NO. 58.  AN ACT RELATING TO ASSISTANT JUDGES, PROBATE COURTS, FAMILY COURT MAGISTRATES, AND GUARDIANSHIPS FOR MINORS.

(S.16)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  12 V.S.A. § 5540a is amended to read:

§ 5540a.  JURISDICTION OVER SMALL CLAIMS; ASSISTANT JUDGES;                                  ADDISON, BENNINGTON, CHITTENDEN, FRANKLIN,

               GRAND ISLE, LAMOILLE, ORANGE, ORLEANS,

               WASHINGTON, WINDHAM AND WINDSOR COUNTIES

* * *

(e)  This section shall be repealed effective on July 1, 2003 2005The assistant judges who have elected to hear small claims cases under this section shall report to the house and senate judiciary committees with their findings and recommendations concerning their activities under this section on or before January 15, 2002.

Sec. 2.  JURISDICTION AND DUTIES OF ASSISTANT JUDGES; STUDY                          AND REPORT

(a)  A committee is established to study the jurisdiction and judicial duties of assistant judges. 

(b)  The committee shall consist of the following members:

(1)  A sitting assistant judge.

(2)  A representative of the Vermont Association of County Judges.

(3)  A member of the judiciary, appointed by the administrative judge.

(4)  A representative of the court administrator’s office.

(5)  A representative of the Vermont Bar Association.

(6)  A representative of Vermont Legal Aid.

(7)  The Director of Judicial Education.

(c)  The committee shall report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the general assembly on or before October 1, 2004, whereupon it shall cease to exist.  The report shall:

(1)  include a complete description for each county of all judicial duties that assistant judges are authorized to perform and the duties they currently are performing; and

(2)  address the following issues:

(A)  the history of the role of assistant judges in the Vermont judicial system;

(B)  the reasons, purposes, and bases for the existing and proposed jurisdiction of assistant judges;

(C)  the impact on judicial resources of the existing and proposed jurisdiction of assistant judges;

(D)  whether the jurisdictional discretion of assistant judges should be continued;

(E)  whether the administrative judge should have a role in assigning assistant judges to particular cases or types of cases;

(F)  whether appeals from decisions of assistant judges should be reviewed de novo or on the record;

(G)  with respect to each category of cases over which assistant judges exercise jurisdiction, the amount of education and training an assistant judge should have in order to hear cases;

(H)  with respect to each category of cases over which assistant judges exercise jurisdiction, the amount of continuing education and training an assistant judge should have in order to continue to hear cases;

(I)  the most appropriate institutions to conduct education and training for assistant judges;

(J)  the most appropriate institutions to conduct testing of assistant judges; and

(K)  any other issue the committee finds relevant to its duties.

Sec. 3.  STRUCTURE, ORGANIZATION, AND JURISDICTION OF

             PROBATE COURTS; STUDY AND REPORT

(a)  A committee is established to study the structure, organization, and jurisdiction of probate courts. 

(b)  The committee shall consist of the following members:

(1)  Two sitting probate judges, appointed by the Vermont Association of Probate Judges.

(2)  A member of the judiciary, appointed by the administrative judge.

(3)  A representative of the court administrator’s office.

(4)  A representative of the Vermont Bar Association.

(5)  A representative of the Probate and Trust Law Committee of the Vermont Bar Association.

(6)  A representative of Vermont Legal Aid.

(7)  The Director of Judicial Education.

(8)  A representative of the Community of Vermont Elders.

(9)  A representative appointed by the secretary of the agency of human services.

(c)  The committee shall report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the general assembly on or before October 1, 2004, whereupon it shall cease to exist.  The report shall include a complete description and analysis of the following issues:

(1)  The structure and organization of the probate courts, including:

(A)  all judicial duties that probate judges are authorized to perform and the duties they currently are performing;

(B)  whether staffing levels are appropriate in the probate courts; and

(C)  whether the number of probate districts is appropriate, or whether consolidation or development of part-time positions may be advisable.

(2)  The jurisdiction of the probate court, including:

(A)  which types of cases are and should be heard in probate court;

(B)  whether the Uniform Probate Code should be adopted; and

(C)  whether the probate court should have jurisdiction over voluntary and involuntary guardianships.

(3)  The qualifications and training of probate judges, including whether probate judges should be attorneys and whether they should be elected or appointed. 

(4)  Administrative issues, including:

(A)  whether the resource needs of the probate courts are being met;

(B)  the impact on the general fund of the current probate court system and the impact of potential alternatives, including a comparison of each system’s ability to provide justice to the taxpayer for the most efficient cost;

(C)  whether sufficient procedures are in place to address recusal and disqualification of a probate judge; 

(D)  whether a process should be developed to permit reassignment of staff between probate courts; and

(E)  whether the system and infrastructure is in need of modernization, including whether further automation or technical enhancements would be beneficial.

(5)  Any other issue the committee finds relevant to its duties.

Sec. 4.  REPEAL OF SUNSET; PERMANENT GUARDIANSHIP FOR

             MINORS

Sec. 3 of No. 162 of the Acts of the 1999 Adj. Sess. (2000) (sunset of permanent guardianship for minors) is repealed.

Sec. 5.  REPEAL OF SUNSET; MAGISTRATE JURISDICTION OVER

             PARENT-CHILD CONTACT ORDERS

Sec. 7 of No. 54 of the Acts of 1999 Adj. Sess. (2000) (sunset of magistrate jurisdiction over parent-child contact orders) is repealed.

Sec. 6.  EFFECTIVE DATE

This act shall take effect on passage.

Approved:  June 5, 2003