Dear Editor:

Your recent Advisory Board commentary (“Hands In The Cookie Jar,” March 24, 2008) presents an overly simplistic analysis of a complex governmental issue. You oppose state payment of health care benefits for all probate employees as if these benefits have not heretofore been paid with public dollars. All Probate Court expenses are paid for by public funds, albeit not appropriated funds, or by municipal contribution of municipal funds

Your opposition appears to stem from the fact that some of my colleagues disagree with the assertion that probate business could be adequately (some say even better) acquitted in a system of 40 or 50 courts than under the current bureaucracy in which 117 courts are supported by 169 towns, and by the utilization, to the point of exhaustion, of the pooled receipts from services rendered.

Now, I share the board’s enthusiasm for consolidation and believe 40 to 50 courts is the right number to insure accessible service in a non-intimidating environment for our case base. These are often individuals struggling through family crisis and appearing pro se. Unfortunately, the legislature has not seen fit to share the Advisory Board’s and my enthusiasm for this structural change. It is interesting to note that the judges themselves are very evenly divided, with some (though not all) of those who would face elimination in a consolidation opposing the plan and the judges in the 50 or so larger courts tending to support it. Ironically, a consolidation eliminating 60 districts would only impact 18 percent of the courts’ “customers.” More than 80 percent would still go to the same court they utilized pre-consolidation.

While only those who seldom have been in a probate court advocate its merger with the Superior Court, it should be noted that new employees and trained judicial officers would be necessary in Superior Court to handle the additional caseload. These employees would be paid and receive benefits from the state. I would argue that whoever does this work is entitled to fundamental employment benefits.

Between the exhaustion of the Probate Administration fund and a systemic remedy — be it restructuring, elimination, consolidation or capitulation to those who would keep the system exactly as it is — my employees, who are state treasures versed in probate law and able servants of our customers, deserve to have their health care. Every state employee working more than 20 hours per week gets benefits. So should Probate Court employees. Judges who work less than full time should have to pay a pro rata share of the cost.

Your opposition to health care for our employees is a rather callous position for you to take. If you don’t like how our system is structured, or if you don’t like our system at all, work to change it. I’ll even work with you on a restructuring.

But don’t beat up on good employees doing a difficult job. My 13 colleagues at the Hartford Probate Court deserve better.

After all, most people say the Hartford court works best when I’m on vacation.

Probate Judge Robert K. Killian Jr.