DATE: September 12, 2007                                                       CONTACT: Laura Kiernan
                                                                                                                       Judicial Branch
                                                                                                                       Communications Director
                                                                                                                       603-271-2646 ext 2359



Citizens Commission said help needed to navigate court system

CONCORD—Probate Court “Service Centers” staffed by judicial branch employees are now open at two locations in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties to provide assistance to court users, especially citizens who come to court without a lawyer and have basic questions about procedures, forms, court rules and schedules.

An open house to celebrate the two Service Centers will be held on Friday, September 14 at each location. The Rockingham Probate Court open house will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Rockingham County courthouse, 10 Rte. 125, in Brentwood. The Hillsborough Probate Court will hold its open house from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the county courthouse in Nashua, at 30 Spring Street.

The establishment of the two service centers follows a recommendation from the New Hampshire Citizens Commission on the State Courts which said in its June 2006 report that the judicial branch needed to “create a customer-service based environment” which would help citizens navigate their way through the courthouse.

The Commission suggested that rather than hire new personnel, existing staff court be designated to address “basic informational needs of the public.” In keeping with that recommendation, the Probate Court assigned two experienced Probate Court employees, Gina Rogers and Cindy Maggiacomo, to staff the new “service centers” in the two counties, using existing office space and equipment at each location. The Service Center staff also has developed pamphlets and user-friendly information sheets about probate court cases for distribution to court users. In Nashua, where the Hillsborough probate court is located, the court has recruited experienced Probate Court practitioners to help with Service Center operations.

“It really is a new way of doing business,” said Probate Court Administrative Judge David D. King. By specifically assigning court staff to work with the public at the service centers, it gives other staff in the probate register's office the time they need to focus on case processing, King said.

“Those of us who work in the courts everyday often lose sight of the fact that the courthouse is an unfamiliar and intimidating place to most people who have to use it,” King said. Spending focused time with court users is particularly important in probate court, where the legal issues often involve difficult issues for families in turmoil, King said.

Service Center staff do not offer legal advice, but they are available to provide information that will make the court process more accessible to citizens who come to probate court, which has jurisdiction for matters involving wills, trusts and estates, guardianships of adults and minors, adoptions, and name changes. Probate Courts are located in each of the state's 10 counties.

The Service Centers are part of an ongoing effort statewide to improve access to justice for New Hampshire citizens and to find less costly ways to resolve legal disputes. Those efforts include: