New Hampshire bill to consolidate lower courts into new Circuit Court faces final legislative hurdle today

April 20th, 2011 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

According to the Twitter feed for the NH Bar, HB 609 which would replace the current probate courts, district courts, and judicial branch family division with a single Circuit Court is set for a Senate floor vote today. I detailed the bill when it was in the House here and little has changed since then. The resulting court system would consist of the Supreme Court, the pre-existing general jurisdiction Superior Court, and the new Circuit Court consisting of a probate division, a district division, and a family division. Because the change would be exclusively statutory, several pre-existing state constitutional sections are addressed. For example, references to “a judge of probate” in Articles 80 and 81 instead are found to reference a circuit court judge assigned to the probate division. The positions of full-time marital masters would be converted to a full-time judicial position, subject to funding approval.

From an electoral perspective, there is little change; judicial officers would still be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the executive council. The one change: the state’s 10 elected registers of probate would be converted into appointees of the administrative judge of the circuit court for the circuit.

This has the potential for an exceptionally quick impact on the state’s judiciary. The effective date of the law (if passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor) is July 1, 2011. On that date “the New Hampshire circuit court shall be operational based upon a plan of implementation developed by the administrative judge of the circuit court in consultation with and approved by the supreme court.”

Update 4/20/11 @ 2:39 PM According to the NH Bar Twitter feed, the bill was approved by the Senate on a voice vote and is expected to be signed by the Governor in short order.