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West Hartford Probate Judge: No Backlog from COVID-19 Crisis as Court Prepares for Reopening

Owen P. Eagan. Courtesy photo

Probate Judge Owen Eagan says the probate court has been able to utilize technology to work on cases throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As Connecticut settles into the second phase of its reopening following the shutdowns aimed at countering the COVID-19 pandemic, West Hartford Probate Judge Owen P. Eagan reports his court has experienced no logjam of cases in recent months and is preparing to reopen.

“We haven’t skipped a beat since this crisis started,” Eagan said. “We’ve managed to be extremely productive even under these circumstances thanks to some creative solutions and to the devotion of my great staff.” 

As many state and federal courts in Connecticut and around the country were forced to slow or stop many of their proceedings in efforts to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Eagan explained that embracing new technologies and different meeting formats has allowed the West Hartford Probate Court to continue to progress through its caseload.

“We’re moving to video conferencing for some matters, which is certainly a new development,” Eagan said.

He added that the court has been conducting many of its conferences by phone.

Eagan related that COVID-19 has complicated some commitment hearings for persons with psychiatric disabilities due to disease-related worries in some facilities. He expressed that the court has also handled other effects of the crisis.

“We’ve also, sadly, been dealing with the decedents’ estates of those lost during this difficult time,” Eagan said.

When the pandemic began, Eagan had a frank discussion with his staff about whether they felt comfortable proceeding and, if so, in what work format they would feel safest. Although the staff members could have remained at home without working and still received their paychecks, they decided to continue to come in to work alongside Eagan at the court’s offices in the West Hartford Town Hall.

Eagan commented on what he thought inspired his court’s staff to make that decision.

“They are truly devoted to their work in the court, to serving the public,” Eagan said.

The West Hartford Probate Court offices remain closed to visitors, but the court’s staff, who take all necessary precautions including social distancing in the workplace, remain accessible by phone, email, and by mail.

Eagan noted that while no date has been set for normal, in-person probate court operations to resume, his court is preparing for eventual reopening. He said that when the court again hosts visitors in person, people can expect to see staff members wearing gloves and masks and to notice transparent barriers installed in the court’s facilities.

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