OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 6385 (as amended by House “A” and “B”)*

AN ACT CONCERNING REFORM OF THE PROBATE COURT SYSTEM.

SUMMARY:

Effective January 5, 2011, this bill eliminates the current method of compensating probate court judges, which is primarily based on the fees the court collects, and replaces it with a new system based on population and workload in which a judge's compensation will be paid directly from the Probate Court Administration Fund. The bill establishes four classes or “bands” of probate courts based on the district's population and its annual weighted workload. The bill sets a probate judge's salary for courts in each band ranging from a low of 45% of a Superior Court judge's salary for band one to a high of 75% for band four courts. The current salary of a Superior Court judge is $ 146,780. The bill requires that each probate court remit all fees, costs, and other income it receives to the state treasurer to be credited to the Probate Court Administration Fund.

The bill requires that each probate judge elected for a term beginning on or after January 5, 2011, must be a member of the bar of the state of Connecticut. But this requirement does not apply to any judge who was in office on January 4, 2011, for the period the judge continues to serve on and after January 5, 2011, without a break in service.

The bill requires the probate court administrator to establish a budget committee consisting of the probate court administrator and two probate judges appointed by the Probate Assembly, which must establish (1) a compensation plan, which includes employee benefits, for probate court employees; (2) staffing levels for each probate court; and (3) a miscellaneous office budget for each court. The bill requires probate courts to be open at least 40 hours a week instead of 20 hours.

The bill establishes a probate redistricting commission to develop a plan to consolidate probate court districts. Under the plan, there must be at least 44 districts and no more than 50. The plan must be presented to the General Assembly for implementing legislation and be approved by the governor under procedures and deadlines the bill establishes. The commission must file a consolidation plan by September 15, 2009 except it may not submit a plan without the affirmative vote of at least seven commission members. The bill allows the Connecticut Probate Assembly to submit a redistricting plan that meets the criteria the bill establishes for the commission to consider. In developing it, the assembly may consider any voluntary consolidations towns have agreed to. The commission may consider any plan the assembly submits, but is not bound by it.

The bill authorizes a court to refer certain matters, with the consent of the parties or their attorneys, to a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee, new positions created by the bill.

The bill makes numerous other changes relating to the (1) probate court administrator's authority over probate courts, (2) payment for health insurance for retired probate judges and employees, (3) eligibility of probate judges for health insurance and retirement benefits, (4) retirement incentives for judges of courts that are merged, (5) appeals to special assignment probate judges, (6) reimbursement for indigency costs from funds appropriated to the judicial department, and (7) technical and conforming changes.

*House Amendment “A” replaces the former bill. Among other things it eliminates provisions of the original bill that (1) replaced the 117 probate court districts with 36 districts that correspond to the boundaries of state senatorial district and makes conforming changes relating to probate children's courts and the pilot program for youth in crisis; (2) require each judge of probate elected for a term that begins on or after January 5, 2011, to be a member of the bar of the state of Connecticut for at least 10 years; (3) change the way in which probate court judges are compensated by requiring that each probate court judge's salary be set by the probate court administrator based upon the weighted workload of each judge's district, but specifies that no probate court judge may receive an annual salary of under $ 80,000 or more than $ 110,000; and (4) require the probate court administration to annually review the salary of each probate court judge.

*House Amendment “B” eliminates a provision that prohibits elections held before November 2, 2010 to fill a vacancy or pending vacancy.

EFFECTIVE DATE: From passage, except (1) October 1, 2009 for the provisions dealing with retirement incentives for probate judges of courts that are merged, the requirement that probate judges be licensed attorneys, the ability of probate magistrates and attorney probate referees attending probate court assembly meetings or educational programs, and defects in the form of an appeal to superior court; (2) January 1, 2011 for those provisions dealing with transfers from the probate court administration fund to the probate court retirement fund and funding of probate courts from the probate court administration fund, probate court budgets, payment of premiums for medical and dental insurance for retired probate judges and employees, eligibility for retirement benefits, the requirement that each probate court remit all fees, costs, and other income to the probate court administration fund, hours of court operation, and reimbursement for indigency costs; and (3) January 5, 2011 for those dealing with eligibility for medical insurance plans for probate judges, compensation bands for probate court districts and judges, appeal appointment of probate magistrates and attorney probate referees, creation of probate magistrates and attorney probate referees, and temporary funding of probate courts.

1 — PROBATE COURT ADMINISTRATOR'S AUTHORITY OVER PROBATE COURTS

The law authorizes the probate court administrator to issue and enforce regulations binding on probate courts concerning the following matters for the administration of the probate court system: (1) auditing, accounting, statistical, billing, recording, filing, and other court procedures; (2) reassigning and transferring cases; (3) training of court personnel and continuing education programs for judges of probate and court personnel; and (4) enforcing the provisions of the law dealing with the probate court administrator's powers and duties and the regulations issued pursuant to law, including, but not limited to, recovery of expenses associated with any such enforcement, as permitted by such regulations.

This bill expands the probate court administrator's authority to include adopting regulations concerning:

1. training probate magistrates and attorney probate referees;

2. remitting funds received by the probate courts under the bill to the Probate Court Administration Fund;

3. administering the compensation plan the bill establishes;

4. establishing criteria for staffing levels for the courts;

5. establishing criteria for developing and approving miscellaneous office budgets for the probate courts; and

6. expending funds from the Probate Court Administration Fund for these four additional areas of authority.

2 — PROBATE COURT ADMINISTRATION FUND, PROBATE COURT RETIREMENT FUND, AND THE GENERAL FUND

The law requires monthly transfers from the Probate Court Administration Fund to the Probate Court Retirement Fund to enable the retirement fund to meet its obligations until the Retirement Commission certifies that the retirement fund is on a sound actuarial basis. By July 1st annually, the Retirement Commission must certify to the state treasurer, on the basis of an actuarial determination, the amount to be transferred to the retirement fund to maintain the actuarial funding program adopted by the Retirement Commission.

Under current law, if the Retirement Commission certifies that the Probate Court Retirement Fund is no longer on a sound actuarial basis, transfers from the Probate Court Administration Fund to the retirement fund must be resumed until the Retirement Commission again certifies that the retirement fund is on a sound actuarial basis, at which time transfers from this fund to the General Fund resume.

The bill requires the Retirement Commission to provide notice to the General Assembly and the governor when it certifies that the retirement fund is (1) not on a sound actuarial basis, and (2) is again on a sound actuarial basis and transfers from the Probate Court Administration Fund to the General Fund must be resumed.

Current law requires that, if any probate court receives income that is insufficient to meet, on an ongoing basis, the reasonable and necessary financial needs of that court, including the salaries of the judge and the judge's staff, funds must be transferred from the Probate Court Administration Fund, which the probate court administrator determines to be reasonable and necessary for the proper administration of the court. The bill instead requires that there be transferred from time to time from the Probate Court Administration Fund such budgeted amounts as are established in accordance with the bill or such expenditures authorized by law for the proper administration of each court. The bill requires that on June 30, 2011, and annually thereafter, any surplus funds in the Probate Court Administration Fund be transferred to the General Fund.

The bill eliminates a provision in current law that a judge's annual salary cannot exceed the average annual salary of such judge for the three-year period immediately preceding the request for financial assistance or the product resulting from multiplying $ 15 by the annual weighted-workload of the court, as defined by law, whichever is greater, but not to exceed a certain limit established by law.

3 — PROBATE COURT BUDGETS

By law, by April 1 of each year, the probate court administrator must prepare a proposed budget for the next succeeding fiscal year beginning July 1, for the appropriate expenditures of funds from the Probate Court Administration Fund to carry out the statutory duties of the probate court administrator. The bill requires that this proposed budget reflect all costs related to the Office of the Probate Court Administrator and the operation of the probate courts, including, (1) compensation, (2) group hospitalization, and medical and surgical insurance plans, and (3) retirement benefits for probate judges and employees. The bill specifies that expenditures in the proposed budget may not exceed anticipated available funds.

Under current law, the probate court administrator may authorize expenditures from the Probate Court Administration Fund for emergency purposes as from time to time may be necessary if the aggregate amount for any fiscal year does not exceed $ 5,000. A report on each such expenditure must be sent to the chief court administrator and the president judge of the Connecticut Probate Assembly within 10 days after the expenditure is made. The bill instead requires the report to the chief court administrator and the president judge if the expenditure for emergency purposes exceeds $ 10,000, and eliminates the $ 5,000 limit.

4 — FUNDING OF PROBATE COURTS AND SALARIES FOR PROBATE JUDGES

The bill makes the current law regarding the funding of probate courts only apply to the income the courts receive before January 5, 2011.

Under current law, the funding of the probate courts, including the compensation of judges, is derived from the statutory fees charged to the users of the court. From these fees, the judge must pay the costs of operating the court, including staff salaries, but excluding the judge's compensation. The net income, after payment of those expenses, is applied to a statutory formula that determines the amount of the assessment the judge must pay into the Probate Court Administration Fund, administered by the treasurer. The judge keeps the balance as compensation. Currently, compensation ranges from under $ 10,000 to the maximum of $ 110,085. Under current law the maximum amount a probate judge may receive may not exceed 75% of the compensation of a Superior Court judge.

Under current law if any probate court receives income that is insufficient to meet the court's reasonable and necessary financial needs, including the salaries of the judge and the judge's staff, the probate court administrator must transfer from the probate court administration fund whatever he or she determines to be reasonable and necessary to properly administer that court. Also under current law, each judge asking for financial assistance must file with the probate court administrator a sworn statement showing the actual gross receipts and itemized expenses of the judge's court and the amount requested, together with an explanation.

5 — COMPENSATION OF JUDGES WHO LEAVE OFFICE OR DIE WHILE IN OFFICE

Under current law, if a probate judge leaves office or dies while in office, the judge's successor must pay to such judge or the personal representative of a deceased judge an amount representing the accounts receivable for payments due the court as of the date of separation or death. Determination of the basis for such accounts receivable including computation for work in process must be made in accordance with regulations issued by the probate court administrator.

Under current law, deductions may be made for costs to collect the amount due the court, and any expenses directly attributable to the outgoing judge's or deceased judge's term of office paid by the successor judge.

The bill limits these requirements to any judge in office on or before January 4, 2011. The bill specifies that these requirements do not apply to a judge who is first elected on or after January 5, 2011, or who resumes office after a break in service on or after January 5, 2011.

On and after January 5, 2011, any payments due a judge who leaves office or dies in office must be paid from the Probate Court Administration Fund.

6 — GROUP HOSPITALIZATION AND MEDICAL AND SURGICAL INSURANCE AND DENTAL INSURANCE PLAN FOR THE PROBATE JUDGES AND EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT

By law, the comptroller, with the attorney general's and insurance commissioner's approval, must arrange and procure a group hospitalization and medical and surgical insurance and dental insurance plan for the probate judges and employees retirement system with coverage equal to that available to retired state employees and their spouses and surviving spouses, which retirees or their surviving spouses may elect to participate in.

Under current law, the premium charged for the group hospitalization and medical and surgical portion of the coverage must be paid from the retirement fund, which consists of amounts transferred from the Probate Court Administration Fund and contributions from probate court employees and judges. The retirement fund pays 20% of the dental portion of the premium and the participant pays 80%. The bill instead requires that (1) the premium charged for any such member and spouse or surviving spouse who elects to participate be paid from funds appropriated to the state comptroller, for Fringe Benefits, for Retired State Employees Health Service Cost, and (2) 20% of the premium charged for the group dental portion of such coverage be paid from these appropriated funds, and the remainder be paid by the participant.

The bill also requires that on July 1, 2011, and monthly thereafter, the state treasurer must transfer from the General Fund to the comptroller the amount of premium due for the month as certified by the comptroller.

7 — HOSPITALIZATION AND MEDICAL AND SURGICAL PLAN FOR PROBATE JUDGES

Effective January 5, 2011, to be eligible to participate in the hospitalization and medical and surgical plan for probate judges, a probate court judge must work as a probate judge at least 20 hours per week, on average, on a quarterly basis and certify to that fact on forms provided by and filed with the probate court administrator, on or before the fifteenth day of April, July, October, and January, for the preceding calendar quarter.

8 — PROBATE COURT JUDGE AND EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT BENEFITS ELIGIBILITY

Under current law, in order to be eligible for retirement benefits under the probate court retirement system, probate court employees and those who work under a contract of employment must work more than 430 hours a year. There is no minimum requirement for probate court judges. The bill instead requires that to be eligible:

1. employees who are first employed by a court, or perform work under an employment contract for a court, on or after January 1, 2011 must work at least 1,000 hours a year, and

2. judges first elected for a term beginning on or after January 5, 2011, must work as a judge for at least 1,000 hours a year as determined in information the judge files with the probate court administrator under the bill.

9 — RETIREMENT INCENTIVES TO JUDGES OF COURTS THAT ARE MERGED

Under current law, any probate judge whose probate district is merged with another district and who has not been elected to a term which begins at the time of, or after the merger, may elect:

1. to receive four years of credited service,

2. to receive a reduction of his or her retirement age of not more than four years, or

3. any combination of credited service and reduction of retirement age that does not exceed four years in total.

The bill limits this to judges whose courts are merged on or before January 5, 2011. Also, it permits a judge to elect to receive credited service or a reduction of retirement age at any time once the judge becomes eligible to retire and receive retirement benefits.

10 — PROBATE COURT ADMINISTRATION FUND

The bill requires each probate court to remit all fees, costs, and other income received by law to the state treasurer to be credited to the Probate Court Administration Fund. The bill specifies that expenses paid by a town to provide court facilities are not remitted to the Probate Court Administration Fund.

11 — PROBATE BUDGET COMMITTEE

The bill requires the probate court administrator to establish a Probate Court Budget Committee consisting of the probate court administrator and two probate judges appointed by the Probate Assembly. The probate court administrator must serve as chairperson.

The bill requires the committee to establish by June 30, 2010, and annually thereafter, in accordance with the criteria established in regulations the probate court administrator issues:

1. a compensation plan, which includes employee benefits, for probate court employees;

2. staffing levels for each probate court; and

3. a miscellaneous office budget for each court.

The compensation plan, staffing levels, and office budgets must be established within the expenditures and anticipated available funds in the proposed budget established pursuant to the bill.

The bill requires that by June 30, 2010, and annually thereafter, the Probate Court Budget Committee report to the governor and the General Assembly, after consulting with the Office of the Chief Court Administrator and the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, on the committee's efforts to reduce costs and any potential cost saving measures resulting from probate court mergers effective on or after the governor signs the bill.

12 — PROBATE DISTRICTS-COMPENSATION BANDS

The bill establishes 4 classes or “bands” of probate courts. The classification is based on the district's population and its annual weighted workload. The bill specifies that “population” means the annual population estimate by the Department of Public Health for each city or town as of October 1 of the immediately preceding calendar year. “Annual weighted-workload” means the annual weighted-workload for the immediately preceding fiscal year as defined by regulations the probate court administrator adopts pursuant to the bill.

Band 1 Probate District

A “band 1 probate district” means a probate district that has a population of fewer than 40,000.

Band 2 Probate District

A “Band 2 probate district” is a probate district with:

1. a population of at least 40,000 but fewer than 50,000, or

2. a population of fewer than 40,000 thousand with an annual weighted-workload of at least 3,000 but less than 4,100.

Band 3 Probate District

A “Band 3 probate district” is a district with:

1. a population of at least 50,000 but fewer than 60,000, or

2. fewer than 50,000 with an annual weighted-workload of at least 4,100 but less than 4,900.

Band 4 Probate District

A “Band 4 probate district” is a probate district with:

1. a population of 60,000 or more, or

2. fewer than 60,000 people with an annual weighted-workload of at least 4,900.

13 — COMPENSATION OF JUDGES

The bill requires compensation of probate court judges to be determined by applying a certain percentage to the salary of a Superior Court judge. The percentages range from 45% for a band 1 probate district to 75% for a band 4 district. The percentages are specified in Table 1. The current salary of a Superior Court judge is $ 146,780.

Table 1: Compensation of Probate Court Judges

Band

Percentage of Superior Court Judge's Salary

Probate Judge's Salary under the Bill based on Current Superior Judge's Salary

1

45%

$ 66,051

2

55%

$ 80,729

3

65%

$ 95,407

4

75%

$ 110,085

Minimum Compensation

Under the bill, no probate judge in office on January 4, 2011, may, for the term of office beginning January 5, 2011, and ending January 6, 2015, receive compensation that is less than 80% of the average annual compensation for a judge of probate serving in that probate district for the three-year period from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2010. This does not apply to a judge whose district results from a merger that becomes effective on January 5, 2011, or to a person first elected to serve as a judge for a term beginning on or after January 5, 2011.

Compensation for Partial Years in Office

The bill requires that for any calendar year, the compensation of any judge who assumes office or ceases to hold office during that year must be determined by multiplying the judge's annual compensation determined in accordance with the bill by a fraction with the number of days served during the calendar year as the numerator and 365 as the denominator.

14 — APPEALS TO SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT PROBATE JUDGES

The law allows anyone aggrieved by a probate court decision to appeal to the Superior Court. The bill allows the aggrieved party to mail a copy of the complaint to the probate court that made the decision instead of serving a copy on the court.

With certain exceptions the bill establishes, the bill allows the Superior Court to refer appeals from a probate court decision to a special assignment probate judge assigned by the probate court administrator for the purposes of such appeals, except the appeal must be heard by the Superior Court if any party files a demand in writing with the Superior Court that such appeal be heard by the Superior Court (see BACKGROUND). Any demand must be filed within 20 days after service of appeal.

The bill requires that an appeal referred to a special assignment probate judge must proceed in accordance with the rules for referrals set forth in the rules of the judges of the Superior Court.

Matters that May Not be Referred to Special Assignment Probate Judge

The bill specifies that appeals from the following matters may not be referred to a special assignment probate judge:

1. commitment of mentally ill children (CGS 17a-75 to 17a-83);

2. placement of any person found to be mentally retarded with the Department of Developmental Services for placement in any appropriate setting (CGS 17a-274);

3. commitment of people with psychiatric disabilities (CGS 17a-495 to 17a-528);

4. procedures governing medication, treatment, psychosurgery, and shock therapy (CGS 17a-543);

5. administration of medication to criminal defendants placed in the custody of the commissioner of mental health and addiction services (CGS 17a-543a);

6. application for involuntary commitment due to alcohol or drug dependency (CGS 17a-685 to 17a-688);

7. guardianship matters, termination of parental rights, adoptions, claims for paternity, emancipation, and voluntary admission to the Department of Children and Families of any child or youth who could benefit from any of the services offered by or administered by or available to the department (CGS 45a-8a);

8. conservators (CGS 45a-644 to 45a-684);

9. guardians of persons with mental retardation (CGS 45a-668 to 45a-684):

10. sterilization (CGS 45a-690 to 45a-700); and

11. any matter in a probate court heard on the record (CGS 51-72 and 51-73).

15 — REQUIREMENT THAT PROBATE JUDGES BE LICENSED ATTORNEYS

The bill requires that each probate judge elected for a term that begins on or after January 5, 2011, must be a member of the bar of the state of Connecticut. But this requirement does not apply to any judge who was in office on January 4, 2011, for the period the judge continues to serve as a probate judge on and after January 5, 2011, without a break in service.

16 — HOURS OF OPERATION

The bill requires probate courts to be open at least 40 hours a week instead of 20 hours, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, on a regular schedule between the hours of 8: 00 a. m. and 5: 00 p. m. By law, the judge may close a court temporarily because of bad weather, an emergency, or other good cause, and must immediately give notice of a temporary closing to the probate court administrator, with the reason for the closing and the date and time when the court will reopen.

17 — REIMBURSEMENT FOR INDIGENCY COSTS

By law, if the court finds that an applicant is unable to pay required probate fees and costs it must waive them.

Under current law, any waived fee must be reimbursed to the probate court from funds appropriated to the Judicial Department. But if funds have not been included in the Judicial Department's budget for such purposes, the payment must be made from the Probate Court Administration Fund pursuant to rules and regulations established by the probate court administrator. The bill eliminates these reimbursement requirements.

18 — COMMITTEE APPOINTMENTS REPLACED BY PROBATE MAGISTRATES AND ATTORNEY PROBATE REFEREES

Under current law, in any matter pending in any probate court, the court may appoint a committee of a disinterested person or a former probate judge to hear the matter. The former judge must be selected from a panel of judges provided by the probate court administrator. If the court accepts the committee's findings, it must issue a decree and if the court rejects the findings, it may hear and determine the matter or appoint a different committee to hear the matter and report its findings.

The bill eliminates this authority and instead authorizes a court to refer the matter, with the consent of the parties or their attorneys, to a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee assigned by the probate court administrator under the bill. The bill exempts involuntary patient, involuntary commitment, temporary custody, and involuntary representation matters from the court's authority to refer it.

Under current law, the committee must hear the matter and report its findings within 30 days after the hearing to the court. The bill instead requires the probate magistrate or attorney probate referee to hear the matter and file a report with the court on his or her findings of fact and conclusions within 60 days after the hearing ends.

The bill allows the magistrate or referee to file an amendment to the report with the court before the court accepts, modifies, or rejects it. The probate clerk must provide a copy of the report or amendment to the report to the parties and their attorneys when it is filed with the clerk.

Any party aggrieved by a finding of fact or a conclusion in a report or amendment to a report may file an objection with the court within 21 days after the date the report was filed.

The bill requires the court to hold a hearing on the report and any amendment to the report or objection filed at least 21 days after the report is filed. The bill requires the court to determine whether to accept, modify, or reject the report or any amendment to the report within 30 days after the hearing ends. The court may modify or reject a report or amendment if it finds that the probate magistrate or attorney probate referee has materially erred in his or her findings or conclusions, or there are other sufficient reasons why the report or amendment should not be accepted.

If the court rejects the report and any amendment to it, the court may hear and determine the matter or, with the consent of the parties or their attorneys, refer the matter to a different probate magistrate or attorney probate referee to hear the matter and report his or her findings of fact and conclusions. If the court accepts or modifies the report or amendment, the court must issue a decree.

The bill requires the court to give notice to the parties and their attorneys of the time and place of any hearing.

Under current law, the committee must be sworn to faithfully perform the duties of its appointment and has all the powers conferred by law upon probate courts to compel the attendance of witnesses and punish contempt. The bill instead requires that each probate magistrate and attorney probate referee be sworn to faithfully perform the duties of a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee, as the case may be, and have all the powers the law gives probate judges to compel witnesses to attend and punish contempt.

Under current law, the committee's fees cannot exceed $ 250 a day and must be set by the court and paid by the executor, administrator, trustee, conservator, guardian, or other party to the action, or by the court pursuant to regulations established by the probate court administrator. If a party is unable to pay the fees and files an affidavit with the court demonstrating an inability to pay, the reasonable compensation of the committee must be established by the probate court administrator from the Probate Court Administration Fund. The bill eliminates these requirements and limits.

19 & 20 — PROBATE MAGISTRATES

Qualifications

The bill establishes the position of probate magistrate to hear matters referred under the bill. It allows any former probate judge less than 70 years of age, other than a probate judge receiving a retirement allowance due to permanent and total disability, who is an elector in Connecticut to be eligible for nomination, appointment, or assignment as a probate magistrate.

Nomination and Appointment

The bill authorizes the probate court administrator to nominate former probate judges who meet these requirements to serve as probate magistrates, and requires him to create a list of nominees to the Supreme Court's chief justice and update the list as necessary. The bill authorizes the chief justice to appoint probate magistrates from this list for a term of three years and inform the probate court administrator of such appointments. The probate court administrator assigns probate magistrates from those appointed by the chief justice.

Compensation

Each probate magistrate receives $ 50 per hour up to $ 250 for each day the probate magistrate is engaged as a probate magistrate, from the Probate Court Administration Fund, in addition to any retirement salary the probate magistrate is entitled to receive. The bill specifies that service as a probate magistrate does not constitute credited service for purposes of health, retirement, or other benefits.

Services Magistrates Perform

The bill authorizes probate magistrates to conduct hearings and prepare a report or amendment to a report in connection with any matter referred by a probate court judge.

19 & 20 — ATTORNEY PROBATE REFEREES

The bill establishes the unpaid position of attorney probate referees for the purpose of hearing matters referred by probate court judges. The bill makes anyone eligible for nomination, appointment, and assignment as an attorney probate referee who (1) has been licensed to practice law in Connecticut and in good standing for at least five years, (2) is an elector of Connecticut, and (3) is under 70 years of age. They must serve without compensation.

Nomination

The bill authorizes the probate court administrator to nominate individuals who meet these requirements. It also authorizes any probate court judge to recommend a qualified nominee to the probate court administrator, requires the probate court administrator to consider the recommendation before making a nomination, and specifies that he or she does not have to follow it. The bill requires that the probate court administrator ensure geographic, racial, and ethnic diversity among individuals he or she nominates as attorney probate referee.

Appointment and Assignment

The bill requires the probate court administrator to provide a list of nominees to the Supreme Court's chief justice and update the list as necessary. The chief justice must make appointments from the list for a term of three years and inform the probate court administrator of the appointments. The probate court administrator must assign attorney probate referees.

Reports to the Governor and General Assembly

By January 1, 2011, and annually thereafter, the probate court administrator must submit an annual report to the governor and the Judiciary Committee that includes:

1. the number of attorney probate referees nominated, appointed, and assigned during the prior calendar year and

2. an analysis of the geographic, racial, and ethnic diversity of attorney probate referees nominated, appointed, and assigned during the prior calendar year.

Continuing Education

The bill requires each probate magistrate and attorney probate referee to complete continuing education programs the probate court administrator establishes by regulation.

Certain Restrictions Do Not Apply

The bill specifies that the prohibition against probate judges appearing as attorney in any contested manner, and partners or associates of probate judges not practicing law in the judge's court do not apply solely because a person was nominated, appointed, or assigned as a probate magistrate or an attorney probate referee.

Probate Court Assembly

The bill authorizes probate magistrates or attorney probate referees to attend any annual or special meeting of the Probate Assembly or any educational program of the assembly, but specifies that they have no vote in any decision of the assembly.

21 — PROBATE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION

The bill establishes a probate redistricting commission to develop a plan to consolidate probate court districts in accordance with the bill's requirements.

The probate redistricting commission consists of the following member:

1. two each appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president pro tempore of the Senate; the minority leader of the House; and the minority leader of the Senate;

2. one each appointed by the majority leader of the House and the Senate;

3. two appointed by the Governor; and

4. the probate court administrator as a nonvoting , ex-officio member.

Any member of the probate redistricting commission appointed may be a (1) member of the General Assembly or (2) probate judge.

All appointments to the commission must be made within 30 days after the governor signs the bill. Any vacancy must be filled by the appointing authority.

The probate court administrator must schedule the commission's first meeting within 45 days after the governor signs the bill. There must be one chairperson selected by and from among the commission's voting members. The Office of the Probate Court Administrator must provide administrative support including clerical staff and supplies.

The commission terminates on the date a redistricting plan is enacted by the General Assembly and approved by the governor, or by February 3, 2010, whichever is earlier.

22 — REDISTRICTING PLAN

Criteria

The bill requires the probate redistricting commission to develop a probate court plan for consolidating the probate court districts. Under the plan, there must be at least 44 districts and no more than 50. In creating the plan, the bill directs the commission to consider a requirement that no municipality may be included in more than one probate court district. It also directs the commission to consider a requirement that each district must have either:

1. at least 40,000 people according to the last annual population estimate by the Department of Public Health as of October 1, 2008, for each city or town, or

2. an annual weighted-workload of the court of 3,000, calculated under the bill's provisions.

But the bill allows the plan to establish probate court districts that do not meet either the population or workload requirement if the plan takes into consideration the following criteria:

1. the court's geographic accessibility to residents of the proposed district;

2. the availability of municipal facilities to house the probate court; and

3. communities of interest among municipalities sharing a proposed probate court district.

Finally, the bill allows the commission to consider any other criteria it deems appropriate and necessary.

The plan must include recommended amendments to any statute necessary to implement it.

Connecticut Probate Assembly Plan

The bill allows the Connecticut Probate Assembly to submit a plan for redistricting to the commission within 45 days after the governor signs the bill as long as the plan meets the criteria the bill establishes. In developing the plan, the assembly may consider any voluntary consolidations towns have agreed to. The commission may consider any plan the assembly submits, but is not bound by it.

The redistricting commission must hold a public hearing on any plan the assembly submits and may hold a public hearing on any other subject it deems appropriate.

Deadline for Filing Plan

By September 15, 2009, the commission must file a consolidation plan with the House and Senate clerks except the commission may not submit a plan unless it has received the affirmative vote of at least seven commission members. The commission must file a copy of the plan with the governor when it files it with the clerks.

Procedure for Considering the Plan

When the report is filed with the clerks, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore must convene the General Assembly in special session for the sole purpose of considering and voting on the plan. Upon the request of the speaker and the president pro tempore, the secretary of the state must give notice of the special session by (1) mailing a copy of the call, by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, to each House and Senate member at his or her address as it appears upon the records of the secretary within 10 to 15 days before the date of convening the session or (2) causing a copy of the call to be delivered to each member by a constable, state policeman, or indifferent person at least 24 hours before the time of convening it.

The bill requires the General Assembly to convene to consider the plan within 20 days after the commission submits it to the clerks.

If the General Assembly fails to enact legislation to implement the plan, within 30 days after it is filed with the House and Senate clerks, or the Governor fails to approve the legislation, the commission must reconvene to develop a revised probate redistricting plan and file it with the House and Senate clerks within 30 days after the prior plan failed to be enacted or approved.

Upon the filing of the revised plan, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore must convene the General Assembly within 20 days after it is filed with the clerks. If the House or Senate has adjourned the special session convened to consider the firs plan, convene the General Assembly in special session in the same manner the bill requires it to be convened when the initial plan is submitted.

The revised probate redistricting plan must be considered and transmitted in the same way the bill requires the initial plan to be considered and transmitted.

Termination of the Commission

The probate redistricting commission must terminate on the date a redistricting plan is approved by the General Assembly and the Governor, or by February 3, 2010, whichever is earlier.

24 — DEFECTS IN THE FORM OF AN APPEAL TO SUPERIOR COURT

Under current law, if there is any defect in the form of an appeal taken to the Superior Court from a probate court decision, the person who is appealing may obtain from the probate court an amendment to the appeal correcting the defect, as long as the order for amendment is granted within 90 days after the date of the order, denial, or decree of the probate court from which the appeal was taken. The bill eliminates this right to get a correcting amendment.

25 — TEMPORARY FUNDING OF PROBATE COURTS

The bill eliminates a law that allows the probate court administrator to advance temporary funding of the operation of a probate court from the Probate Court Administration Fund with the Chief Court Administrator's approval.

BACKGROUND

Process for Adopting Probate Court Rules

By law, either the probate court administrator or the executive committee of the Connecticut Probate Assembly may propose regulations the law authorizes the probate court administrator to adopt. Any regulation proposed by the probate court administrator must be submitted to the executive committee of the Connecticut Probate Assembly for approval. Any regulation proposed by the executive committee of the Connecticut Probate Assembly must be submitted to the probate court administrator for approval. If either the probate court administrator or the executive committee of the Connecticut Probate Assembly fails to approve a proposed regulation, it may be submitted to a panel of three Superior Court judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The panel must either approve or reject the proposed regulation (CGS 45a-77(c)(1)).

The law also requires that any proposed new regulation and any change in an existing regulation be submitted to the Judiciary Committee for approval or disapproval in its entirety. If more than one proposed new regulation or change in an existing regulation is submitted at the same time, the committee must approve or disapprove all such proposed new regulations and changes in existing regulations in their entirety (CGS 45a-77(c)(2)).

Special Assignment Probate Judge

The law requires that special assignment probate judges be appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, on nomination by the probate court administrator, from among the judges of probate. A nominee must have demonstrated the special skill, experience, or expertise necessary to serve as a special assignment probate judge. The law requires the probate court administrator to issue regulations to establish requirements concerning the responsibilities of special assignment probate judges and the number, geographic distribution, and expertise of such judges. A special assignment probate judge serves at the chief justice's pleasure (CGS 45a-79b).

Related Bill HB 6027

HB 6027, File 730, favorable reported by the Judiciary Committee on April 1, alters the way probate court judges are compensated by replacing the current system that is primarily based on court revenue and instead using a system based on population and workload. The new system would become effective January 5, 2011 but would require that for the compensation of judges in office on January 4, 2011, for a term beginning January 5, 2011 and ending January 6, 2015, could not be less than 80% of the average annual compensation the judge received for the three-year period from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2010.

The bill centralizes more control over the operation of each probate court by requiring the probate court administrator to establish a Probate Budget Committee consisting of the probate court administrator and two probate judges appointed by the probate assembly that must establish (1) a compensation plan, which includes employee benefits, for probate court employees; (2) staffing levels for each probate court; and (3) a miscellaneous office budget for each court. The bill makes them binding on the probate courts.

Concerning probate district consolidation, the bill requires the probate court administrator to establish a planning committee for each of nine probate regions he establishes. It requires the committees to seek opportunities to consolidate probate courts into regional probate districts, and to submit a report to the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees by November 15, 2009 containing its recommendations for creating regional probate districts by January 5, 2011. It also establishes certain retirement incentives for certain probate judges and probate court employees.

It permits Superior Court judges to refer certain appeals from probate court to special assignment probate judges.

The bill appropriates to the Office of the Probate Court administrator's office from the General Fund, $ 4,000,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, and $ 8,400,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, to cover expenses of persons who use the probate court system who are otherwise unable to pay, and for the cost of probate court retirees' health insurance.

Related Bill HB 6625

The Judiciary favorably reported HB 6625, File 745, on April, 1. This bill specifies that calculating a judge's minimum compensation by using the average compensation for the three year period my not be used unless there was no break in the judge's service after the three-year period.

Related Bill sHB 6007

Effective January 5, 2011, sHB 6007, (File 667) eliminates the probate district of (1) Harwinton consisting of the town of Harwinton, and (2) Roxbury consisting of the town of Roxbury. Effective that same date it adds (1) Harwinton to the probate district of Litchfield, which currently consists of Litchfield, Kent, Morris, and Warren; and (2) adds Roxbury to the probate district of Southbury, which currently consists of the town of Southbury. It makes conforming changes concerning the election of the probate judge for the Litchfield and the South Bury probate districts in 2010, and the jurisdiction of those districts effective January 5, 2011.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

31

Nay

6

(04/01/2009)

Appropriations Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

51

Nay

0

(05/05/2009)