“This is truly legislation worth celebrating – even if the occasions that bring us to our state’s probate courts are often some of the most emotional and difficult times in our lives,” Governor Rell said at a bill-signing ceremony at the Canton Town Hall. “Probate courts deal with events such as the loss of a loved one, the future of a person who may no longer be able to live alone, parental rights and many other family matters. None of these issues are easy; all of them are poignant. So why ‘celebrate’ when we are talking about courts that deal with heartache and loss? Because we are making that system better.
“The legislation we celebrate today will give this centuries-old system a much-needed overhaul –professionalizing the system, making it vastly more efficient, requiring that all future probate judges be attorneys and putting the probate courts – which had been nearly bankrupt – back on a ‘paying basis,’” the Governor said. “And we are creating a system that is more responsive to the needs of people, because too many families have suffered too many abuses at the hands of the old system – a tragedy that only compounded their pain.
“This is a bill I am proud to say that I proposed – and one I am also proud to say that is the product of a great deal of work by my staff, by legislators from both parties and by the Judicial Branch,” Governor Rell said. “It was our intention not merely to make changes, but to make changes for the better – and we have.”
Probate courts have broad jurisdiction over a number of family matters. In addition to helping survivors settle estates the courts decide parental rights and guardianship for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.
Effective January 5, 2011, the old revenue system – largely funded by fees and approximately $2.5 million in state aid each year – will be replaced with one based on population and workload in which a judge’s compensation will be paid directly from a Probation Court Administration Fund overseen by the state Treasurer.
The new law requires the Treasurer to give the Governor and the Legislature a financial accounting of the Probate Court Administration Fund by October 1 of each year.
Other provisions of the bill include:
* Consolidating courts from 117 to between 44 and 50 courts – Redistricting will be recommended by a bi-partisan commission if the current probate judges cannot agree on the final number of courts
* Centralizing accounting and payroll functions in the Office of the Probate Court Administrator
* Requiring courts to operate 40 hours a week
* All new judges will be attorneys, members in good standing with the Connecticut Bar for not less than 10 years and residents of their districts
* Judges would continue to be elected
The Governor said a bipartisan commission, known as the Probate Assembly, will recommend redistricting by September 15, 2009, if probate judges cannot agree on the final number of courts. The Probate Assembly will be composed of two gubernatorial appointments, 10 legislative appointments and the Probate Court Administrator acting as a nonvoting, ex-officio member. The law requires that the Assembly’s redistricting plan be acted on in a special fall Legislative session.
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