Winter 2010-#6. Letter to the Editor.

Vermont Bar Journal


Winter 2010-#6.

Letter to the Editor

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 4Winter 2010Letter to the EditorDecember 22, 2009 To the Editor:

I have been following the Vermont Commission on Judicial Operation proposals for reorganizing Vermont's probate courts with increasing dismay. When I attended my first focus group in May 2009, I came in with two working assumptions: (1) the probate courts do their jobs well and (2) the Vermont Supreme Court was looking for ways to cut costs, so that the courts could weather the current economic downturn. I believed the Supreme Court, and the Commission it created, would try to make a v.irtue of necessity, using the economic pressures on the courts to propel technological upgrades, making the courts function better at a lower cost. Unfortunately, as I have followed the development of the Commission's recommendations, I have seen a plan emerge that appears to be using the excuse of economic necessity to dismantle the Vermont probate courts.

I came to Vermont after practicing in New York and New Jersey. At that time, New Jersey had a Surrogate's Office for probate matters and guardianships. That part of the system worked well for consumers and the attorneys serving those clients. However, contested matters went into the civil division docket, with all the higher costs and delays that you might expect. My most memorable experience with the parallel system in New York was as a client. The uncontested probate of my father's simple will took more than two years and cost several thousand dollars. After those experiences, I was pleasantly surprised by Vermont's probate courts when I began practicing here. Since my practice focuses on problems presented by elders and people with disabilities and I am based in Chittenden County, I am most familiar with Chittenden Probate Court. However, I have also been involved in cases in Franklin, Addison, Lamoille, Caledonia, Essex, and Bennington (Manchester) probate courts. My experience with each of these courts is that they are responsive in emergencies, thoughtful in complex matters, and quick, inexpensive, user-friendly on a day-to-day basis.

The Commission on Judicial Operation has proposed sweeping changes to the structure of the probate courts. The present system has one full-time probate judge in Chittenden County...

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