2017 Review – Probate Division

Hon. John SugiyamaIf it were staffed by mere mortals, the Probate Department would have collapsed 2,271 days ago. Fortunately for us all, Courtroom Clerk Shannon Perry, Probate Examiners Linda Suppanich and Erica Gillies, Bailiff Melissa O’Reilley, Probate Facilitator Nicholas Vaca, and former Research Attorney Janet Li are not constrained by the kinds of limitations that the rest of us must accept.

The probate staff support the administration of a caseload that in volume defies easy description or categorization. In 2011, 1,571 new cases were opened. By the end of 2017, based on a mid-year projection, 1,918 new cases will have been opened. In unfiltered statistical terms, the Probate Department by the end of this year will have seen a 22% increase since the beginning of the decade in the number of new cases filed annually. Concurrently with that rise, the Probate Department will have benefitted from a robust 0% increase in its staffing level.

The number of new case numbers entered annually, however, offers only a glimpse of the work being done by the probate staff. Of course, some cases carry over from one year to the next. That adds substantially to the pending caseload. More critically, within each case number, multiple petitions and motions often are at issue. That adds dramatically to the pending caseload. Thus, although it is not possible to tally the precise number of pending petitions and motions, the total on any given day probably exceeds 3,000.

Furthermore, the latter number offers only a still constricted view of the endeavors of the probate staff. Since filing fees have risen, as have the costs associated with general petition and motion preparation, a considerable additional burden has been imposed on staff in the form of ex parte applications. For this calendar year, the probate examiners have been reviewing, on average, 543 such matters each month. The probate examiners carry over, if at all, only a minimal inventory of these matters from day to day. Consequently, the probate examiners process the matters in such a way that decisions and answers are given to you usually on the same day as their submission.

It would not be fair to the staff of probate departments situated elsewhere to compare them to our probate staff. Unlike the proverbial others, our probate staff continue to answer your telephone calls. They respond to all of your inquiries. They process your ex parte applications efficiently. They accommodate your scheduling conflicts easily. The same cannot be said of the probate staff that you must on occasion encounter in other not-so-faraway places.

The plan for the Probate Department for next year must be to maintain the status quo. Perhaps sometime later the Probate Department will change.

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