Journalism / New Haven Register

Madison, Guilford officials seek probate court merger

Saturday, June 27, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Officials in Guilford and Madison are recommending that a planned reorganization of the state probate court system merge the two towns’ courts.

The Guilford Board of Selectmen Thursday unanimously approved a recommendation to the state probate judge assembly to combine the Guilford and Madison probate courts. The new court would be located in the current site of the Guilford Probate Court, in Town Hall.

Madison’s Board of Selectmen approved a similar recommendation earlier this week.

The votes came in the wake of newly enacted legislation that would reduce the total number of probate courts in the state to between 44 and 50, from the current level of 117. The move is projected to save the financially insolvent probate court system millions of dollars a year.

The assembly of all probate court judges has been meeting to draw up recommendations for a special redistricting commission that will redraw the lines for probate court districts.

Each district must now cover at least 40,000 people; Madison and Guilford have a combined population of about 41,000, according to the U.S. Census.

The recommendation from the two boards of selectmen, however, does not guarantee that the final reorganization will result in a combined Guilford and Madison probate court.

“This is our recommendation to the (state Probate Court) administrator, but they in fact could do something different,” Guilford Selectman Sal Catardi said Thursday.

The redistricting commission is due to make recommendations to the state legislature by September, and the reorganized districts would go into effect in 2011.

Guilford First Selectman Carl Balestracci said Thursday that Guilford was chosen for the location of the recommended combined district because it has more available space than the current site of the Madison Probate Court.

“We want to keep the districts as small as possible to give the most personal service to the citizens,” he said. “Guilford and Madison seem like a perfect fit.”

Remodeling some areas of the Guilford court to handle the larger caseload and create chambers for the probate judge is expected to cost about $10,000, Balestracci said.

Probate courts handle issues ranging from trusts and estates, to appointing guardians for children or the mentally retarded, terminating parental rights and granting adoptions. Many people appear in probate court without legal representation, and most towns currently have their own court.

The redistricting has raised concerns among some officials that town residents will lose the local service they have had in the past.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, selectmen voted to amend the minutes of their Feb. 9 meeting in order to resolve a Freedom of Information complaint brought by the New Haven Register.

The complaint alleged that the board had violated the Freedom of Information Act by declaring the first few minutes of the meeting, at which members discussed the Board of Education’s budget request, “off the record” and not keeping minutes for that portion. The addition to the minutes approved Thursday reflects the content of the entire meeting, indicating that members of the Board of Selectmen said that they thought the Board of Education’s budget request was too high.

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