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No Justice for Maine Parents

Posted by Ian M. L'Heureux | May 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

The Courts in Maine have utterly failed to protect access to justice for parents during the COVID-19 crisis. Since the beginning of March, the Courts have been operating on an extremely limited capacity and have severely restricted the case types that they are willing to hear.

 The unintended victim of these restrictions are the parents whose children are being withheld from them in violation of a court-ordered contact schedule. There has been no shortage of people willing to take advantage of the current COVID-19 outbreak, and among them are people using the crisis to weaponize their own children against the other parent.

 Our office now has more than a few clients whose children are being withheld from them by the opposing party under the guise of safety or obedience to the Governor's executive orders. This group includes parents that have now gone more than a month without seeing their children, despite being awarded primary residence by the courts.

 Under normal circumstances, such flagrant disregard for the law could be addressed by filing a motion for contempt in addition to a motion for expedited hearing which, under certain circumstances, would cause the issue to be addressed as quickly as possible.

 Motions for contempt, however, are one of many different types of hearings that the Court is currently not scheduling, meaning that parents finding themselves in this position have to wait for the Supreme Judicial Court to decide when to resume normal operations. Given a recent extension of the Governor's emergency proclamation, and nearly weekly updates to her reopening plan, it seems reasonable to anticipate at this point that the SJC will follow suit and continue to delay justice for parents who do not know the next time they will see their children.

 This isn't to say that the Courts couldn't start to hear these cases if they had the willingness to do so. Pursuant to PMO-SJC-1 (the Supreme Judicial Court's  first Pandemic Management Order) a Court can decide to hear a case type that is otherwise not being scheduled under “urgent and compelling” circumstances as long as it can be shown that the case can be heard using as few personnel as possible without the need for the physical presence of the attorneys or parties.

 Since Courts throughout Maine have thus far been using video conference technology to conduct business for the Unified Criminal Docket, I am extremely skeptical of any claim that we cannot be doing the same thing for parents who find themselves with no other recourse.

 Despite this, and despite numerous attempts to convince the Courts that these contempt situations (which border on parental kidnapping) are urgent and compelling, we have been denied at every turn. For some reason, it is possible for the Attorney General to gain access to the judicial system to shut down a restaurant, but it has not yet been possible for parents to gain access to the judicial system to be reunited with their children.

The judicial system from the top down is currently able, yet unwilling, to enforce its own orders when faced with complete and utter disregard for obedience to the law. Meanwhile, parents are being separated from their children and alienated from their lives. These parents are without recourse, and the Courts have told them that they are simply out of luck.

 The right to have a relationship with one's offspring has been recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States to be a fundamental Constitutional right. If the State can still gain access to the judicial system to use against citizens to take away their liberty and livelihoods, then individual citizens should be able to still gain access to the judicial system in order to protect and preserve their families.

About the Author

Ian M. L'Heureux

Ian L'Heureux is originally from Sanford, Maine and graduated from Norwich University, The Military College of Vermont, in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Afterwards, he worked for a year as a Juvenile Program Worker at Long Creek Youth Development Center before entering the Un...

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