PA 09-114—sHB 6385

Judiciary Committee

Appropriations Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING PROBATE COURT REFORMS AND ESTABLISHING A PROBATE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION

SUMMARY: Effective January 5, 2011, this act 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 act establishes four classes or “bands” of probate courts based on the district's population and its annual weighted workload. The act sets a probate judge's salary for courts in each band ranging from a low of 45% of a Superior Court judge's salary to a high of 75%. The current salary of a Superior Court judge is $146,780. The act 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 act 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 act 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 for probate court employees, which includes employee benefits; (2) staffing levels for each probate court; and (3) a miscellaneous office budget for each court. The act requires probate courts to be open at least 40 hours a week instead of 20.

The act 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 act 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 act allows the Connecticut Probate Assembly to submit a redistricting plan that meets the criteria the act 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 act authorizes a probate 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 act.

The act 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, and (6) reimbursement for indigency costs. It also makes technical and conforming changes.

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 to attend 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, referrals to special assignment 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, creation and appointment 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 court personnel and continuing education programs for probate judges and court personnel; and (4) enforcing 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 enforcement.

The act expands the probate court administrator's authority to include adopting regulations concerning:

1. training probate magistrates and attorney probate referees (positions the act creates);

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

3. administering the compensation plan the act 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 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.

By 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 act 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.

Prior law required that, if any probate court received income that was 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 could be transferred from the Probate Court Administration Fund, which the probate court administrator determined to be reasonable and necessary for the proper administration of the court. Prior law established a process for probate court judges to request assistance and for the probate court administrator to provide financial assistance. The act 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 act or such expenditures authorized by law for the proper administration of each court. The act 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 act eliminates a provision in prior law that a judge's annual salary could not 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, whichever is greater, but not to exceed a certain limit established by law. The act establishes a new salary structure for judges (see 13).

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 his or her statutory duties. The act 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 act specifies that expenditures in the proposed budget may not exceed anticipated available funds.

Under prior law, the probate court administrator could authorize expenditures from the Probate Court Administration Fund for emergency purposes as from time to time might be necessary if the aggregate amount for any fiscal year did not exceed $5,000. A report on each such expenditure had to be sent to the chief court administrator and the president judge of the Connecticut Probate Assembly within 10 days after the expenditure was made. The act (1) instead requires the report to the chief court administrator and the president judge if the expenditure for emergency purposes exceeds $10,000, and (2) eliminates the $5,000 limit.

4 — FUNDING OF PROBATE COURTS AND SALARIES FOR PROBATE JUDGES UNTIL JANUARY 5, 2011

The act makes the existing provisions regarding the funding of probate courts only apply to the income the courts receive before January 5, 2011. Under these provisions:

1. the funding of the probate courts, including the compensation of judges, is derived from the statutory fees charged to the users of the court;

2. the net income, after payment of expenses, is applied to a statutory formula that determines the amount of the assessment the judge must pay into the Probate Court Administration Fund;

3. the judge keeps the balance as compensation (currently, compensation ranges from under $10,000 to the maximum of $110,085, and the maximum amount a probate judge may receive may not exceed 75% of the compensation of a Superior Court judge);

4. 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; and

5. 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

By 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.

By 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 act limits these requirements to any judge in office on or before January 4, 2011 and they 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 SYSTEM

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 employee 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 prior law, the premium charged for the group hospitalization and medical and surgical portion of the coverage had to be paid from the retirement fund, which consisted of amounts transferred from the Probate Court Administration Fund and contributions from probate court employees and judges. The retirement fund paid 20% of the dental portion of the premium and the participant paid 80%. The act 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 act 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

Under the act 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 prior 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 had to work more than 430 hours a year. There was no minimum requirement for probate court judges. The act 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 act.

9 — RETIREMENT INCENTIVES TO JUDGES OF COURTS THAT ARE MERGED

By 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 act 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 act 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 act 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 act 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 committee must 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 act.

The act 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 June 9, 2009.

12 — PROBATE DISTRICTS-COMPENSATION BANDS

The act establishes four classes or “bands” of probate courts. The classification is based on the district's population and its annual weighted workload. The act 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 act.

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 act 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 Act 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 act, 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 probate judge 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 act 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 act 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 act 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.

The act allows the Superior Court to refer certain appeals from a probate court decision to a special assignment probate judge assigned by the probate court administrator for the purposes of such appeals. But 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 act 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 act 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 for people with psychiatric disabilities (CGS 17a-543);

5. administration of medication to criminal defendants with psychiatric disabilities 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, administered by, or available to the department (CGS 45a-8a);

8. conservators (CGS 45a-644 to 45a-663);

9. guardians of people 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 act 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 act 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 prior law, any waived fee had to be reimbursed to the probate court from funds appropriated to the Judicial Branch. But if funds were not included in the Judicial Branches budget for such purposes, the payment had to be made from the Probate Court Administration Fund pursuant to rules and regulations established by the probate court administrator. The act eliminates these reimbursement requirements.

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

Under prior law, in any matter pending in any probate court, the court could appoint a committee of disinterested people or a former probate judge to hear the matter. The former judge had to be selected from a panel of judges provided by the probate court administrator. If the court accepted the committee's findings, it had to issue a decree and if the court rejected the findings, it had to hear and determine the matter or appoint a different committee to hear the matter and report its findings.

The act 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 act. The act exempts involuntary patient, involuntary commitment, temporary custody, and involuntary representation matters from the court's authority to refer.

Under prior law, the committee had to hear the matter and report its findings within 30 days after the hearing to the court. The act 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 act 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 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 act 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 act 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 findings of fact and conclusions. If the court accepts or modifies the report or amendment, the court must issue a decree.

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

Under prior law, the committee had to be sworn to faithfully perform the duties of its appointment and it had all the powers conferred by law upon probate courts to compel the attendance of witnesses and punish contempt. The act instead requires that each probate magistrate and attorney probate referee be sworn to faithfully perform their duties and they have all the powers the law gives probate judges to compel witnesses to attend and punish contempt.

Under prior law, the committee's fees could not exceed $250 a day and had to 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 was unable to pay the fees and filed an affidavit with the court demonstrating an inability to pay, the reasonable compensation of the committee had to be established by the probate court administrator from the Probate Court Administration Fund. The act eliminates these requirements and limit.

19 & 20 — PROBATE MAGISTRATES AND ATTORNEY PROBATE REFEREES

Probate Magistrate —Qualifications

The act establishes the position of probate magistrate to hear matters referred under the act. 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, and assignment as a probate magistrate.

Nomination and Appointment of Probate Magistrate

The act authorizes the probate court administrator to nominate former probate judges who meet these requirements to serve as probate magistrates, and requires him to submit a list of nominees to the Supreme Court's chief justice and update the list as necessary. The act 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 of Probate Magistrate

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 act specifies that service as a probate magistrate does not constitute credited service for purposes of health, retirement, or other benefits.

Services Magistrates Perform

The act 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.

Attorney Probate Referees

The act establishes the unpaid position of attorney probate referee for the purpose of hearing matters referred by probate court judges. The act 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 of Attorney Probate Referees

The act 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 act 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 of Attorney Probate Referees

The act 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 Regarding Attorney Probate Referees

By January 1, 2012, 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 of Magistrate and Referees

The act 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 to Magistrate and Referees

The act 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—Magistrate and Referees

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

The probate redistricting commission consists of the following members:

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 act. 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 act. 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.

22 — REDISTRICTING PLAN

Criteria

The act 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 act 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 3,000, calculated under the act's provisions.

But the act 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 act 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 act allows the Connecticut Probate Assembly to submit a plan for redistricting to the commission within 45 days after the governor signs the act as long as the plan meets the criteria the act 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 the plan 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 between 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 act 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's failure.

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 first plan, they must convene the General Assembly in special session in the same manner the act requires for the initial plan.

The revised probate redistricting plan must be considered and transmitted in the same way as the act requires for the initial plan.

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 prior law, if there was a defect in the form of an appeal taken to the Superior Court from a probate court decision, the person who was appealing had to obtain from the probate court an amendment to the appeal correcting the defect, as long as the order for amendment was granted within 90 days after the date of the order, denial, or decree of the probate court from which the appeal was taken. The act eliminates this provision.

25 — TEMPORARY FUNDING OF PROBATE COURTS

The act 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 that 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).

OLR Tracking: GC: CR: DF