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Remarks by Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers
Annual Probate Assembly
April 7, 2009

Judge Knierim and distinguished officers and members of the Connecticut Probate Assembly, I want to welcome you to the Supreme Court today. I also want to thank you again for this opportunity to address you regarding the issues that we face during these daunting economic times.

For the probate court system, I know this has been a time of great change for you. Just last year I appointed the Honorable Paul Knierim to serve as probate court administrator because I believe that he has both the vision and energy to guide you -- and I can tell you that I have been extremely pleased with the work heís done so far. One thing that struck me from the start about Judge Knierim is his ability to build consensus and to seek input, so that you may craft the best system possible to serve the residents of this state.

More than ever, amid dwindling resources and staff, our respective court systems need unity to serve the thousands of people who seek our help. Along those lines, little did I realize that, when I appointed a Public Service & Trust Commission in 2007, the comprehensive strategic plan it crafted for the Judicial Branch would become the Branchís road map through these treacherous times.

That you, too, have worked together over the past year to develop your own strategic plan now under consideration by the General Assembly indicates to me that you are acutely aware of the challenges you face. We all know that the Probate Court Administration Fund has decreased steadily over the past several years. We also know that the situation has reached a critical point: last fall it was projected that the Probate Court system would be bankrupt in 2010; recent projections show a deficit even sooner than that.

So itís clear that action must be taken quickly because the bottom line is stark: the Probate Court system cannot sustain itself much longer under its current model of operation.

There are people who support abolishing the probate courts. Without hesitation, I can tell you that the Judicial Branch does not support this position. First of all, proponents of this idea would mandate transfer of all contested probate matters to the Superior Court. There is simply no way that our Superior Court system could absorb the influx of thousands upon thousands of Probate Court cases. More important, however, we believe that the probate courts continue to play an invaluable role. For more than 300 years, you have assisted countless families and individuals with some of the most delicate and difficult matters people face over a lifetime. You continue to do this very important job, bringing your expertise and commitment to the table, as the system struggles to find its way in an increasingly complex and fast-moving society.

We appreciate the hard work that the Probate Court Assembly has done to arrive at the plan detailed in House Bill 6027. This, too, is evidence of an attitude that recognizes both the reality of our collective budget situation and the opportunities that may arise during tough times.

The one central theme I would stress as you work so hard toward a solution is that it must occur sooner rather than later. You do not have much time, and just having a plan isnít good enough. You need to move beyond proposals and recommendations to concrete and tangible actions that make a difference in peopleís lives and ensure that our probate court system not only survives, but thrives. Today, I call on you to take that action.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address you. It has been an honor, and I look forward to our continued collaboration over the years to come.


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