How to Prepare Your Case in Light of Court Budget Cuts

In the past five years, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts have faced difficult financial conditions and budget cuts.  Consequently, the courts might feel more chaotic to litigants.  Here are five tips for preparing for a day in court:

1) Bring backup copies of everything.  As a result of hiring freezes, many of the courts are understaffed.  The employees who are still employed are sometimes doing the jobs of one to three people, and they are likely overwhelmed.  It’s not a surprise that court files and paperwork seem to go missing more often than before.  Don’t be surprised if your case is called and the judge doesn’t have your file because no one can find it.  Bring copies of your entire file with you to provide to the judge.

2) Be nice to the staff.  Again, the staff are overworked and underpaid.  Be nice to them.  The courtroom clerks determine the order in which cases are called.  Treat them with respect and patience, and you might be rewarded by having your case called in the first half of the day.

3) Prepare to be at court all day.  You might be coming to court for a short status hearing, but prepare to be present all day.  You could be one of the very lucky cases to be called before 10:00 am.  Or, more likely, your case will be called in the second half of cases.  If you’ve gone to probate for mediation, you’ll have to wait until the probate officer and the judge are both free at the same time.  It could be a while.

4) Arrive very early.  I get to court at 8:00 am.  If I am the first person to check in and I am nice to the clerk (see #2), I just might be one of the first cases called.  The difference between arriving at 8:00 am and 9:30 am is enormous.  An 8:00 arrival might make you the first litigant to check in, whereas a 9:30 am check in puts you in the middle of the line or perhaps at the end.  

5) Negotiate in advance.  The probate department is especially understaffed these days—as if it weren’t a hard enough job already!  A few hardworking probate officers are handling cases for the entire court.  The line for probate can move very slowly.  If you want to avoid the line, come to court with an agreement in hand.