It would seem there is an inside fast track between legislators and the Supreme Court to implement guardian ad litem standards in Missouri. While a previous statute, HB1570, of 2008, requires the legislature to approve revisions to the Guardian Ad Litem standards, and the Supreme Court had formed a committee and asked for public input to the process, that seems to be where any interest in opening up contributions from the public came to an end. After several attempts, by citizens, to get copies of revisions or attend committee meetings were thwarted, the legislature moved a step closer, yesterday, to approving new GAL standards, even though they have not read them. The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-0, Do Pass, and the bill, SB237, moves to the Committee on Rules.
Supreme Court Justice, Patricia Breckenridge, testified, before the House committee, in favor of the bill’s advancement and gave a hint as to some revisions that may be seen in the changed standards, such as a reduction in the requirements for training of GALs. She stated in her testimony that it was hard to get attorneys to spend more than one day in training so the present standards that require 12 hours of training will be reduced to 8 hours and continuing training will be reduced from 8 hours to 3 hours per year. If these comments seem as if the standards are not necessarily geared toward strengthening the best interests of children, it is with good reason, because the tone of the bill itself never addressed the this aspect of enhancing the purpose of the GALs job. The bill states:
… standards for representation by guardians ad litem shall be updated and adopted statewide and each circuit shall devise a plan for implementation which takes into account the individual needs of their circuit as well as the negative impact that excessive caseloads have upon effectiveness of counsel. …
In December of 2009, Guardian Ad Litem Reform obtained a draft copy of the proposed revisions. After that time, the Supreme Court shut down all communications, on this subject, with the public. The draft reveals a shortfall of the Court to require accountability from GALs, attorneys, or judges in cases involving GALs and also stacks the deck for cases to be assigned only to paid GAL/attorneys. This practically eliminates the contribution of CASA volunteers in family court cases who have in the past provided this service for free.
Prior to yesterday’s House committee hearing, I forwarded a copy of the proposed draft revisions and a copy of a legislative outline which includes research from several states and their own rules and statutes that regulate GALs to all members of the House of Representatives. Additionally, the outline requests the legislature to add provisions to Missouri’s standards and statutes that would add a variety of transparency elements to stop the abuse being waged against families in courts across Missouri. The same information was forwarded to the entire body of the Senate. I received no contact from anyone in the Senate regarding this information, and only an acknowledgement of receipt from a few Representatives.
I testified at the Senate hearing on February 27th, in which I met with the same resistance to bringing transparency and accountability to the GAL process. In the Senate and House hearings I asked the committees to stop the progressions of the bill and add provisions such as requiring a guardian ad litem board to keep an eye on judges/attorneys/GALs in family court and child abuse cases such as is in place in New Hampshire. GALs are immune from malpractice litigation from damaged parties. They cannot be removed from cases by anyone other than the assigning judge after 10 days of assignment. There is no avenue for families to communicate with judges concerning misrepresentation by guardians and, as most who have had experience in this aspect of family court know, attorneys often protect the process and rarely report abuse. Cases are often escalated by GALs and investigated beyond the scope of the issues that bring them into the family court circumstance. Not only is this traumatic in numerous ways to children and families, but it is financially devastating. These are just a few points I offered in my testimonies. No questions were asked by the committees relating to these points and the bill advanced through both committees. Missouri will certainly see new standards for GALs without any strength being added to protecting the best interests of children.
Once again, Bob McCarty does an excellent job of following developments in the Family Court/Guardian Ad Litem debacle in Missouri. Families all over Missouri, and the United States, are being terrorized by an abusive system that has little to no oversight or accountability. It should be noted that the court system is accountable to the House of Representatives and that impeachment of judges who do not perform their duties faithfully is the responsibility of the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate.