State Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, an advocate for local probate courts, has been named to a bipartisan commission working on a major consolidation of the state’s 117 probate courts to no more than 50.
Rep. Giuliano has raised concerns about merger legislation that was signed into law this year, because it may cause hardship especially to residents who will have to travel to more distant probate courts.
“Connecticut’s probate courts are a vital part of the safety net for many of our state’s most vulnerable persons” said Rep. Giuliano, citing a recent report. “They involve the care of children, the elderly and individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities.”
Currently, local probate courts are located in individual towns along the Shoreline and lower Connecticut River Valley. But, in the next year, these will be merged into regional courts. Town officials in the Shoreline region also have been discussing locating them in Old Saybrook and other transportation centers.
According to recent studies, said Rep. Giuliano, what prompted the regionalization is that probate courts statewide are running out of money. The system is funded though fees the courts collect for services provided. Some individual courts are self-supporting, but the deficit for the statewide system this year amounts to $4.3 million.
Studies found that changing demographics are part of the problem. Cases involving children, the elderly and mental health issues take up more of the courts’ time, but generate less fee revenue. So, courts in many cities and towns are not able to meet their own expenses.
Legislation signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to upgrade and merge the local probate courts, with new probate judges to be elected in November 2010.
The 12-member Probate Redistricting Commission will propose a plan to merge the 117 probate courts to between 44 and 50, combining several town probate courts into multi-town courts.
She added, “Our probate courts offer a personal touch to situations affecting people at some of the most difficult times in life. These include a death in the family, a person who is unable to care for himself or herself and the protection of a child.
Rep. Giuliano said, “These courts have been exemplary models of how to operate locally, humanely and efficiently. We need to retain as many of those qualities in the probate courts as possible.”