Bar News - September 7, 2007
NH Probate Court Begins Service Center Pilot Project
By: Craig Sander
The New Hampshire Administrative Office of the Probate Courts (NHAOPC) opened its first two probate court service centers in Rockingham and Hillsborough South county courthouses on June 1. According to Judge David King, Administrative Judge of the NHAOPC, “The Court Service Centers are separate facilities within the court. They provide services and resources for all court users, including self-represented parties, attorneys, and agency personnel.”
King believes that the centers will provide all court participants, including pro se litigants, the means to understand the complex procedures of the probate court as well as take away traffic that would normally be sent through the clerk’s office. (In June, 20% of the calls received by the centers were from in and out-of-state attorneys.) However, stresses King, the aim is not to provide for increasing the number of pro se litigants, but rather to make the existing pro se litigants more competent when they actually go into court.
“I don’t think this is going to make the number [of pro se litigants] larger. That’s not our goal,” said King. “I’d much rather go into court with an attorney. But at the very least I’d like a pro se [litigant] who is competent of the rules, guidelines and procedures of the court.”
The service center is run by two service center coordinators – employed by the state – who rotate between the Rockingham and Hillsborough County Probate Courts. They have extensive experience with probate cases and are trained to provide assistance with completing court forms and answering questions related to estates, guardianships of adults, guardianships of minors, adoptions, marriage waivers, name changes, and trusts, said King.
“People who come here are usually devastated; they’ve just lost a mother, father, husband or wife. They come in and grab what they think they need, and that’s where the mistakes happen,” said Gina Rogers, who, with Cindy Maggiacomo, staffs the centers. “We try to give them a smaller, more comfortable environment away from the court. We have packets of forms for any situation they may be in and we help them understand how to fill out each one.”
The service centers themselves are equipped with tables and seating for visitors, as well as recently re-written literature designed to make the procedural guidelines and processes easier to understand.
The centers are the first step of many by which the New Hampshire justice system provides resources for those with low-income and who choose to represent themselves in court, King said. He also added that providing resources like the service centers is a good way to ensure that the system moves fluidly and with as little complication as possible.
A Grand Opening will be held at both service centers on Friday September 14. Rockingham County courthouse’s center will hold its event from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Hillsborough South’s event will take place from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.