May 9, 2013

Complaints fuel bid to reform children's representation in Maine disputes

A legislator says the system that protects the interests of kids mistreats other parties.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

NEW HAMPSHIRE HAS 
GUARDIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD

In New Hampshire, the guardian ad litem program has been overseen by the New Hampshire Guardian ad Litem Board since legislation was passed in 2002. The board has nine members appointed by various members of government and includes two members of the public.

The New Hampshire board has a formal complaint process, with a form that people can fill out online, said Jennifer Heinrich, the board's administrative secretary.

Each complaint is reviewed by a three-member subcommittee that brings concerns to the full board. If the complaint against a guardian is accepted, the guardian can file a response. The board can then review and decide whether to dismiss the complaint or proceed to a hearing. If the complaint is dismissed, the person who filed it has a right to appeal.

New Hampshire maintains records of its complaints, with results posted online. In 50 complaints filed since the beginning of 2005, seven were investigated and had hearings. Six led to reprimands against the guardians, with some suspended or removed from the state roster.

New Hampshire now has 135 certified guardians on its roster. The guardians must first take days of training followed by 30 hours of course work every three years, Heinrich said.

– Scott Dolan

Bevins said he charges $120 per hour, at an average of about 10 hours per case. He attaches his itemized bill to his report when he submits it to the court. He takes 10 to 15 cases per year and rarely earns more than $2,000 per case.

"I have one or two going at any given time, and I have a pro bono case going at any given time," he said. "I couldn't do any more and do a good job."

Bevins said that in every case, one person will be less happy about his recommendation to the court.

"What I say to people at the outset of a case is, 'I only get a Christmas card from one person,'" he said. "I don't set out to make friends with them. I set out to make a good determination for the kids."

Bevins said the one reform being discussed that frightens him would remove judicial immunity from guardians, opening them up to civil action by unhappy parents.

"If I was personally liable for a lawsuit from a party who filed a frivolous complaint," he said, "I would be potentially looking at a loss that I would have to pay personally."

Toby Hollander, a Portland attorney who is president of the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute, an unofficial group of guardians with about 150 members, has worked as a guardian ad litem for more than 20 years. He agrees that reform is needed, but that would require funding.

"Supervising 300 independent contractors is going to take some staff time. It's not like this is easy to do," Hollander said.

Like Bevins, Hollander doesn't believe that anyone goes into guardian work for the money. Hollander charges $100 per hour and takes 12 or 13 cases per year, he said.

"I've been criticized because I don't think it's as big of a problem as they say it is," Hollander said. "I think it's getting this much attention because it's gotten before the Legislature."

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

 

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