Public comment given at the Auditor’s Roundtable on the Minnesota Guardian ad Litem program, published with permission.
If anyone else would like to publish their thoughts (you can remain anonymous) please leave a comment and we will include it. Thank-you!
Testimony from the State Auditor’s Roundtable of the MN Guardian ad Litem Program – 5/15/2017
I am here as a domestic violence survivor, and a mother, who has spent the last 11 years of my life involved in family court. If a GAL NOT been appointed to my case, it would have been resolved long ago, and my children would be protected from abuse.
The GAL program we currently have is terribly ineffective, abusive, damaging and does not in any way address the best interests of children. Yes, there are high-performing and dedicated GALs. I applaud their work. But too many cases exist concerning GAL misconduct, and recommendations that hurt children. Judges are issuing orders based on incomplete or inaccurate information presented by GALs, and then adopt their recommendations to the detriment of children. As a result, abusive, unfit parents are gaining custody of children at alarming rates. Children are being abused, traumatized and negatively impacted for the rest of their lives due to the failures in the GAL program. Many of these children become suicidal. Other children attempt to run away. The GAL program is failing to protect children and is contributing to escalated conflict in family court.
My story is an example of this. In 2006, I became homeless with two children after being assaulted by my ex. The abuse escalated after I left. He even had my cat euthanized and took pleasure in killing something I loved. But that was nothing compared to the battlefield I would find myself in when the abuser filed for sole custody and Jamie Manning was appointed as GAL. Jamie worked to advocate for the abuser – NOT the children. Her reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of my children resulted in both children being physically and emotionally abused after being placed in the custody of an identified abuser. Jamie also worked to remove me from the lives of my children. Every day I grieve the loss of my children. I didn’t even get to see them on Mother’s Day.
Despite overwhelming evidence of abuse, Jamie Manning worked to give the abuser SOLE custody. The abuse continued after my son was put into the care of his father, he grew despondent when no one would listen to his cries for help. At age 7 he tried to jump out of a window. The police and Children’s Crisis responded, admitted him to the hospital. Before my son could get the he needed, Jamie pressured the hospital to immediately release my son and put him back into the care of his abusive father; where he lives today.
I filed a complaint against Jamie Manning with the Program Manager, Laurie Kusek, who never responded. I filed a motion with the judge to have Jamie removed. After filing my motion, Jamie was given an attorney, Nancy Moehler, who aggressively defended her in court. As a pro se client I barely understood the legal system and now was battling two sets of attorneys. The judge chastised me for complaining about Jamie, and dismissed my motion. Jamie retaliated against me by forcing me into supervised visitation. When the supervisors determined that I am an appropriate parent and do not need services, Jamie limited contact with my children to 1 visit a month with no hope for increased time. The GAL Board has been made aware of numerous complaints against Jamie Manning and refuses to take action. So Jamie continues to be appointed to other cases and more children are being hurt.
Based on my experience along with research I have done, here are a few suggestions to improve the GAL program…
– Develop an annual GAL scorecard (that is published publicly)
– Include opportunities for public feedback when measuring outcomes in the GAL program.
– Create a central file to log and track complaints against GALs.
– Modify the mandated duties of a GAL to include a Code of Conduct. Include Conduct Training for GALs
– Similar to the Board on Judicial Standards, create an independent oversight board with authority to investigate GAL complaints and recommend disciplinary action
– Implement a human services model of management in the GAL program.
In Minnesota, GALs are treated as independent contractors in family law. The current system offers little oversight, and relies on family court judges to “police” GALs.
The current system also engages the GAL in the adversarial court process and demands that the GAL take a side… it is easy then for the GAL to overstep their boundaries, and lose the focus of their job: which is the children. A human service model of management is better suited to the GAL program because it keeps the focus on the child and is compatible with the multi-disciplinary approach recommended by the NCSC (National Center for State Courts).
There is still time to provide written comments concerning the Guardian ad Litem Program!
From an e-mail from Caitlin Badger, who is on the GAL audit team, ” It would be most helpful to us to have all comments submitted by the beginning of October, but we are happy to hear from people for the remainder of the calendar year (2017).”
PLEASE get the word out so people can submit concerns, or add any other feedback.
Contact Jodi Munson Rodríguez, program evaluation manager by e-mail at: email@example.com
Or, Caitlin Badger, Evaluator: Caitlin.Badger@state.mn.us