Corrupticourts, the Big Lie, the Big Scam
Rick Green [THE HARTFORD COURANT]
Reform? Not Now. Not Ever?February 13, 2007
Some very capable lawyers say that I have little understanding of probate court, that in most of the thousands of cases that these small courts handle, they are doing unheralded, positive work, handling estates, adoptions and the peculiar process of taking away all the rights of an elderly person.
There's no need to require that there be an official record of court proceedings, that judges be lawyers and work full time, that rules of evidence be adhered to, that some limits be placed on conservatorships, where the courts can take away all of your liberties.
We really need 117 courts - some open just a few hours a week - because I'm told that probate is different, a link to a time when Pa drove the buggy to town hall for a friendly chat about Grandma's will.
Press them and probate leaders say all that's really needed is better training for judges. To make their case against change, one judges' association has hired a Capitol insider widely known to decision-makers in Hartford - former House Speaker Richard Balducci.
More than anything, they don't want a regional, full-time court system that will eliminate dozens of judges. They also don't want a lot of new rules imposed on them.
There is one small change that the judges do want - move them over to the public dole and pay for their health insurance.
Not that there's a problem or anything, but probate is going bankrupt.
According to the office of probate court administrator Judge James J. Lawlor, the courts will be $5 million in the hole next year. The river of red ink will reach $25 million by 2010.
"We need to be better managing the work that goes through the courts," said Lawlor, a former Waterbury judge who is pushing for limited reform in the legislature.
Of course, a number of probate judges say you can't believe Lawlor. The Connecticut Probate Judges Association for Local Courts Inc., led by Woodbridge Judge Joseph P. Secola, says that the top probate judge is both untruthful and a spendthrift - a charge that Lawlor denies.
"This guy has gone nuts with his staff," Secola told me. "He has spent over a half million dollars in the last four years on outside consultants. ... Nobody checks him."
As for the courts, Secola promised me "there just isn't any good-old-boys network." And the oversupply of courts "is a problem that is going to take care of itself."
I wondered how this might have prevented Dan Gross, a New York resident, from being committed to a nursing home by an overzealous court. Or Maydelle Trambarulo, a New Jersey woman still in a New Haven nursing home, unable to return to her husband and family because a distant relative persuaded the courts to take away all her rights. Or in Southington, where a pending complaint alleged that a local judge might have profited off a land deal that passed through his court.
Cases like these are the exception, said Danbury Probate Judge Dianne E. Yamin, leader of the probate assembly. She told me probate does countless good deeds that the media never report. Yamin, who said she works full time as a judge, told me that there's no need for the General Assembly to shake up probate.
"We need to all work together and make the improvements and reform in our system that will benefit the citizens of our state," Yamin said.
Finally, I talked to state Rep. James Spallone, whose mother was a probate judge and who now is sponsoring the bill that would pick up the health insurance tab for judges. He said that he wants to "preserve some of the best parts of the system without a complete overhaul."
So relax. There aren't any problems. Probate court is just fine.
Rick Green's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com
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[click here] for Stark Raving Viking YouTube.com videos
[click here] for the text of letter sent to 187 elected officials mailed out this past Saturday:
Fixing Ethics in Courts and Police through Legislative ActionTo All CT Legislators: Lawyers in Elected Office is Completely Unethical (02-10-2007)
[click here] for the open email sent to elected officials sent out Jan. 31, 2007, where legislators are being critical of "elected liars" or should I say "practicing attorneys" also working in the legislative branch for the people, live on Connecticut Government Television CT-N. Lawyers should not be able to double dip in two branches of government when there is supposed to be separation of powers. The lack of ethics in Connecticut and some other states is just plain amazing.