I know District Court Judge Patricia Worth only from my law practice. I appeared before her on numerous occasions, and most of those cases were family court matters. My clients prevailed in many of those cases; in some other cases, my clients did not. Regardless of the outcome, each of my clients received a fair hearing and, on a macro level, justice was served.
An April 14 post to the BDN blog And Justice For All suggested that Worth consistently took rights away from deserving parents. Lawyers who testified in favor of Worth’s reappointment to the bench at a legislative hearing in March, the blog suggested, did so because to do otherwise would have been a significant professional risk.
My opinions of this judge and the reappointment process are not fueled by any desire to improve my relationship with Worth or any other judge. I am retired and do not practice before the court any longer. I have nothing to gain by writing this response.
The opinions in the blog are one-sided. Any person who has appeared before a judge and has an opinion about a judge has the right to appear before any panel considering a judge’s reappointment. Lawyers and other judicial officials should also appear because they have frequent firsthand experience before the judge who is being considered for reappointment.
But the blog questions the integrity of a lawyer who appears before the committee considering the judge’s reappointment. The blog, however, does not question the bias of the litigants who appeared before the judge, then testified against her reappointment at the March legislative hearing.
Needless to say, adverse decisions in family court matters oftentimes fuel intense hostile opinions of a judge. But adverse opinions do not mean that the judge was incorrect in that circumstance.
More often than not, in contested child-related issues, the court appoints a Guardian Ad Litem, or GAL, to help it in resolving contested matters. The GAL spends numerous hours with the litigants, children involved and knowledgeable individuals whom the litigants believe know the circumstances. More often than not, a judge follows the advice of the GAL, who has spent the time and has the knowledge to make equitable recommendations, which may not be to the liking of a litigant.
The blog references several litigants who are outraged by Worth’s family court decisions and her reappointment. I question how many of them actually appeared before her in a contested matter and whether these litigants received unfavorable GAL recommendations.
Since pro se litigants — those who represent themselves in court — do not understand established, long-standing legal principles in family matters or evidence that the court may consider in making decisions, they sometimes feel they have not received a fair hearing before a judge.
Needless to say, the judge and the reappointment committee are not at fault nor is the reappointment process broken because a litigant cannot afford counsel to help navigate the established rules involving family court matters and evidence.
Whether indigent litigants should receive court-appointed counsel in civil cases is a matter for fair debate by our highest courts or the Legislature.
With respect to Worth, my experience is that she is sensitive to pro se litigants proceeding unrepresented by counsel. This judge carefully warns pro se litigants of the difficulty of proceeding without counsel and fully explains to pro se litigants the issues that are important to the court in reaching a decision. Other judges do the same, but Worth is meticulous in her explanations.
Are there judges, GALs and attorneys who fail the public on occasion? Of course. The same is true in every profession and job category.
The Maine Bar Association conducts anonymous reviews of judges during the reappointment process. Favorable and unfavorable reviews by lawyers and other judicial officials are part of the reappointment process, despite the blog’s attempt to paint a different picture.
Robert J. Rubin of Rockport is a recently retired attorney who practiced law for 42 years in courts all over the country and, during the past 16 years, primarily in Maine.