2/19 Email .50 hr
- 2/20 Phone 1.0 hr
- 2/21 Conference 2.0 hr

or

- 2/19 E .50 hr
- 2/20 P 1.0 hr
- 2/21 C 2.0 hr

Does little to help the parties involved understand what exactly the GAL did. Who was the GAL phoning on 2/20? Was it someone related to the case or was the GAL calling a friend? We do not know because the bill is not transparent. In addition, billing or invoices should be on a monthly or bi-monthly cycle. There are instances of GALs that bill only when the case has gone to court. The parties involved can be in for quite a surprise. This type of billing can put unnecessary stress to a situation that is already stressful enough for one or both parents. A GAL should be paid for the work he/ she does assuming he/ she does the work contracted for. Because it is listed on a bill does not mean the GAL is entitled to that item. There has to be an understanding of what was done otherwise those having to make payment will feel they are being taken. Part of this though involves an understanding of what the GAL has done.

6. Standardized complaint process for District Court/FM and Supreme Court: There should be a process that is standardized for filing a complaint at the District Court and Supreme Court levels. Many states have a form that spells out what is needed and can be attached to the actual complaint itself. In addition as a way to weed out complaints for the sake of complaining against a GAL it is recommend that a cost be associated with filing the complaint. By placing a cost associated with filing a complaint the hope it that only those who have a legitimate complaint about the GAL will follow through and not someone who is upset because they were unwilling to compromise over a sound recommendation.

7. Posting of complaints: Posting of complaints against GALs online will allow parties in custody disputes to determine whether or not a GAL being recommended should be used. In addition any positive feedback on a GAL should be posted. A sort of Angies list for the Judicial Branch. I want to be an informed consumer and there is currently scant information about GALs available let alone about how they are to function in their role. Allowing people to rate their GAL would also allow the Judicial Branch to see in real time if there are issues with a particular GAL, court house or Judge.

8. Safety of the Child: Currently the standard used by the judicial branch and GALs as well as DHHS is "in the child's best interest". This 'standard' in theory sounds good as who does not want what is best for their child? The issue here in using this standard is that there is no way to measure what is in fact "in the best interest of the child". When a GAL makes a recommendation and claims that if the recommendation is not followed the child will develop into a "Unabomber" is this really in the child's best interest? Or if a GAL ignores bruises and cigarette burns on a child? Is that in the child's best interest? The GAL may often 'feel' that the situation the child finds him or herself in is the best. Why is it in the child's best interest to prevent the parties from having a better understanding of the work that the GAL has done? "In the best interest of the child" is an ambiguous term that is open for abuse and interpretation.

Changing to "Is the child safe" on the other hand allows the GAL to measure whether or not a child would be safe in a given situation. Is the child at risk in unsupervised visits with the grandparents? If so then what is the reason? Is the child safe living with a parent that is currently on prescription drugs or has a history of mental illness? If the child is safe in these situations then why? "Is the child safe" allows all parties to determine whether or not, how and why a child develops and lives is truly safe. What dangers would come into the child's life and how will those dangers impact the child. Is going to an art camp really all that bad for the child? How will it impact the child's safety? I think it is safe to say that interacting and being exposed to different situations that encourage a child's development is in the child's best interest and poses no real threat to the child's safety. Quite often when a GAL indicates that it is or is not 'in the child's best interest' and then questioned the GAL has no answers.

There are problems with the GAL system and unfortunately the GALs that do have integrity are lumped unfairly with GALs that are deficient in their services. Serious change is needed for the families of Maine. Serious change is needed for the safety and best interest of the child.

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by Heather S. Walker, Esq.:

Dear Members of the Judicial Branch,

I am an attorney located in Portland, Maine. I worked in the Lewiston/Auburn area at Laskoff & Associates for ten years before transferring my practice to Douglas, Denham, Buccina and Ernst.? Over the past 10 years I have primarily practiced in the area of family law representing parents. On occasion I have been a guardian ad litem but I am not on the roster. ???

I write to respectfully submit a few comments that I hope are productive.

I would propose as a way to decrease the amount of complaints about a guardian ad litem and the process at the end of case, more information and education on the role of a guardian ad litem and the factors that both a guardian ad litem and the court consider when making a recommendation or determination as to what is in the best interest of a child would be helpful and take the “mystery” out of the process.? In my experience a significant source stress and displeasure results from a process that people feel is intangible and cloaked in mystery.? So, making the process more transparent to people should result in more informed litigants, which would then hopefully result in less complaints.? A vehicle for translating this information to the litigants could be a simple document/brochure that is distributed by the court when a guardian is appointment. The brochure would be uniform throughout the state.??

In another attempt to “demystify” the process and potentially reduce costs, I would propose that the guardian and the lawyers/self-representative litigants conference either in person or over the telephone soon after the guardian is appointment. The purpose of this meeting would be to discuss and develop an initial investigation plan so that all parties are informed and on board as to the process- each case is different, so tailoring the guardian’s investigation at the front end may save time, money and angst at the other end.?? As part of the plan, there should be a “check in” date prior to a report wherein the guardian tells folks about the nuts and bolts of the investigation (i.e. who s/he spoke to, preliminary recommendations and how said recommendations are reached).? By doing this before anything is in writing or finalized the parties have an opportunity to ask the guardian to either stop investigating or to investigate something else.? This would also be an opportunity for the parties to reach a resolution before a costly report is written by the guardian.

Additionally, in an ideal world, I would recommend that there is some type of administrative billing department established so that guardians do not know who is paying their bill (or how much).? The issue of payment can be a source of stress and is an inherent conflict.? For the party who gets a bad result and is responsible for less of the guardian’s fees ?he may think that it is because he is paying less.? For the party who owes the guardian money and is being chased by the guardian for money and who also gets a bad result ? ?she may think that it is because she isn’t paying.? I know that this probably isn’t practical in this economy but it would be wonderful to have a go between the party and the guardian for purposes of payment. ????

Lastly, and on a different note, I would ask that when guardian ad litems file motions to withdraw that their motions are granted.? I find that courts are reluctant to grant such motions because they depend heavily on the guardians.? If a judge does not grant a motion to withdraw and the guardian is owed money by both or one of the parties then I would suggest that a mechanism for payment and sanctions for nonpayment are included in final orders.? Guardians should not have to chase folks for payment, including motions for contempt, which can be costly and time consuming.

Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Heather S. Walker, Esquire
Douglas, Denham, Buccina & Ernst
103 Exchange Street
P.O. Box 7108
Portland, ME? 04112

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 10:

I have never had to use the services of a guardian ad litem and I am sure there are some decent GAL's who do their job professionally.

Unfortunately, I have also heard some stories in the past year that are horrifying.

Here are my suggestions for guardian ad litem reform:

1) In the initial meeting with the parents establish expectations from both the parent's perspective and the guardian ad litem's perspective.
Both parties should be clear and realistic on what to expect from the other.

2) Have the billing be within a families budget. The bills that people have talked with me about are obscene. Just as the case Desmond vs. Desmond states "The litigation has cost these parties?in addition to the significant legal fees they have separately incurred?thousands of dollars in guardian ad litem fees. This is an extraordinary expense for parties whose combined annual incomes total just over $70,000. Courts hearing family cases are encouraged to cap and/or monitor the costs associated with litigation whenever necessary to protect the child's best interest so that the funds needed to feed, clothe, and educate children are not spent on generating guardian ad litem reports or paying substantial attorney fees." Cap fees as to not cause the families financial duress.

3) Have the bill spell out what the guardian ad litem is doing. Detailed billing that comes once a month should help both the parents and the GAL.

4) We believe that switching GAL's should work in the same way as obtaining a different attorney. If your guardian ad litem is deficient in his or her duties or if you have a complete disagreement in all aspects of what both of you see as an agreeable situation for custody or visitation, allow a change in the guardian ad litem.

5) Leave the Office of the Guardian ad Litem in the judicial branch but have it report to a board appointed by the Judicial Council. Oversight by this new board could at least partially resolve the ethical conflict of having the Judicial Council supervise the GAL.Leave the Office of the Guardian ad Litem in the judicial branch but have it report to a board appointed by the Judicial Council. Oversight by this new board could at least partially resolve the ethical conflict of having the Judicial Council supervise the GAL.

6) Have the new standard for children with regards to GAL's be "For the safety of the child." "In the best interest of the child." is too vague and leaves too much room for interpretation.

7) If one of the parents has known mental health issues, a history of drug abuse, prescription or otherwise, a history of alcohol abuse and/or a criminal record, a thorough investigation should be made to make sure that parent is fit before granting them custody with an explanation as to why this parent was granted custody over the other parent.

8) Fire deficient guardian ad litems who have exhibited inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.

Thank you for your time

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 11:

I am so pleased to finally have an opportunity to request oversight of the guardian ad litem process. The current structure does not allow for families to believe in fair and due process. The current structure does not provide for accountability and consequence for those ad litems that do not proceed professionally and without personal bias. The current structure does add to the belief that children do not have a right to be heard. The current structure needs to be changed for our children.

Obviously, my family had a devastating experience with an unethical ad litem during a hotly contested custody battle. My children did not feel heard. The outcome was that the judge heard directly from the children at their insistence. It should not have had to be a battle for these kids. I requested that the ad litem be removed. My attorney told me that this was virtually impossible due to the time constraints and lack of legislative accountability. Our hands were tied.

An ad litem is to be the voice of the children. An ad litem is to be a neutral participant, presenting facts. An ad litem can do damage to a family that is already in crisis. Ad litems can not be given power without responsibility and accountability.

Oversight is necessary. Oversight needs to be provided by a group of professionals with no relationship to the process. There should be an immediate manner for dealing with concerns. A panel of professionals from the legal arena, child welfare, clinical social workers with child expertise and medical personnel should oversee this very important process.

Thank you for pursuing a more ethical procedure for our children that are unfortunately drawn into the court system. Let our kids believe that justice is just!

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 13:

To Whom it May Concern,

I want to thank Maine's Judiciary for allowing this forum. It has been very frustrating to see a family torn apart more so than is needed. All because there is the stranger that is supposed to have some quality to determine whether a child is going to be better off in one situation over another.

My thoughts on GAL reform:

1.The GAL should maintain lines of communication with the parties involved in the case. Keeping information from both or only feeding information to one side is unfair and opens up situations for abuse. Keeping the lines of communication closed also means that there is no avenue for correcting misinformation given by one side or another.

2. Post complaints as well as compliments on the internet. If a GAL has done a good job then that GAL should be recognized for the efforts. Conversely if a GAL has erred then as consumers/ citizens we should know of this fact. I can find out if a lawyer or a social worker has messed up, a GAL is no different. Let the next person who is thinking of using a GAL determine whether or not the GAL that is next on the roster (or recommended) will fit the bill. If past complaints are really all that serious or is it someone whining. What is the GAL's track record? Inquiring minds want to know.

3. Establish a billing format that is the same across the state. One of the biggest blows to the family I saw get torn apart was being slapped in the face with a huge bill they could not afford. To add insult to injury the court has garnished their wages, adding to the struggle. Keeping to open lines of communication in billing will allow the parties involved to know if they really need to complain about something or if it could better be worked out between them.

It is upsetting to see what vast and unrestrained powers the courts have. It is further troubling to see that up until now there has been little or no change. From what I have read there have been problems with GAL's dating back to 1999/2000. This forum is encouraging and I hope that there comes change.

Thank you

[Signature]

That being said there should be a means for bring corrective action against the judge that is responsible for the management of the GAL.

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 14:

Dear Members of the Judicial Branch,

Management and oversight should be removed from Judges. If this can not be done then there should be a certain path - standardization of what the judge is expected to do when managing a Guardian ad litem. In addition a complaint against a Guardian ad litem is also a complaint against the Judge and there should be a mechanism to handle this.

Thank you,

[signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 15:

To Leigh Saufley, Chief Justice, Maine Supreme Court.

First let me congratulate you for initiating this most needed forum on GAL's reform.

I am the grandmother of a child whose parent's divorce and custody battle were marred by the inappropriate behavior of the GAL assigned for this case.

1.- The GAL never investigated fully the father's family side: us as grandparents, the father's sister and her daughter, who is the only one on both sides of the family who is in the same age category as the child in question.

The GAL's decision to have the 7 year old boy reside with his young half-sister (who had multiple diagnosed mental health problems of her own) and the mother's first husband, instead of with his father and us, was mind boggling. The father also had to go thru forced "re-bonding" with his child at an incredible slow pace, as prescribed by the GAL. The result was more GAL-created alienation from his child and 6 months of agony for him and the child. Nothing was done also by the GAL when the child's mother had to come back to Maine to serve a prison sentence for repeated offenses of driving without a license. To show up for court in Maine, she drove 2,500 miles across the US, in the middle of Winter, in a car with inadequate registration, under someone else's name, without a driver's license, insurance or an inspection sticker, a sick child in the back seat, a stop at a Hospital ER, thru two snow storms and basically without any money. When the father asked the GAL if she had questioned the mother if she had a license to drive, she said, yes, and that the mother had said that she did indeed have a license. This is one example of how the GAL always took everything that the mother said as fact without investigation.

Was this "in the best interest of the child"???

[No item 2 in original comment.]

3.- The GAL did not take into account any of the mother's past history with husband #1. They divorced, and her 6 children from that marriage were eventually taken away from her because of her driving under the influence with the children in the car. She would also black-out occasionally. She eventually was allowed to be with her children if her then husband, our son, was around to supervise the visit. And her husband (#1) is a good friend of the GAL. Very cozy relationship all over the place.

And it goes on and on.

Was this also "in the best interest of the child"?

4.- Now that the divorce has been finalized, the father of this child has less time with him then he did a year ago. It is the result of him having filed an unsuccessful motion to remove the GAL from the case. The Judge (Tucker) dismissed the complaint without a hearing and refused to remove the GAL from the case. She was doing an outstanding job, according to the Judge.

Now, the mother has the "power" to do and impose her wishes as far as the child is concerned. The result, for this grandchild, is unbelievable. The mother tells him stuff that is untrue, like his father is a liar and then dares the child to confront his father. This is done usually over the phone (speaker phone) with mother and often guests egging the child on. This child is only 7 yrs old. What a lesson he is getting from his mother. Daddies are fools and they don't amount to much. The GAL seemed to be unaware of this kind of stuff going on... or may be she did. Who knows? She never shared much with our son as to what the child's mother was telling her. How could our son defend himself!!!

This was also, we presume, "in the best interest of the child".

5.- Another thing that this GAL and the Judge thought was not "in the best interest of the child", was for the father to ask for an itemized bill for the GAL's services (over $12,000.). This ought to be one for the books.

I wonder what Consumer Protection would have to say to that. For someone who claims to be a "professional", there was nothing "professional" in or about her bill. It is a mockery and it smelt more like there could be fraud/padding of the bill, etc.

No professionals would think of sending such a unidentified, unitemized bill for services rendered - no lawyer, doctor, psychologist, electrician, plumber, contractor, etc. - and expect to be paid promptly with no questions asked.

6.- I think the above examples should give food for thought and I am giving here only the tip of the iceberg.

Thank you for considering much needed GAL's reform. I would also like to be included in any kind of workshop and/or panel discussion, etc. regarding GAL's reform.

Thank you again,

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 17:

To: Honorable Chief Justice Leigh Saufley

Knowing that biases tend to be subconscious, GALs can be in denial, and seriously blinded by them. Therefore, a requirement for ongoing supervision of GALs does not seem to be much of a stretch. Having dealt with a GAL, who clearly operated from a pro-dad bias, recommendations made not only failed to meet the child's best interests, but allowed crushing feelings of frustration, distrust, fear, and pain to reclaim the child with a vengeance.

Perhaps by having the availability of appropriate, ongoing supervision for all GALs, those blinded by such biases, might get assistance in recognizing, acknowledging, and understanding them. Only then will they be able to address case issues as they are, and not as they seem from a distorted mindset. Thank you.

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 18:

If you're not at the table, you're on the menu. I've been on the menu for nine years. Please put me at the table. I want to help other families.

Thanks, again.

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 19:

To Whom it May Concern,

A Judge who is supposed to manage a GAL currently should be held to the same standards as the GAL under his/ her management. If a complaint is filed against a GAL the Judge managing should not be exempt from any investigation. If there is a failing with a GAL then the Judge managing that GAL has failed also. Regardless of the outcome the information should be published on both the GAL and Judge - good or bad.

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 20:

I have had nothing but a nightmare for the past 4.5 years while going through a divorce that York county court knows very well. The worst part started the day the Gal was appointed to my case. The Gal in my case nothing more than a licensed social worker that has a bachelors in social work , she was not an attorney or a lcsw.

Over the course of two and a half year divorce the Gal billed out $24,000.00. Yes those were just her fees, yet she had only met with my son and I a total of 3 visits one with just me and then 2 with my son and I. At one point she filed a motion with the court asking the court for my ex wife and myself to pay for an attorney to represent her because she felt she would be personaly attacked by our attorney's, She billed us for this time to go to court which was denied by the judge.

What recourse did I have? NONE , My attorney several times asked the GAL to recuse herself which she refused. Knowing that the judicial branch would not even hear about the Gal until after the divorce case was done was very frustrating to say the least. Even more frustrating is knowing that the Gal cannot be held liable for her falsifying her reports or leaving very crucial information out. During the trial my attorney asked her if she would like to listen to the voice recorded visits that she falsified in her reports to the court, her words were" I feel like I have been set up". What kind of a person that is to make recommendations to the court that is supposed to be un bias says they feel like they have been set up?

I feel all Gal's should have phycological evals before they can become GAL's. They are making decisions based on their opinion? What gives them the right to say what is the best interest of a child. The Gal I had has serious family issues yet she gets to make decisions on how often I should see my son , when her own son , whom lives with her has been arrested and convicted 14 times by the same judges that listened to my divorce.

There is test that a Gal has to take. Why is it that there is no licensing for GAL's Why do they not have to take test's to become GAL"s . There is a test and licensing to become a plumber, electrician , lawyer ,hair dresser,ect,, But no license required or test to become a GAL. a person that is supposed to be the eye's and ears of the court in the child's best interest. There is nothing about the child s best interest when you financially destroy the childs parents by billing $24,000.00 Falsify reports,try to get the parents to pay for your attorney. Oh but wait its ok because there is no oversight and the law is written so that you as a GAL cannot be sued for making an error or falsifying reports. Another thing is you are guaranteed to get paid no matter what because you as a GAL 's bill cannot be written off if the person files bankruptcy, no you are guaranteed to get paid no matter what.

I am 2 years after the divorce and now on a 2nd GAL to the sum of another $10,000.00, who's reports reflect that the first Gal in the divorce was way off the mark, not even close to what her reports said. Can the court tell me how $34,000.00 in Gal fees alone in 4.5 years is justified? Please I have been trying to understand or trying to figure out what A dad has to do to see their son? How much money does it take to be a parent in Maine when the GAL system in such shambles. There are a couple different types of Gal's the Casa Gal which is free by dhhs . And then there is the other Gal which is on the courts roster to bill whatever they want with no repercussion to their reports being wrong or the Gal being bias. Why is it all others, like plumbers ,electricians, hair dressers , can be sued or have their license revoked or suspended if they make an error but GAL's who make recommendations to the court have no accountability for their actions. These Gal's could be the ones that are actually destroying the relationships between children and their parents.

Their needs to Hugh changes to the GAL system in the state of Maine. Casa Gal's are overseen by Dhhs and if you have a complaint you can complain to Ombudsman who will at no charge look into your complaint, but if you have a regular Gal that is not a casa you have nowhere to complain . Chief judges do not have the time nor the do they want to hear a complaint about Gal because oh it's the parent that lost attitude.. How about it 's not actually about the parent that lost in court and that isn't happy." HOW ABOUT IT'S ABOUT THE CHILDREN" And is the CHILD SAFE as Dr. Jerome says. Gal's should be licensed. Gal's should be held accountable for the actions and reports. Gal's should have background checks and Psycological evals that a licensing board that oversee's them gets to look and at and decide if they should be a Gal or not. The Maine Gal system is flawed and needs to be changed. I pray for my child and all future children that these changes take place sooner rather than later.

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 21

To the Honorable Chief Justice Saufley:

First of all, thank-you for your attention to this painful and unwieldy subject. Many, many Mainers have been chewed up and spit out by our state's Guardian ad Litem system and I am grateful for your devotion of time and intellect to improving Family Court so others can avoid this fate.

Please consider this e-mail my request to participate in any committee developed as part of efforts to transform and/or oversee the Guardian ad Litem system.

As a domestic violence survivor who made poor decisions that were exacerbated by the public safety and GAL system, I have nine long years of experience in an out of Knox County Family Court.

I would like to add both my human capital, as a high school teacher and journalist, and my human empathy, to the process of protecting families from the negative economic and emotional outcomes I have experienced. The money I have poured into maintaining a toehold in our son's life would buy a house and I have missed most of his childhood in large part due to fallout from decisions made by a single guardian ad litem.

Yesterday, I spoke with my State Representative Les Fossel, and suggested to him that for others to avoid the results I have experienced, rules of evidence must apply to all information brought into Family Court. Second and third-hand information, as evidenced in my own report, cannot determine the tenor of a professional court document, yet too often that is precisely what occurs when a Guardian ad Litem's work becomes official. One way to accomplish this would be to ensure that all Maine counties have at least one Drug Court and one Domestic Violence Court available as part of the Family Court system.

In this vein, I have researched domestic violence mitigation strategies worldwide, and our current GAL system is failing in a number of ways to protect families, especially women and children, from violence. As a single example, in 2003, despite the fact that his movements had been determined by a PFA, my then-husband stalked me and entered our home. Our son's GAL, [name redacted], showed no interest in my husband's receiving any consequences for his unlawful behavior. She advised me not to call the police and I took her advice. Though that particular behavior stopped after she told him I had planned to have him arrested, for nearly a decade my now ex-husband has demonstrated versions of this and other sorts of violence, threatening, brinksmanship, character assassination and intimidation, to our son's measurable detriment.

By 2004, my attorney [name redacted] had to ask the court to remove [name redacted] because of other evidence of bias. Though [name redacted] had cut a deal with my husband's attorney, promising not to step down, in the end, as the weight of the evidence became obvious and it was clear the magistrate would strike [name redacted] from the case, she quit before the magistrate's decision. This served two purposes. One, she received no mark on her record and two, she could pass her bias, possibly now mixed with humiliation, along to the next GAL.

State Representative and Guardian ad Litem [name redacted] and I have spoken at length on this topic. She and I have been friendly for a few years. Despite my respect and admiration for [name redacted], I believe she treats these matter too lightly. She is of the opinion that those of us who disagree with our child's GAL should put the experience behind us, that we should, "get on with our lives," a version of the Living Well is the Best Revenge adage, I suppose. However, taken to its obvious extreme this philosophy all but abdicates failures of the GAL, the Court, and the public safety system to protect those most vulnerable, and chalks our struggles to see our children, or avoid being abused by an ex-husband, up to a negative outlook or "being stuck in the past."

Like many others, I have ideas I would like to share and improve, as well as sharp experiences that will surprise some.

If my point of view and others' indeed result from a negative outlook, as [name redacted] suggests, then perhaps our committee will decide that we need to get more exercise and to join a club. Please give us the opportunity to decide for ourselves, however. Until now, no one has asked for our perspective.

Thank-you again for your kind attention.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by member of public No. 22

To: Leigh Saufley Chief Justice Maine Supreme Court
Subject: What Have We Learned about GALs?

As we near the end of the Judicial Branch's time for public postings (July 1st), we have been reflecting on two questions: What have we learned about the nature of the GAL problem in the last 6 months or so? And where should we be headed? One might add an additional, different thought: where is the JB headed- with or without us? To our thinking it is all about dysfunctional structural design and the need to re-structure and re-define GAL roles and relationships that is the center of the problem:

THE ESSENCE OF OUR CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS OF GALS, THE COURT AND THE PARTIES:

To cut to the core of the situation, we would say that the GAL's role at the present comes between families- and the judge in divorce and custody cases and adds considerable, additional complexity to any divorce dispute. Just having a GAL adds significant numerical relational activities to a divorce case. With three players in a divorce: a plaintiff, a defendant and a judge, each person (or their lawyer) has 2 relationships to address. For the 3 players, there are a total of 6 relationships to deal with. When you add a GAL to this mix, the plaintiff, the defendant, the GAL and the judge (4 people) each have 3 relationships to deaL with, or 12, doubling the numerical complexity, "more moving parts", more lines of communication to keep straight- and this without adding a child (or children). The GAL largely functions as an interface agent (or even a barrier) between the parties and the judge, screening, filtering, shaping and distorting what the judge gets to hear in a before court preview. The GAL "brokers" the idea of what the case is all about and how to deal with it to the judge. Inevitably this is to the detriment of one of the parties. GALs are treated by courts as if they were "experts", and, as such-without actual expertise, they put a subjective personalized "spin" on what is going on in families for the judge's indoctrination. This occurs, both in the courtroom and in various forms of private communications. As judicial appointees, as the eyes and ears of the judge, who has appointed them, the judge's "eyes and ears" have huge power and influence with that judge over the fates of children and families. Justice ceases to be blind.

What is troubling to us is that GALs- even the best of them- obliterate any chance of a fair, fresh hearing and open decisions openly arrived at, because, by design, GALs are the "judge's eyes and ears". GALs interpret the facts, present judgements/opinions about the two parties and roll out recommendations for custody. Because of the way the laws relating 'ex parte' and GALs are written, these crucial pieces of information are frequently delivered to judges 'ex parte', with caveats of it "in the child's best interest" or "dangerous if not done 'ex parte' ". Opportunities to challenge a GAL's findings or opinions in front of a judge all too frequently don't happen, because a case can go from beginning to end without a hearing, and if hearings happen, they occur after the "judge's eyes and ears" have already characterized the case 'ex parte'. It frustrates consumers no end, and it is the source of much consumer hatred and rage directed towards GALs

This renders subsequent activities in court largely secondary, reactive or a meaningless ritual. A private, judge/GAL hearing has already occurred, with devastating consequences of a fair, open hearing. A hearing, a trial, or a negotiation gets almost totally corrupted by this kind of GAL/judge process. Furthermore, GALs frequently magnify the intensity of the adversarial nature of a contentious divorce process. The parties present their contentions to the GAL one-on-one, as dramatically as possible, without the ethics and politeness of a lawyer. This grass roots advocacy polarizes and heightens differences and parental "fitness discussions". And the GAL is persuaded by one end of the polemic and advocates for it with the judge. It can lead to the GAL's extreme misperceptions of the parties being presented to the judge, with extreme irrational recommendations about visitation and custody.

It spawns bizarre, radically polarized thinking, such as normal people denied visitation with their children for no real reason, because they are "caustic and controlling", or anger management being prescribed without differentiating normal anger from various levels of clinically pathological anger. it leads to a knee jerk recommendation of counseling for no specified purpose, for no clearly spelled out duration, and no established goal or end point. Perhaps, inadvertently, it becomes a form of GAL bullying, or what one writer has labeled "civilized violence".

It results in judges becoming secondary (or rubber stamps) to the GAL's opinion co-conspirators in a cruel travesty of justice and fairness.

None of this is ever explicitly talked about. The old concepts of appearing in court before an impartial judge and arguing your case is the internalized model that parties bring with them to a divorce. The GAL's role is perplexing. It is said to be acting in the child's best interest, which sounds good, but it quickly becomes apparent to parties that none of this is what is actually going on in reality. The GAL has become a 'de facto' judge with no controls, no oversight, no removal possible , and the actual judge is becoming a powerful figurehead who mostly re-enforces the GAL. What gets people upset is that they have had no instruction in these realities, and that they are forced to go through a bizarre, dishonest, "make believe" situation. The GAL can talk with either party alone, and either party can argue his/her case in private with the GAL. It depends on which party is the better solo debater, which party can capture the GAL's confidence, or which party captures the GAL's biases. GALs conduct numerous, one on one, private conversations with the parties, which a judge cannot do. The GAL then gives a synopsis of these one on one messages to the judge. It is 'ex parte' at one step removed with a GAL as an 'ex parte' agent or go-between. It destroys the court's impartiality and renders judgements corrupted by a corrupt process. Any traditions of common law openness are dead.

It has taken us a while to grasp fully this process and to see its impact clearly. It isn't something anyone wants to believe. It is the end result of trying to understand why the GAL system can be so crazy, why a GAL's involvement frequently seems to make matters worse. In thinking about GAL oversight/reform, one needs to look at the structural elements that are preventing the system from working. The GAL/judge relationship is a key element that needs to be evaluated carefully and re-designed to be honest and user-friendly, since its present form corrupts fairness and the judicial process.

Planning must start with structural problem analysis before looking for solutions.

[Signature]

[Back to list of comments]


Comment by Elizabeth F. Stout, Esq.:

I am hoping that it is not too late to provide some comments about the GAL oversight process underway with Chief Justice Saufley and others. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the public meeting May 31, 2012. As a former prosecutor, a former child protection AAG, and a family lawyer and GAL for the past 10 years, I would be happy to volunteer to provide any assistance that the oversight committee might need or want from me.

I would like to highlight two issues. First, I would expect that the oversight committee has access to and has considered the report of the Advisory Committee on Children and Families, issued in the winter of 2008, that addressed the ACCF's research, findings and recommendations on this issue. There were a number of people who worked on this issue for many months to develop recommendations. I believe they are comprehensive and effectively would address the problems that are being raised again at this time. While the recommendations as a whole had a significant fiscal note, and were therefore not viable for presentation to the legislature, there were a number of provisions that could be implemented independently for little or no cost. In fact some ideas have been coming into practice incrementally in various parts of the state, in my opinion to good effect, such as the limited purpose GAL. Please let me know if you would like more comments on this issue.

Second, I believe that there are significant other changes to improve the GAL system that could be implemented without significant cost. I believe that by increasing the structure of the GAL's work, delineating more specifically the duties the GAL is and is not expected to perform, being more specific about GAL billing, total costs, and total hours to be provided to the investigation, the work of the GAL could be closer to the realistic expectations of the parties and the court, resulting in fewer dissatisfied parties at the end of the process. I think many of the problems with very high GAL fees in some cases could also be effectively addressed in this way. In my practice, I use a basic structure for investigation, assessment and at least initial recommendations, plus attending one mediation, within a 20 hour time frame (assuming no long travel times or significant medical issues to research and review). I have other structures to my GAL practice that have helped all parties have realistic expectations, helping to reduce contentious problems later. There will always be dissatisfaction and conflict in this arena, but I think it can be ameliorated to some extent. Please let me know if you would like more comments or information on this issue as well.

Thank you for your time and consideration.\

Elizabeth F. Stout, Esq.
Givertz, Scheffee & Lavoie
215 Commercial Street
P.O. Box 4801
Portland, ME 04112-4801

[Back to list of comments]