Topic:
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT; LEGISLATION; PROBATE COURT; STATE AID;
Location:
COURTS - PROBATE;

OLR Research Report


July 25, 2008

 

2008-R-0424

PROBATE COURT—INDIGENT PEOPLE

By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney

You asked (1) when the probate courts became responsible for the costs of their indigent clients, (2) how this change occurred, (3) what entity paid those costs before the change, and (4) is there any statute or regulation for the probate courts to be self-funding.

SUMMARY

The legislature passed laws in 1989 and 1990 that made probate courts, through the Probate Court Administration Fund, instead of appropriations from the General Fund, the source of funding for counsel fees, filing fees, and other costs associated with indigents who appear in probate court. Before these laws were enacted, indigent costs in probate court were paid for primarily from General Fund appropriations to the Judicial Branch. The law requires probate courts to waive the fees and costs of indigent persons who appear in probate court (CGS 45-111).

The legislature appears to have made this change to deal with significant budget problems the state was facing. These laws require that indigent costs be paid from the Probate Court Administration Fund, which is funded by assessments made on each probate court. The individual probate courts generate their funds by the fees they charge people who use them.

In 1996 the legislature amended the law to make the Judicial Department responsible for indigent costs, but only if, and only to the extent the legislature appropriated money from the General Fund to the Judicial Branch for this purpose.

The law requires that the probate courts, including salaries, supplies, health insurance, and indigent expenses be funded by fees it collects for the various services it provides (CGS 45a-74 to 45a-84). If there is insufficient money in the Probate Court Administration Fund to pay for the operation of the probate courts, funds must be transferred from the General Fund. This money must be paid back to the General Fund when the Probate Court Administration Fund shows a surplus. Thus far, no money has been transferred to the Probate Court Administration Fund under this provision (CGS 45a-83).

Since FY89/90 funding for indigent costs in probate courts has come from the Probate Court Administration Fund except for four consecutive fiscal years beginning in FY98/99 and in FY 05/06 in which a portion of the costs came from the judicial department' s budget. Table 3 below shows the amount of indigent funds paid from the Judicial Branch (General Fund) and the Probate Court Administration Fund from FY 78/79 through FY 06/07. This information was compiled by Vinnie Russo, Legislative Liaison for the Office of the Probate Court Administrator.

1989 LEGISLATION

Following in Table 1 is a summary of the legislative changes made in 1989 by PA 89-326 involving a shift from the General Fund to the Probate Court Administration Fund as the source of funds for indigent costs in the probate courts.

Table 1: Changes Made by PA 89-326

PA Section

Statute

Probate Court Proceeding

Indigent Costs

Old law

PA 89-326

2

CGS 17-178(b)

Commitment of mentally ill person

counsel for respondent

Funds appropriated to the Judicial Dept.

Probate Court Administration Fund

Table 1: -Continued-

PA Section

Statute

Probate Court Proceeding

Indigent Costs

Old law

PA 89-326

3

17-178(g)

Annual psychiatric review and judicial review of

involuntarily committed mental patient

(costs of doctor appointed to review patient continue to be paid by funds appropriated to the Department of Public Health (DPH) with rates that dept. establishes.)

All costs and expenses, including entry fees

Funds appropriated to the Judicial Dept.

Probate Court Administration Fund

(rates established by probate court administrator

Instead of Judicial Dept.

4

17-192

Application for the release of mentally ill patient from hospital-

All expenses

All application expenses paid by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) from appropriated funds according to rates it establishes

Same as above

4

17-192

Application for the release of mentally ill patient from hospital

Attorneys fees

Funds appropriated to Judicial Dept.

Rates by Jud. Dept.

Same as above

5

17-205d

Application. for commitment of mentally ill child

Attorney for the parents and child

Same as above

Same as above

6

19a-448

Involuntary placement with the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR)

Independent evaluation by psychologist and attorney for respondents

Same as above

Same as above

1990 LEGISLATION

Following in Table 2 is a summary of the legislative changes made in 1990 by PA 90-31 involving a shift from the General Fund to the Probate Court Administration Fund of the responsibility of paying the fees and costs for indigent people.

Table 2: Changes Made by PA 90-31

PA Section

Statute

Probate Court Proceedings

Indigent Costs

Old law

PA 90-31

1

17-183(c)

Commitment of mentally ill person under emergency certificate

Counsel fees for hearing to contest

Funds appropriated to Judicial Dept.

Probate Court Administration Fund, rates established by probate court administrator

2

45-17a

Probate court proceedings including service of process

Costs, fees, and expenses

Same as above

Probate Court Administration Fund

3

45-45(e)

Removal or reinstatement of parent as guardian and appointment of guardian

Counsel for child and respondents

Rates established and paid by funds appropriated to the Judicial Dept.

Rates established by the Probate Court Administrator

and paid by the Probate Court Administration Fund

4

45-61e

Petition filed for (1) termination of parental rights of child committed to commissioner of children and youth services, (2) petition to terminate parental rights, and (3) hearing on petition to terminate parental rights

Attorney's fees for petitioner

Same as above

Rates set by Probate Court Administrator

And paid from Probate Court Administration Fund

5

45-61f

Termination of parental rights hearing

Attorney's fees for counsel who represent respondent parent or child

Same as above

Same as above

5

45-61f

Termination of parental rights hearing

Cost of examination of child or parent by doctor

Funds appropriated to the Judicial Dept.

Probate Court Administration Fund

6

45-70c(b)

Proceeding for appointment of a conservator

Counsel fees for respondent

Rates set by and paid from funds appropriated to the Judicial Dept.

Rates set by the probate court administrator and paid from the Probate Court Administration Fund

Table 2: -Continued-

PA Section

Statute

Probate Court Proceedings

Indigent Costs

Old law

PA 90-31

7

45-325

Petition for the appointment of a guardian

Counsel fees for adult who is the subject of a petition

Same as above

Same as above

8

46b-172a

Paternity claim by putative father of child born out of wedlock

Guardian ad litem of child and for the mother if she is a minor

Funds appropriated to the Judicial Dept.

Probate Court Administration Fund

1996 LEGISLATION

In 1996, the legislature amended the law to make the Judicial Department responsible for indigent costs, only if, and only to the extent, the legislature appropriated money from the General Fund to the Judicial Branch for this purpose.

SOURCE OF EXPENDITURES FOR INDIGENT COSTS IN PROBATE COURT SINCE FY 78/79

Table 3 shows the amount of indigent funds paid from the General Fund and the Probate Court Administration Fund from FY 78/79 through FY 06/07. This information was compiled by Vinnie Russo, Legislative Liaison for the Office of the Probate Court Administrator.

Table 3: SOURCE OF EXPENDITURES FOR INDIGENT EXPENSES IN PROBATE COURT 1978 TO 2007

Budget Year

Expended Amount

 

General Fund

Probate Administration Fund

Total

78-79

$49,731

$0

$49,731

79-80

$48,000

$0

$48,000

80-81

$215,000

$0

$215,000

81-82

$129,675

$0

$129,675

82-83

$154,864

$0

$154,864

83-84

$205,406

$0

$205,406

84-85

$252,052

$0

$252,052

85-86

$253,606

$0

$253,606

86-87

$298,608

$0

$298,608

Table 3: -Continued-

Budget Year

Expended Amount

 

General Fund

Probate Administration Fund

Total

87-88

$192,929

$0

$192,929

88-89

$225,932

$0

$225,932

89-90

$0

$71,840

$71,840

90-91

$0

$264,710

$264,710

91-92

$0

$385,000

$385,000

92-93

$0

$480,000

$480,000

93-94

$0

$586,821

$586,821

94-95

$0

$742,136

$742,136

95-96

$0

$872,517

$872,517

96-97

$0

$994,661

$994,661

97-98

$0

$1,028,223

$1,028,223

98-99

$500,000

$641,541

$1,141,541

99-00

$500,000

$742,829

$1,242,829

00-01

$500,000

$814,509

$1,314,509

01-02

$400,000

$1,054,393

$1,454,393

02-03

$0

$1,501,237

$1,501,237

03-04

$0

$1,794,552

$1,794,552

04-05

$0

$2,740,847

$2,740,847

05-06

$25,000

$3,364,490

$3,389,490

06-07

$0

$3,719,341

$3,719,341

Total

$3,950,803

$21,799,647

$25,750,450

GC:ts