Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Attorney Speaks Out

"The present system of electing probate judges should be abolished ... The selection, retention and promotion of judges should be based upon merit and not primarily on political factors or seniority. The need for separate probate courts has not been demonstrated. The Circuit Court [should] be consolidated into a new court of general trial jurisdiction to also include the Superior Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the Probate Court and the Juvenile Court."

These recommendations were among the calls for action in the First Citizens Conference on the Connecticut Courts, adopted in May 1971 and sponsored by the American Judicial Society. The 750 attendees were broadly representative of the state's citizens. After the conference, they created the Connecticut Citizens for Judicial Modernization and spent the next 15 years supporting efforts to effectuate their recommendations.

When the General Assembly was considering the creation of a unified trial court in 1978, however, the sponsors cautioned that the merger should exclude the probate court because of the political power of the probate judges and their allies in the legislature, which might result in defeat of the legislation.

This resulted in the merger of all the trial courts except for the probate court; the establishment of a Judicial Selection Commission to screen candidates for judicial appointment, except judges of the probate court; establishment of a Judicial Review Commission to review complaints as to judges, except judges of the probate court; and consolidation of administrative and financial functions, except those of the probate court.

There are 117 probate courts staffed by a probate judge and clerks. The court's income comes from fees for filing documents and conducting hearings. A small amount is received from the state for matters relating to indigents.

In 2006, 56 probate judges received more than $50,000, 11 judges received more than $100,000 and 11 judges received a minimum of $20,000. All received health insurance and retirement benefits. With rare exception, the probate judges are part-time, and they are free to have other employment.

Some part-time judges have an active probate court practice that brings them before fellow judges. Judges appoint lawyers to serve as guardians, conservators, etc., and they are paid by the people involved or estates. Ethical issues have been reported.

Since 1978, studies have recommended restructuring or abolition of the probate court. But there has been little significant change aside from increasing the power of the probate court administrator, increasing fees and requiring more filings. Efforts to adopt the Uniform Probate Code, which would reduce the required filings by at least 50 percent, as well as the costs of probate, have been resisted — presumably because this would decrease the money needed to provide the salaries and benefits for the judges and their staffs.

•Peter L. Costas is a lawyer in Hartford. He was one of the managers of the First Citizens Conference on the Connecticut Courts and a legal adviser to the Connecticut Citizens for Judicial Modernization.

Full Article and Source:
Probate: Last Bastion Of Patronage

More information:
Only in Connecticut: Is real probate reform 'too much, too soon?

See also:
Non-Lawyer Judges Fight Reform

Will Reform Finally Happen?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for staying on top of the CT probate court "reform".

Looks like they've known it for 30 years and the judges have been winning.

I hope Gov. Rell changes things. Time to do business for the citizens of the state, not the judiciary.

Anonymous said...

Look how long they just "talk" and talk and talk and talk. Now's the time for real action.

Anonymous said...

"Full Article and Source:
Probate: Last Bastion Of Patronage" meaning:

PAY TO PLAY payoffs kickbacks for all involved all paid for by the ward all with court approval

StandUp said...

This article illustrates that when it comes down to it, reform is only talk. People have to keep the pressure and the heat on and never let up or nothing gets done and the talk fades to silence.

Anonymous said...

organized crime

Betty said...

Reform doesn't behoove them so they'll fight it all the way. And based on how long "talk" has been going on, they're doing pretty good.