Once almost broke, Probate Court system nears a surplus
HARTFORD -- A year ago, Connecticut Probate Courts were near insolvency.
But after a massive, historic consolidation from 117 courts down to 54, the system with roots in the colonial era is on the verge of self-sufficiency and modest surpluses.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers hosted the Connecticut Probate Assembly's annual meeting in her courtroom on Wednesday, announcing the courts will finish this fiscal year with a $1.2 million savings.
A $2 million-to-$3 million surplus in the year that ends June 30, 2012, is also projected.
It's just in time, too, Rogers said, because a projected $34 million cut in the Judicial Branch budget includes an $800,000 reduction in the subsidy for the probate system. "If further cuts are made to the branch's budget, it's certainly a possibility that your subsidy will have to be further reduced," she said.
The probate courts help survivors handle estates and manage the legal affairs of abandoned children and incapacitated adults.
The 54 judges, all elected in November, and their staffs Wednesday celebrated their successes and reviewed the challenges that remain.
Fairfield Probate Judge Daniel F. Caruso, president of the assembly, said he wants to help empower parents with tools to tackle mental health and addiction problems in their children and to help the elderly battle those who might prey on them.
"We have the responsibility to the people we represent, those people who come before us," Caruso said.
Probate Court Administrator Paul J. Knierim said that over the last two years the system has escaped financial distress and steered away from some legislative efforts that might have ended the system, which began in 1666.
Knierim also wants to introduce training programs for legal conservators over the next year and to update the probate practice book.
Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, who led the legislative efforts in recent years to revamp the system, accepted an award from Knierim. Godfrey said lawmakers and probate judges worked together to reduce the numbers of courts in light of their major budget problems.