Improving Our Probate Courts

Respect for People’s Time

I am continuing to listen to what is important to you, both attorneys and non-attorneys, who have been in the probate courts.  Based on your input and my own experience, here is what I will do beginning my first day to make sure your time is valued and the court dockets move quickly and efficiently:

  • I will be on the bench on time, every time.
  • I will have read the pleadings and be prepared to rule from the bench.
  • When extra time is required to consider pleadings, rulings will be made within 3-5 business days.
  • A regular weekly submission docket will be available for summary judgments and other motions for which oral argument is not requested or necessary.  A submission docket, for non-attorneys, means pleadings will be considered and ruled upon without the need or expense of a hearing.

Ensuring Fairness and Transparency in the Appointment of Professionals

Probate court judges appoint a number of professionals.  Many are required by law in every case, and some are appointed at the discretion of the judge.  These professionals include attorneys-ad-litem, guardians-ad-litem, temporary administrators, temporary guardians, mediators, doctors, appraisers, receivers, and the list goes on.  By far, the most common are attorneys- and guardians-ad-litem.  To make sure we have the most diverse, highly trained pool of professionals and a system of appointing them that is  fair, transparent, and without bias, I will implement the following:

  • Grow the number and diversity of court appointees through outreach and training.
    • New appointees – I will restart a program I created as a staff attorney to certify attorneys to accept ad litem appointments in exchange for one pro bono appointment.  This program will be directed to new attorneys, in particular, and attorneys seeking to add new skill sets.
    • Skilled appointees – Working with local law schools and experienced attorneys, I will develop an advanced skills training program for certified attorneys and guardians ad litem to gain competence for appointments in highly complicated or litigated matters.
  • Ensure a fair and transparent system of appointing professionals – I will work with the other three probate courts to create a four-court wide transparent, rotating list of qualified professionals available for appointment. The public will be able to see who is on the list, who has been appointed, and who is likely next. 

Greater Oversight of Court-Supervised Estates and Court Appointed Professionals

With the help of the Court Auditor, I will personally review inventories, budgets, and financial accountings in all court-supervised estates to identify unnecessary, unreasonable, and suspicious expenditures, and hold responsible parties accountable.  And I will do the same for all requests for payment of fees and expenses submitted by every court-appointed professional.

Court-supervised estates include all guardianships, special court-created management trusts, and a small number of decedents' estates.

Courtroom Decorum and Respect for All

As judge, I will be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others in the courtroom, and I will require similar conduct of lawyers, staff, court officials, and others subject to my direction and control. 

I will require staff, court officials, and lawyers in proceedings before the court to refrain from manifesting, by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or socioeconomic status against parties, witnesses, counsel or others.  This requirement does not preclude legitimate advocacy when any of these factors is an issue in the proceeding. 

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