“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then, Maine’s children win”.

By Catherine Cooper | Jun 19, 2012

The actual quote is “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.

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To make suggestions on ways to improve the system, please submit those by July 1st 2012  to: lawcourt.clerk@courts.maine.gov

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