Child Reps And GALs Are Withdrawing From Cases As Court Reform Tensions Grow Under Whom Will Rat Out The Most State Actors?

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

GALs Are Withdrawing From Cases As Court Reform Tensions Grow

Thomas B. Scheffey, The Connecticut Law TribuneMarch 14, 2014    |12 Comments

Increasingly angry tactics have been pervading the public inquiry into family court custody reform, triggering a fight-or-flight response from top members of the family bar.

Some are ready to throw in the towel, or at least take a long time out.

Dozens of lawyers who work as guardians ad litem (GALs) or attorneys for minor children are in the process of withdrawing their representation, or are no longer accepting such appointments.

For example, in the past 30 days, Steven Dembo, of Hartford’s Berman, Bourns, Aaron & Dembo, has asked to withdraw from four of his eight guardian ad litem appointments. The requests are due in part to increasing attacks of the work done by guardians ad litem on Internet websites and Facebook pages highlighting problems in Connecticut’s family courts.

At the Statewide Grievance Committee offices in East Hartford, the pace of grievances against family court guardians ad litem has risen to about three new complaints per week. “Three a week is outrageous,” said Geraldine Ficarro, of the Essex firm of Peck & Ficarro. Michael Bowler, bar counsel for the committee, said grievances are not tracked by law practice area, and are not public before actionable cause is found.

Ficcaro represents a Bloomfield woman in a high-conflict divorce case, Stevens v. Stevens. In that case, the guardian ad litem, Hartford lawyer Mary Bergamini, was the subject of a highly publicized grievance filing by Eric Stevens, accompanied by Hartford Democratic state representatives Minnie Gonzalez and Angel Arce.

On March 14, Bergamini asked to withdraw from the case in Hartford Superior Court. Bergammi said she’s made no decision on whether she will take additional GAL assignments in the future.

Other lawyers and law firms that are bowing out of the court-appointed work for the time being include Glastonbury-based Brown, Paindiris & Scott, Budlong & Barrett in Hartford, Jeffrey Mickelson in Hartford, and Barry Armata.

“In this atmosphere, really important issues are not being heard, due to the truly vicious nature of the attacks that are going on,” said Barbara Aaron, of Berman, Bourns. She and her firm focus on low-impact alternatives to adversarial litigation.

Another lawyer interviewed for this story asked to remain anonymous, out of fear for his family’s safety. “I’ve had a death threat before, many years ago,” in connection with family court representation. “My family doesn’t need this.”

What’s being said

  • Mar 19, 2014

    So interesting AFCC was brought up! AFCC is not ethical for judges to belong, as found in last years AMLA ethics finding. Yet they are on the board! Deb Kulack- who runs CSSD family relations implemented AFCC programing. She evaluates it. She is also a principal in AFCC. Mary Lou Giovannucci, who runs CSSD court operations is second. The third is a preferred vendor with a constant stream of referrals from courts and imposed by GALs is Linda Smith Phd. Family Commission is teeming with AFCC members. The same names that come up with accusations of collusion, especially the “mental health” professionals are on repeat: Collin, Horowitz, Krieger, Robeson, Black (thankfully dead now) Berkowitz, Linda Smith. Judges are the final say. Attorneys represent more than their wallet, this includes the family law attorneys who flip flop for each other serving as GAL in one case, attorney on the other. I know of a person whose attorney told her that her husband was filing for sole custody so she had to as well. His attorney told the husband she was filing for sole custody. Neither had any intention of that. So after nearly 450k in legal fees, including the largest portion to the GAL and substantial payments to evaluators, therapists, parent coaches, parent counselors, supervisors, etc. Incidentally- these people are AFCC members too.
    Corruption? Collusion? Yes.
    Litigants‘ Constitutional Rights go out the window, first is the actual notion of ‘best interest of the child” used as the color of law to nothing short of racketeering and extortion.

  • Mar 18, 2014

    I‘m new to this discussion, but I will be filing a grievance tomorrow against a GAL that went so far over the line of propriety that I have no choice.

  • Mar 18, 2014

    If Attorneys are withdrawing as Guardian Ad Litem‘s that means the system is improving. Family Attorneys have no business acting on behalf of children and deciding the fate of children. Family Attorneys are WAY to SELF CENTERED for that job.

    Attorneys withdrawing as Guardian Ad Litems? GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD RUBBISH!

  • Mar 18, 2014

    Legislative reform must include a heightened standard of proof prior to the State depriving a fit parent of their constitutional right to bring up their children. Legislative reform also needs include curtailing much of the power that’s been handed over to the family courts by limiting their “broad discretion” to basically do anything they want without having it disturbed on appeal. These matters are far too important and life altering to require anything less as a part of reform. Criminals are entitled to a standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt prior to having their right to liberty stripped from them. Compare that to fit parents, who are handed the preponderance of the evidence standard with unbridled discretion of the trial court prior to having a custody transfer. This combination falls far below even the civil standard. Parents deserve better than this… Justice requires change.

  • Mar 17, 2014

    There is something very wrong with the law in Connecticut when one minute you have full rights as a parent and the next minute as a result of nothing more than a suit being filed in family court all of your rights as a parent are swept out the window. The US Supreme Court has said that parents have fundamental liberty interests in the care, custody, control, and companionship of their children. These rights are individual in nature and can in no way depend on the marriage. The right to make parental decisions is a protected privacy right and as all attorneys know privacy rights are protected at strict scrutiny. Further, these “divorcing” parents are fit parents that are fundamentally no different than married fit parents. Yet the moment one of them files for divorce the State of Connecticut feels free to treat them as second class citizens and tell them that they no longer have a privacy right to make best interest determinations for their children. They are told that now a judge and a GAL will make those decisions. They have lost their most important constitutionally protected rights with no due process whatsoever and you have the gall to call them bitter. They are enraged that you would take their rights in this way and are learning from people like me how to fight for these constitutional rights.

    Ron B Palmer
    Constitutional Scholar in Family Law

  • Mar 17, 2014

    Congratulations Connecticut families. We‘re paralleling your efforts in California and hope to report progress soon.

    Cole Stuart
    California Coalition for Families and Children

  • Mar 17, 2014

    Government is of the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE, and by the PEOPLE. Not of the attorneys, by the attorney and for the judges. When one of our three branches of government goes astray and harms citizens, the other two must step in to take corrective action. Gone of the days when judges place gag orders on parents for daring to speak out about the abuses they have suffered in the family courts and how judges have denied children the right to see their parents solely to punish parents for daring what has been taken from them to pay horrific attorneys.

  • Mar 17, 2014

    Both the article suggesting that “an atmosphere of bitterness” has become pervasive in family courtrooms and the decision by various firms to withdraw from the GAL lists would be comical if they occurred on Saturday Night Live instead of in a state that is universally viewed as one of the laggards when it comes to protecting the rights of children in disputed custody cases. What happened, of course, was that ‘the user public‘ was given an unprecedented opportunity by the Task Force Hearings to speak out about their experiences. Until then, since communication was strictly one way, from judges, GALs, the family bar, evaluators and the like to families. As a result, any bitterness was restricted to the courtroom or, more typically, to the halls outside. So all that has changed is one-on opportunity for consumers to speak about their experience or at least the significant minority with grievances. Now that the Pandora‘s box is opened, there are two alternatives, to shut it again, restore the muzzle on critics of the Court or to set up a process to soberly assess charges of corruption, bias, exhorbitant fees, conflicts of interest, lack of appropriate training in basic issues such as domestic violence (largely dismissed at the moment behind euphemisms such as “high conflict.” Such an assessment cannot be carried out by the Court but requires independent facilitation and oversight by a Standing Task Force appointed by and accountable to the legislature and with significant representation from dissatisfied consumers. Evan Stark

  • Mar 17, 2014

    Good news for Connecticut families. This role has not been defined well by the statutes, perhaps on purpose to benefit the industry. It‘s also a role that has been exploited by many professionals using the judicial branch component to act like a collection agency. The acts that have been conducted from individuals filling this role has been incomprehensible. My vote is for the entire system of GAL to be removed from family court matters.

  • Mar 17, 2014

    I disagree with the perception that GAL‘s are being terrorized by angry parents.

    I will gladly show you the countless inappropriate threatening emails that the GAL in my case sent to me from threatening me with DCF to arrest for stalking.

    The only thing that is happening now is that the past GAL crimes are being exposed and the GAL‘s are concerned that prosecutors will be pursuing criminal charges against them or that they will be held liable for their past crimes.

    Parents are just now banding together to overcome the fear and PTSD that has been instilled in them by GAL‘s who for too long have run unsupervised.

    Hector Morera
    Glastonbury, CT

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