Top 5 Tips From My Service as a Pro Tem Judge

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With the growing divide between judicial budgets and the demand for court services, Oregon continues to look to part-time judges to help bridge the gap. These part-time judges are known as Pro Tem Judges.

As a private attorney serving as a Pro Tem Judge in the Washington County Probate Court, my public service has been a privilege and honor. And having one foot in both private practice and one inside the Court has provided me with a unique experience. The following 5 tips are specific to my familiarity of the Washington County Probate Court, but most of these tips are good best practices to apply to any probate matter in an Oregon court.

  1. Always respond promptly to an inquiry from the Court. And remember the Golden Rule by treating all Court personnel, from security guards and clerks to judges, as you would want to be treated. Those recommendations seem obvious, however I’ve seen attorneys who fail to do both.
  2. Docket important filing dates. Don’t wait for the Court to inform you that an Inventory or Annual Accounting is late. The Court is extremely busy, and each time the Court has to unnecessarily touch a file, the progress of every attorney’s filings are negatively impacted.
  3. When you are making a request from the Court, such as unrestricting an asset, the issue should be addressed in the pleading’s narrative, the prayer, and the proposed Order.
  4. Vouchers in the form of checks must be supported by complete evidence. In other words, copies of both the front and back of negotiated checks, and copies of voided checks should be submitted in numerical order with the Annual Accounting. And any missing or incomplete vouchers should be explained to the Court.
  5. As a general best practice in Washington County, seek approval from the Court before using debit and credit cards. And electronic transactions should be evidenced with statements and the relevant line items highlighted.

Please note, due to COVID-19 Oregon’s probate courts are staffed with only a small number of personnel who are focused on administrative and the most urgent judicial matters such as emergency conservatorships and guardianships.

As a result, I have not served as a Pro Tem Judge since the end of March. Not only have I missed helping attorneys and their clients with their probate matters, I have also missed experiencing the diversity of people in our community who utilize the Court. I look forward to the day that I get to roll up my sleeves and to actively serve as a Pro Tem Judge again.

Anastasia (Stacie) Yu Meisner is a member of the SYK Estate Planners practice. Her practice focuses on estate planning, mediation, probate, trust and estate administration. In addition, she also works with guardianships and conservatorships, as well as business transactions and formation.