Gov. Rell’s Plan For Probate Court Consolidation

by Ryan McKeen

It’s also time for reform of our probate court system. Our system is antiquated and broken. I am proposing an overhaul that will reduce the number of courts, improve services and increase the hours of operation. It will also save money. Gov. Rell, 2/4/09

Here is the link to Governor’s Bill No. 6385 “An Act Concerning Reform of the Probate Court System.”

The bill, if passed, would result in a number of significant changes to Connecticut’s Probate Court System.

M. Jodi Rell

First, each judge of probate elected for a term that begins on or after January 5, 2011shall be a member of the Connecticut State Bar for not less than 10 years. I don’t think it’s that controversial that in 2009 we should expect our judges to have been seasoned attorneys. Of course, in the politics of probate court refrom, it seems everything is controversial.

Second, the bill calls for a consolidation of Connecticut’s probate courts from the 117 courts that we currently have to 36 probate courts by January 1, 2011.

The 36 new courts will correspond to the boundaries of state senatorial districts.

Judges will be elected. Governor Rell estimates that her plan will save the State 9 million dollars per year.

Here are my questions:

1. Will new facilities have to be built to house these consolidated courts? Most existing probate courts occupy small spaces in town halls. This would leave the probate courts with either building new facilities or having judges “ride the circuit.”

2. Will running for probate court judge require a candidate to campaign across a senatorial district? Running for State Senate is a lot of work as districts are large. In 2008, state senate candidates received $125,000 in public financing. Will probate judges be able to access public funds for a campaign?

Also, will the State dedicate enough resources to effectively implement consolidation. The consolidation of small claims courts has been an epic failure to this point. Connecticut can’t afford the same to happen to its probate courts.

If nothing else, the public hearings on probate court reform will be must see TV.