Georgia: Guardian ad Litem exposed, improperly billing and driving families into financial ruin, “In Augusta’s Judicial Circuit, bills are not collected or audited; there are no rules requiring Superior Court judges to assign cases on a rotation; and guardians have the power to hold clients in contempt to recover unpaid fees, an action that many parents say they’re threatened with if bills are not paid in five to 10 days, as requested. ..” (Wesley Brown, Augusta Chronicle, 11/29/2014: http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2014-11-29/guardian-ad-litem-program-faces-scrutiny)

amississippimom

GUARDIAN AD LITEM SYSTEM IN AUGUSTA EXPOSED

DECEMBER 2, 2014 BY DEB BEACHAM

Cases and complaints have been pouring in for months from the Augusta judicial district after we first investigated and reported on cases where evidence was being suppressed and children harmed.

Good parents and grandparents have been undermined and even blocked from seeing children, even when there was no justification for this.

Billing records are now being reviewed and are showing discrepancies that explain why parents are failing financially as they can’t keep up with the financial burden, let alone understand what they are being charged for to see that things don’t add up.

This article by the Augusta Chronicle is based on very compelling research that enlightens citizens and leadership about how certain bad actors on this stage are able to control outcomes of cases while lining their pockets.

One of the bad actors in the Guardian ad…

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(Stearns County, MN, 2014) Shocking family court order: Supported by testimony from GAL, Family Court awards joint custody and primary residence of a child to a convicted child molester. GAL cites concerns that the mother is “protective” and orders orders her to have a “psychological evaluation” because the child has been tardy to school on several occasions….

As reported on the blog “Family In Law” by Michael Boulette on Jan 31, 2014 (I edited the names for privacy reasons)http://family-in-law.com/case-law-round-12713-understanding-endangerment/:

“One unpublished case out of the Court of Appeals this week.

In re the Marriage of H vs. H, A12-2127, (January 27, 2014) leaves the impression that Appellant (Mother) took for granted that the court would never award custody to Respondent (Father) because of his criminal history. (Father was a registered sex-offender for an offense he committed as a 13 year old.) It appears she was wrong.

After awarding Mother sole legal and physical custody in the parties’ 2009 divorce, the Court later granted Father temporary sole custody of their child in 2011. The district court restored custody to Mother a few months later, only to permanently modify custody in 2012 by granting the parties joint legal and joint physical custody and establishing Father’s home as the primary residence.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about H is the basis upon which the Court found “endangerment” sufficient to modify custody under Minn. Stat. 518.18: missing school.In affirming the district court’s custody modification, the Court of Appeals found support in the case law for the concept of endangerment-as-educational-neglect.

Apparently, the child’s difficulties in school, coupled with Mother’s interference with Father’s parenting time were enough to tip the scales towards endangerment and sustain the district court’s ruling.” http://family-in-law.com/case-law-round-12713-understanding-endangerment/

Background: Mr. H and Ms. B married in June 2006 in Stearns County, Minnesota. A daughter was born in the fall of that same year. A separation occurred in 2007 with formal divorce proceedings initiated in 2009. After the divorce, the mother, Ms. B was granted sole physical and sole legal custody of the child. Mr. H was ordered into supervised visits. Mr. H did not exercise parenting time during the time he was jailed for failing to register as a sex offender — this would have been the second offense for the same reason.

The Father, Mr. H, has a lengthy criminal record dating from 2003- with the most recent case being in 2012. Charges range from passing bad checks, theft to various traffic offenses. And two separate charges of intentionally providing false information under the Minnesota predatory offender registration rules (failing to register as a sex offender). There are conflicting reports about the age of the victim involved in the sexual offense. Mr. H was 13 at the time, the GAL reported the victim as age 11 while the police report states that an officer learned from the BCA the age of the victim as age 4. What is know is that Mr. H was found guilty, and was convicted of molesting a child.

In 2010, Mr. H petitioned the Court for more parenting time and an un-named GAL was appointed. The GAL criticized the mother Ms. B for being “protective and somewhat possessive” and felt it was in the best interest of the child to further parenting time, unsupervised, with Mr. H. Ms. B alleged that sexual abuse had occurred and on two occasions, failed to bring her daughter to visits. Ms. B also claimed that Mr. H brought her daughter to bars. A police investigation was conducted and found no evidence of sexual abuse.

As parenting time advanced, Ms. B continued to express concerns and in May 2011, denied Mr. H parenting time on other occasions. In June 2011, the Court gave Mr. H temporary sole physical and sole legal custody because Ms. B would not bring her child to visits.Keep in mind, at that time – Mr. H is still on probation and is a registered a sex offender. The Court felt it was in the best interest of the child to be reunited with her father, a convicted sex offender with a lengthy criminal record — and that the mother posed more of harm to the child by refusing to take her child to now unsupervised visits.

Reading the history of this case from the Appellate findings, it appears the Court moved rather quickly to push reunification with the father. Also, upon being released from jail, the father begins a new relationship with a woman who has a minor child living with them for part of the week. Which should be concerning — the guy just got out of jail for an offense related to child molestation, he is supposed to be establishing a better relationship with his own child and now is moving in a woman with her own young child. How much time and energy is Mr. H really putting into improving his own life? And how much can he provide his child when he is moving another family into his home–and his own relationship with his own daughter has not been established. And given his history, does Mr. H really need a minor child in his care? Not to mention the guy was in supervised visits for a reason and is now moving a woman and a new child into his home.. The Appellate findings do not answer these questions but they would have to be addressed by the GAL at some time, and clearly she was not concerned with any aspect of Mr. H’s parenting or home environment.

Around this time, the mother Ms. B suffered a mild concussion and while recovering, claimed she had trouble getting her child to school. Ms. B also said that some of the absences were excused because the child had medical issues and required frequent doctor visits. The record shows at least 3.5 absences and one tardy per semester. Ms. B. subsequently signed an Attendance Contract with the school. The school did not take any other formal action against Ms. B and did not notify social services.

The father Mr. H also suffered a back injury at some point, and missed at least one visit with his child because of it. Yet it appears the GAL dismissed his ability to parent based on a physical injury and instead focused on Ms. B’s physical injury as an indicator that she was not able to provide for her daughter.

It appears that the GAL pushed for Ms. B to get a psych eval, which the Court did order. The record offered does not show if Mr. H. was also ordered to undergo a psych eval. Ms. B psych eval showed that she has adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression, concerns with economics and concerns with the safety of her daughter and occupational problems.

When the child continued to be absent or tardy from school, the GAL cited “educational neglect” to recommend physical custody to Mr. H. It is unclear if other interventions or measures had been tried before removal was recommended by the GAL. Mr. H was living in a home with a girlfriend and her daughter. The GAL cited evidence that the daughter of the girlfriend was rarely late for school so the home would provide a better environment for the child. Which is somewhat strange because Mr. H never married the girlfriend, and is not the biological father of her child, so he is not considered a legal guardian. Further, the nature of their relationship as dating only, not marriage, does not indicate stability…the relationship could change at any time, and should not be used as a basis to determine custody. The Court then granted joint custody to both parties with primary physical going to Mr. H.

The appeal filed for this case was problematic in that the transcript from district court was not submitted, thus limiting the ability of the judges to make a decision on the Court’s conclusion of law. Also, Ms. B’s claims about contradictory statements made by the GAL could not be verified without an actual court transcript. Ms. B also did not submit the findings of her psych eval to the appellate court. When reading the findings, it seems clear the Appellate Court largely interpreted the psych eval based on what was in the GAL report. So presenting the psych eval would have been crucial. Also important, would be an updated medical report to note any change in condition or improvements. The Appeals Court upheld the findings of the district court.

Mr. H was discharged from probation in March 2014.

I am having trouble finding the best interest of the child in this ruling – The mother, Ms. B divorces her husband, specifically stating safety concerns for her child. At the time, Mr. H is put in jail and removed from society because he is a danger. Mr. H gets out of jail to be awarded increased unsupervised parenting time — while he is still on parole, and still be monitored because of concerns with his ability to be safe with children! And then the Court awards Mr. H joint custody and primary residence even while he is dating another woman, and moved a child into the home. That means the Court is awarding the non-relative woman who is staying in a relationship with the convicted child molester while punishing the blood relative mother who chose to divorce, and clearly expressed concerns for her child’s safety and left the relationship for safety rasons. Now we have two children in the home with a convicted child molester. And somehow missing a few days of school is supposed to be a bigger concern?!? The child molester father is given more resources and support to help gain custody of his daughter than help given to the protective mother, who has raised the child continuously since birth. And now the Court wants to introduce a live-in girlfriend and her daughter into this young child’s life? And this is really supposed to be in the best interest of the child? This ruling is problematic on so many levels — and yet it is so similar to so many stories many of us have experienced due to systematic failures in family court, and failures of the GAL program.

— EJ Perth

2014-Ongoing, Augusta, Georgia: WFXG Fox 54 has been investigating shocking allegations of abuses of power and misconduct in Columbia County family court including allegations of sexual harassment by Guardian ad Litem, Doug Nelson, and that this GAL was protected by several judges who were aware of the complaints.

For more history of the investigation, stories, videos, and updates please visit WFXG Fox 54’s online thread about Courts and Custody Battles: http://www.wfxg.com/category/283560/fox-54-investigates-courts-and-custody-battles

An brief rundown on what has been reported…

April 30, 2014: Several women from the Central Savannah River Area make allegations of sexual harassment against Guardian ad Litem and Columbia County magistrate judge, Doug Nelson. These women also report that refusing the sexual advances of Nelson led to him writing negative recommendations to the Court that ultimately resulted in these mothers losing custody of their children.

In one case reported to WFXG, a mother who is a military veteran of the US Army, was requested by Doug Nelson, the GAL on her case in 2011, to meet at an Augusta motel. While in the parking lot, Nelson allegedly began to fondle this mother, rubbing her arms, back and buttocks. Nelson eventually ended contact with the mother but things grew much worse when Nelson accused the mother of “parental alienation” which led to the mother losing custody.

Doug Nelson is also accused of failing to perform the duties of a GAL – he allegedly failed to interview the children involved. Nelson is also accused of bias, and that he interviewed 6 people in support of the father, and no collateral contacts for the mother. Nelson also expressed support of the father and that he has a “touching” hobby of writing books about social issues. In comparison, the mother got two short sentences written about her in the recommendation.

The mother reports before she lost custody, she shared a very close relationship with her child, that they did everything together. The mother made a report to the Richmond County sheriff’s office, who is investigating. Nelson’s response to this allegation is that “it didn’t happen”.

Other women have come forward with allegations that Doug Nelson asked inappropriate personal questions, made sexual advances and left inappropriate text messages and messages, also sexual in nature. One mother took screen shots of the text messages, “Sent from a phone number we (WXFG) confirmed through magistrate court offices belonging to Nelson, the messages we read say he “wanted to touch” and also discussed the mom’s attire. When she told him what she would be wearing to a hearing, Nelson responded, “giddy up – can’t wait to see.” This mother raised complaints about Nelson to Judge Daniel Craig.

In 2012, another woman filed a complaint with the Columbia Sheriff’s office that Nelson put his body next to hers, and stroked her arm and back. As of yet, there is no indication the women involved in these two separate incidents have had any contact with each other…and yet their stories are similar.

When WFXG contacted Nelson again, to comment on these allegations, Nelson reportedly said the mothers are just lashing out at him because they are angry the custody arrangements did not go the way they wanted. Nelson says the women are lashing out, and just want to get back at him. He also says, that he does not remember the details of all of his cases.

“SPECIAL REPORT: Women make accusations against former guardian ad litem” by Nick Lulli. WFXG, 4/30/2014: http://www.wfxg.com/story/25396656/women-make-accusations-against-former-guardian-ad-litem

May 1, 2014: Magistrate Doug Nelson (Columbia County) resigns one day after several women came forward with allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment. Nelson continues to state that none of the allegations are true.

“Doug Nelson resigns as magistrate judge” by Nick Lulli. WFXG, 5/01/2014: http://www.wfxg.com/story/25405867/doug-nelson-resigns-as-magistrate-judge

May 21, 2014: Radio reporter investigating problems within the guardian ad litem system threatened with jail by powerful judge.

Scott Nelson, reporter, has personally experienced a difficult family court case and so began to investigate the guardian ad litem system. Hudson uncovered the same evidence as WXFG – that by former guardian and magistrate judge Doug Nelson was accused of inappropriate behavior, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

When a confidential source allowed Nelson to listen in to a meeting of GALs, Judge David Roper retaliated against him after learning about Nelson’s investigation. Hudson said he was threatened with imprisonment and was so fearful that he dropped the story.

In May 2014, after news of the scandal became public, Scott Nelson made a report to the Columbia County Sheriff’s investigators.

Scott Hudson also says Judge Daniel Craig knew about the threats, because an associate of his emailed superior court judge Daniel Craig with concerns. In an e-mail, Judge Craig acknowledges that Roper did indeed threaten Hudson with arrest. Scott Hudson said this ordeal has hurt his family and his career.

“SPECIAL REPORT: Radio reporter says judge scared him off from covering allegations against Doug Nelson” by Nick Lulli. WFXG, 5/21/2014: http://www.wfxg.com/story/25583699/radio-reporter-says-judge-scared-him-off-from-covering-allegations

Dec. 4, 2014: The Judicial Qualifications Committee is investigating what superior court judge Daniel Craig may have know about complaints against former magistrate and GAL Doug Nelson. The JQC annual report for 2013, said that 75% of complaints against Georgia judges were rejected. The JQC now says that they are investigating these cases.

WFXG Fox 54 began an investigation into what judge know about complaints filed against GALs in Columbia County. This is an important question because in Georgia, the judges appoint and oversee the Guardians.

Judge Daniel Craig has presided over several cases where mothers have complained against Doug Nelson for inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment. While Judge Craig says he did not know about the complaints, evidence suggests that he was aware of the complaints, and continued to follow the recommendations of Nelson long after the first complaint was raised.

Other judges are also implicated. Judges David Roper and Wade Padgett continued to appoint Doug Nelson on cases, despite complaints against him.
“Judge Roper was sent a complaint by Tisdale in August 2013 about inappropriate behavior by Nelson on a case, but Judge Roper told me in May that he didn’t report Nelson because ‘sexual harassment isn’t a crime in Georgia.'” These complaints go beyond sexual harassment–the act of unwanted touching is assault. And if Nelson pursued these mothers through text, phone calls or visits–he could be implicated in stalking. Certainly, the allegations needed to be investigated, and the families involved needed to be protected from further harm and retaliation. That the Judge was in the position to do something and refused to act, implies collusion and deeper levels of corruption.

“What did judges know about guardian ad litem issues?” by Nick Lulli. WFXG, 12/04/2014: http://www.wfxg.com/story/27552940/what-did-judges-know-about-guardian-ad-litem-issues

For more history of the investigation, stories, videos, and updates please visit WFXG Fox 54’s online thread about Courts and Custody Battles: http://www.wfxg.com/category/283560/fox-54-investigates-courts-and-custody-battles

Thank You Nick Lulli, WFXG and Fox for investigating and covering this important story; for giving victims a voice and raising awareness about problems in family court and the GAL system. I hope with awareness, will come understanding of the very real devastation and harm caused to parents and children, and with that will come significant reform.

New changes in Connecticut’s Guardian ad Litem program, improving family court for families…

The Guardian ad Litem system in Connecticut has faced public reprise for its lack of accountability, abuses of power, and the high fees incurred by Guardians. Many parents reported being financially destitute and even bankrupted by excessive fees because in the former system in CT, Guardians are billed by the hour with no cap on fees. The parents are billed directly for the fees, and the Judges serve as the collection agency and can throw a parent in jail if unable to pay.

“We have been harmed and taken advantage of by attorneys for minor children and guardian ad litems who enjoy immunity, are deemed infallible, and who have played God, judge and jury with our families and our children, while trampling our basic rights to due process, our civil rights, and our rights to be parents for our children,” the Connecticut Coalition for Family Court Reform said in public hearing testimony in March 2014. (The CT Mirror)

Counter arguments state that conflicts between parents during custody/divorce disputes create major hurdles to overcome, and that parents need increased opportunities for education and resources to settle disputes outside of court. Some of the Connecticut state task force report and recommendations includes recommendations for parents involved in divorce/custody disputes. Other arguments state the family court system does need some change but Guardians are being unfairly targeted as the cause of the problems.

“We’ve got to start talking about collaboration. Nobody’s in disagreement here — the system needs some change.”says Elizabeth Thayer, who was a member on the task force.

Concerned parents have gathered to sign petitions urging reform, to raise public complaints and urge the legislators to act. The Legislators have heard the complaints and worked diligently to change aspects of the current Guardian ad Litem system in CT.

Here is a brief overview of the new laws to reform the Connecticut GAL system:

January 31, 2014: A Connecticut state task forces issues a report and recommendations on the care and custody of children involved in legal disputes. The task forced studied the roles and responsibility of Guardian ad Litems involved in custody disputes, studied issues related to the ability of parents to co-parent after divorce/separation and what to do about noncompliance (CG46b-56) and whether the state should adopt a presumption of shared custody as being in the best interest of children. The task force held 13 meetings, including a 15 hour public meeting during the 4 month course of developing this report.
Read the report here: http://www.cga.ct.gov/jud/ldcc/Docs/TF%20to%20Study%20Legal%20Disputes%20Involving%20the%20Care%20&%20Custody%20of%20Minor%20Children%20Report%20&%20Recommendations.pdf

April 2014: Connecticut passes law to reform Guardian ad Litem system, legislation passed unanimously in the House and Senate, “The bill seeks to address the broken divorce court system,” said Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford).

The new law requires the courts to give families a choice of 15 lawyers to serve as Guardians; this gives parents more say in the selection of a Guardian. The law also instructs judges to consider issues like financial circumstances, language barriers, transportation and how close a Guardian’s office is to the residence of each parent in the selection. There are an estimated 1,000 Guardians registered in Connecticut, they are not required to be an attorney but many are.

May 8, 2014 – this law goes into effect October 1, 2014: Bill 494 now Public Act No. 14-3 concerning Guardians Ad Litem (“GAL”) and Attorneys for Minor Children (“AMC”): http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/TOB/S/2014SB-00494-R00-SB.htm

This bill includes:
(Sec. 1) When a Guardian is to be appointed, the Court will provide the parents with a list of 5 prospective Guardians to choose from. If the parents cannot agree on a Guardian, the Court will decide. If the parents mutually agree on a Guardian that is not on the list, they can submit a written agreement to the Court to appoint that person.
(Sec. 1c) After the appointment of a Guardian, the Court will enter an order that includes the following information: the specific duties of the Guardian, the date which the appointment of the Guardian is to expire (can be extended with good cause), the deadline for reports or work to be turned in, the fee schedule for services, the retainer, the hourly rate to be charged, the appointment of fees to be paid by each party, and a schedule for court review of the work done by the Guardian and the fees charged. Periodic review to occur not less than 6 months from the date of appointment unless there is a written agreement from both parties, and filed with the court.
(Sec 2) The Court may appoint counsel for the child at any time if it is in the best interest of the child. Counsel shall be related to issues if care, custody, support, visitation and education of a minor child.
(Sec 3) Allows for a third party to intervene by motion, and counsel to be appointed for the child if appropriate. The court will be guided by the best interest factors, and the wishes of the child (if appropriate) in determining this motion.
(Sec 4) The Judicial Branch will outline procedures for those seeking removal of a Guardian or counsel for a child. Prior to hearing the motion, the Court may refer parties to mediation. If the allegations cannot be resolved, a hearing will be held. The presiding judge will appoint the judge who is assigned to hear the motion.
(Sec 5) A court can order parents to pay fees related to court services appointed for a child, however those fees cannot be court ordered to be paid from a child’s college savings fund. If a child is receiving public assistance, their fees may be paid through the public defender program.
(Sec 5) If warranted, a parent may given a sliding-scale fee to pay for the services of a Guardian. The Judicial Branch will develop and implement the sliding scale system.
(Sec 6) The Judicial Branch will create and publicize a document to give information to the public about the roles, responsibilities and general statutes regulating Guardians

June 2014: Gov. Dannel Malloy signed Public Act 14-3. an Act Concerning Guardian ad Litems and Public Attorneys for Minor Children in Family Relations Matters into law. http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/act/pa/pdf/2014PA-00003-R00SB-00494-PA.pdf

Note: Public Act 14-3 expands on SB 484 by outlining the 16 Best Interest factors used when determining a child custody/visitation motion. It also establishes a professional code of conduct for a Guardian or counsel for a minor. You will find these changes listed in the Public Act, not in the Bill.

The above list from SB 494 and Public Act 14-3 is not meant to be all-inclusive and only reflects some of general areas of reform, please read the law in its entirety for complete information:

SB 494: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/TOB/S/2014SB-00494-R00-SB.htm

Public Act 14-3: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/act/pa/pdf/2014PA-00003-R00SB-00494-PA.pdf

Critics believe the new laws do not go far enough to reform the GAL system because it does not offer a system to investigate and take disciplinary action against a Guardian who is breaking the law or violating the codes of conduct.

This is a serious issue, as demonstrated in a comment Peter Szymonik made in a petition to the Judiciary, Connecticut Guardian ad Litem Reform, “Rather than working to resolve problems, the Court has instead became a source of further harm and abuse due to the complete lack of oversight of any kind over the GAL system.”

Further, parents are often punished or retaliated against for voicing complaints against Guardians, judges and other judicial officers. Parents deserve protection and a fair system to file complaints; with disbarment for attorneys and other disciplinary measures for those who violate the laws or the codes of conduct. These are valid arguments, and I hope they will be resolved with continued efforts to improve the system.

Connecticut, assisted by the tears and courageous work of concerned parents, family members and advocacy groups, has taken strides towards reforming the Guardian ad Litem system. This is an important step in protecting the rights and welfare of parents and children…and an encouragement for other states to consider, and implement reform. I hope that Connecticut, and other states, will continue to work to make the system more fair, transparent and responsive to all parents, and families, involved in family court and in the Guardian ad Litem program.

 

 

Other ideas for GAL reform:

ACCOUNTABILITY
*Create an independent commission to evaluate and approve the appointment of a GAL. GALs are then subject to appointment and if necessary, removal—a similar process as used by judicial selection. Norman Pattis: http://www.pattisblog.com/index.php?article=Time_for_GAL_Reform_in_Connecticut_6556

*Improved training, for Guardians to include improved education and skill building.

*Continued enhancement of systems and coordination within the Judicial branch.

*Improved accountability with enforced, regulation and monitored disciplinary action for those Guardians who step outside of the statutes regulating them.

*Parties should be allowed to obtain discovery from a Guardian like any other witness, including the ability to receive a copy of their own file and information created and gathered by the Guardian (redacting information as needed for privacy or for the protection of a victim of domestic violence).

FEES/BILLING

*Standardized billing procedures for Guardians

*Specify rates and fees for a Guardian, with a cap on fees. Any additional fees incurred above the cap must be approved by a judge. If both parents are indigent, the state shall bear the costs. (The CT Task force capped fees at $10,000).

Sources:

Connecticut Family Court Reform: http://www.ctfamilycourt.com/

Connecticut Guardian ad Litem Reform (Founded by Peter Szymonik): http://szymonik.wix.com/ct-galreform#!about_us/csgz

“General Assembly unanimously passes family-court reform” by Mark Pazniokas, The CT Mirror, 4/25/2014: http://ctmirror.org/general-assembly-passes-family-court-reforms/

Petitioning the State of Connecticut Judiciary Committee, “Reform the State’s Corrupt and Broken Guardian ad Litem System” by Peter Szymonik: https://www.change.org/p/state-of-connecticut-judiciary-committee-reform-the-state-s-corrupt-and-broken-guardian-ad-litem-system

Petition to Reform Connecticut’s Broken Family Court and Guardian ad Litem System, presented to the State of Connecticut, Judiciary Committee, March 2014 (includes 700 electronic signatures and comments from signers): http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/JUDdata/Tmy/2014SB-00494-R000331-The%20Connecticut%20Coalition%20for%20Family%20Court%20Reform-TMY.PDF

Task Force Public Hearing (Connecticut Family Court Reform): http://www.ctfamilycourt.com/connecticut-public-hearing-custody-dispute-task-force-2014-01-09.php

Testimony of Michael Nowacki to the Connecticut Task Force: http://youtu.be/q5ZAzJddBsM

A heartbreaking yet courageous story of a mother fighting to protect her children…and the family court system that failed this family.

This story is reblogged from: http://amississippimom.wordpress.com/

The Guardian ad Litem recommended sole custody to an allegedly abusive, criminal and drug abusing father who was later to found so unfit and abusive towards the children that they were later removed from his home. This mother was then prevented from being reunited from her children because she was now being sanctioned by the court for failing to pay exorbitant GAL fees!
“Even though my children are fully cognizant, aware, of their own memories, of me, their mother, of my behavior, of my affection, my deep, abiding, maternal love for them, and of our lives together, I have yet to offer any reasonable explanation why their father, an indisputable criminal, abuser, drug-user, was able to obtain, and keep, custody of them for so long, and, how this was done with the complicity of those court appointed to see to the children’s safety and well-being … how all these things were done for so long, how I was given very limited, stringent visitation, as their mother, and for so long. Is it acceptable to try to explain to children? How does one do so in any rational way?”

amississippimom

Starting Over When You Can’t Go Back?  – To All Protective Parents:  Rebuilding when you can’t go home again:
To all of my friends:  I have slowly begun to rebuild my work and my career, my freelance paralegal research.  I had been self-employed in the same field for over 20 years when my life came to a screeching halt in 2010 when my young children (ages 9 and 12) were kidnapped by their father and taken over 200 miles away … this was parental kidnapping, against custody, against the law.  So many others are familiar with this horror but this type of kidnapping garners little sympathy and certainly less action.  This atrocity, and the long-haul of horror it places a protective parent in is in no way different than having your children kidnapped by a stranger.  Although with parental abductions there may some knowledge, confirmation, and awareness, however vague, that…

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July 8, 2013, MAINE- Governor Paul LePage, Maine, signed a law to hold the Guardian ad Litems representing children in custody disputes more professionally and financially accountable: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_126th/billtexts/SP029701.asp

LD 872, An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine was sponsored by Sen. David Dutremble of Biddeford (D-District 4). Dutremble focused his bill on complaints over how GALS investigate cases, the influence a GAL has over final custody rights, and the fees a GAL can bill to individual families.

Sen Linda Valentino (D-District 5) has also been a strong supporter of Guardian ad Litem reform and made this bill a priority in the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary, which she chairs. Valentino explains, “The judiciary committee unanimously approved this bill because it addresses the most criticized elements of reform, more transparent management and oversight of the complaint process. We made it our number one priority coming out of the judiciary committee, it is our signature bill.”

Maine GAL Alert, a grassroots advocacy group with more than 400 members has also been instrumental in lobbying for reform in Maine, and will continue to fight to improve the system. One of its leaders, Dr. Jerome Collins (retired psychiatrist, Kennebunk) became involved with Maine GAL Alert after his own negative experiences with the GAL appointed to his son’s divorce. Collins raised concerns about the mother because she was abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, and facing jail time. To avoid jail, the mother fled out of state with the grandchild. When Collins complained, and voiced concerns about the safety of his grandchild, the Guardian took the mother’s side and recommended that Collins only be allowed to visit his grandchild when supervised. Collins believes the GALS have too much power over people’s lives.

The law, LD 872, will go into effect in January 2015. The judiciary has until Oct. 1, 2017 to track data and create an oversight system to create a more transparent GAL complaint process. The bill also requires the new administration to cap the amount of fees a GAL can charge. The law also does not remove the quasi-judicial immunity for GALs. Maine GAL Alert was fighting for this reform that would have given a complaining party the ability to file a lawsuit against a GAL.

Funding to implement this law has been a challenge. But the law does afford funding for one full- and one part-time administrative position to gather data and supervise the GAL complaint process. Most GALs in Maine are mental health workers or attorneys. The new law also transfers oversight of Guardians to the Bar of Overseers, which already has a system in place to monitor complaints of lawyers in other situations.

Sen. Dutremble was motivated to seek changes in the law so it will better protect children because of his own experiences. Dutremble divorced in 2005, a GAL was appointed to his case, he says, (testifying on March 28th at a public hearing of the Maine State Judicial Committee), “Prior to my divorce I had never entered a courtroom as a defendant. I can assure you, the appointment of a guardian ad litem was one of the worst experiences of my life – and I am a full-time firefighter.”

The Guardian ad Litem told Dutremble that his work schedule as a firefighter is unhealthy for his children, and it is in their best interest to change his career. Dutremble and his ex-wife were also charged hefty fees.

Dutremble, “When I went through my divorce, I felt like the complaint system was broken and I didn’t have a lot of input with my guardian. She seemed to come in (and) take sides rather than really thinking in the best interest of my child.”

Reports of abuses in the GAL program have been widely reported and include: Charging excessive fees to parents, who often become financially burdened or even bankrupt. Guardians are allowed to charge fees for things like research, testifying in court, answering an e-mail or phone call and travel. Before this law was passed, GALs had the power to charge an hourly rate based at their discretion, now those fees will be capped.

Before this law was passed, there was very little professional oversight of the Guardian ad Litem program. Maine had no board or managing organization to oversee a GAL, and each one worked independently. A parent who wanted to file a complaint had to do so with the judge who was overseeing their case, the same judge who assigned the guardian. If the case was finalized, complaints were directed to the chief judge of that court. Parents frequent report that filing a complaint against a GAL often results in reprisal. This law will require increased accountability for GALs by implementing a variety of measures including: recording GAL court cases and activities for frequent review by an appropriate judicial branch management, annual GAL evaluations to be conducted by an independent party, and improved education and training for prospective GALs to include an internship “aimed at greater technical and experiential professionalism and reducing beginner’s mistakes of trial and error on consumers..”
PAK encourages you to read LD 872, this is valuable information that can be used to help improve GAL practices and procedures, and increase accountability:
http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_126th/billtexts/SP029701.asp

Other frequently occurring complaints include GALs placing parents in supervised visitation or suspending visitation when there is no factual concern or evidence of abuse or endangerment. Often the abusive parent is given custody or visitation, at risk to the child’s safety and well being.

Dr. Jerome Collins of Maine GAL Alert says this bill is an important step to reform in the GAL program, “This is the first comprehensive review of the GAL program in 39 years and it puts Maine in a leadership position on this issue across the U.S., where GAL reform is a universal concern.

PAK  supports the work of those involved in raising awareness of the deficiencies, systematic failures and abuses of power in the Maine GAL program. We applaud your efforts to work for meaningful changes to better protect children and families, and improve the program as a whole. PAK encourages similar reforms as Dr. Collins said, “on this issue across the U.S., where GAL reform is a universal concern.” The GAL program is a valuable service that when, properly implemented has the potential to improve the lives of children and families. Let’s work together as concerned parents and involved professionals to make a difference in the lives of families, and in our community, to strengthen and improve the GAL program so that it truly represents the best interest of children it is intended to serve.

“Reform for Guardians under way” by Tracey Collins, 4/11/2013. Bickledford-Saco-OOB Courier: http://courier.mainelymediallc.com/news/2013-04-11/News/Reform_for_guardians_ad_litem_under_way.html

“Complains fuel bid to reform children’s representation in Maine disputes”, Scott Dolan, 5/8/2013. Portland Press Herald: http://www.pressherald.com/2013/05/08/complaints-fuel-bid-for-guardian-ad-litem-reform_2013-05-09/

“Governor signs guardian ad litem bill” by Tracey Collins, 7/18/2013. Bickledford-Saco-OOB Courier: http://courier.mainelymediallc.com/news/2013-07-18/News/Governor_signs_guardian_ad_litem_bill.html

Maine GAL Alert: http://megalalert.blogspot.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/pages/MeGALalert/304805942890656

Requirements to be a Maine rostered GAL: http://www.courts.maine.gov/maine_courts/family/gal/requirements.html

Title: “Exposing Child Advocates/Best interest Attorneys/Guardian Ad Litem”
By: CBSAtlanta.com, Reporter Jeff Chirico
Read the Story At: http://www.cbs46.com/story/22258017/investigation-exposes-little-oversight-of-child-advocates
Posted By: Moms Fighting Howard County Court Corruption, http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjUgwKeAfgfnLnXT7RslhBw
Date: May 15, 2013

CBS Atlanta investigates problems with the court appointed advocates known as the “Guardian ad Litems”, who are sworn to look out for the best interest of children, and be their advocate in court. The report investigates complaints from parents whose families have been harmed by failures within the GAL program and the corrupt, biased and unprofessional actions of the Guardians themselves.

Problems Reported Include:

*Poor training
*Lack of training or education in child development
*Guardian ad Litems lying to further their own personal agenda
*Bias (GAL favoring the parent who generates the most business. GAL working to further their own agenda over that of the child.)
*Parents can be fined by the Court to pay GAL fees–sometimes these fees can cost tens of thousands of dollars
*Collusion or Other Influences that are not based on fact, evidence or law
*Lack of oversight in the GAL program. There is no real agency that licenses a GAL. And no agency that oversees the GAL. There is no tracking or public disclosure of complaints against a GAL. And no effective means to report problems with a GAL, let alone to have your complaint heard.
*Verbal abuse, intimidation and trying to pressure witnesses and parents
*Children are being harmed due to the failures of a GAL
*Parents are unfairly being deprived of custody with no recourse to regain custody
*GAL talking to a Judge, influencing the Judge, socializing with the Judge or other Court Officers outside of work
*GAL refuses to accept evidence, interview witnesses, review documentation or conduct home visits
*Once a judge rules against you, there is no real oversight for parents

Georgia State Child Advocate Tanya Boga argues that the system is fair, most GAL are doing their jobs properly and if there is a problem “the judge can remove the Guardian ad Litem”.

Does that make sense to you? You are in court, having problems with a GAL and have to file a complaint with the same Judge who is hearing your case, and who has a long history of working with this Guardian. There is no investigation of your complaint. No record of the complaint being filed. And no advocate or mediator to ensure the parents is part of the complaint process, and that their complaint is actually being heard. Further, the GAL is often appointed, at tax payer’s expense, an attorney to represent their interests while the parent may not have the resources to get legal help. And similarly, the child victim is not appointed an attorney to represent their interests of protect them from Guardian abuse. How can you say the system is Fair when it works against parents and creates victims, who have been abused and traumatized by the Court process?

The guardians protect the judges, and judges protect the guardians ad litem“, Dr. Monty Weinstein, a psychologist and paid expert witness.

Any of this sound familiar??? Stories like this are just one example of the systematic failures within the Family Court system that is destroying families, and putting the lives of vulnerable children at risk. I encourage other news agencies, media outlets, bloggers, watchdog groups etc to investigate and report stories of failures within the Family Court system. By exposing the problems, we can demand justice, and fight for real reform.