The Probate & Family Court recently announced that the Fiduciary Litigation Pilot Project under Standing Order 3-17 (https://www.mass.gov/probate-and-family-court-rules/probate-and-family-court-standing-order-3-17-fiduciary-litigation) has been expanded to apply to cases filed in Essex and Plymouth Counties. Previously, the pilot project applied to case filed only in Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk Counties.
Upon its adoption on 10/31/17 and its effective date of 11/20/17, Standing Order 3-17 established a Fiduciary Litigation Session (“FLS”) within the Probate and Family Court Department for contested and complex probate litigation cases. Retired Probate and Family Court Judge Elaine M. Moriarty has been the presiding judge of the FLS. The goal of the FLS “is to provide a specialized forum for the speedy resolution of contested and complex probate litigation cases and to provide individualized and collaborative case management to reduce the costs associated with fiduciary litigation.”
Having appeared before her in highly contested and complex probate litigation matters, Judge Moriarty (Ret.) certainly has the expertise in probate litigation to preside over the FLS. The FLS is a long-awaited and welcome option for Massachusetts probate litigators. Any practitioner who has handled contested probate litigation matters assigned to Judges who have had only limited prior experience in this specialized field knows how steep the learning the curve is for a newly appointed Judge (or even Judges who have been behind the bench for quite some time and simply have not been assigned complex probate litigation matters during their tenure). In fact, many of our Probate and Family Court Judges have had only family law experience before becoming a Judge. Due to the jurisdiction of the Probate and Family Court to adjudicate such matters as will contests, trust disputes, and contested guardianship and conservatorship actions, Judges with only very limited prior experience in such matters are often assigned to preside over complex probate litigation cases, and, through trial by fire, they are asked to render important decisions having a tremendous impact on the rights and obligations of others. The learning curve can be a challenge for a newly-appointed Judge, or even one who with years of judicial experience, but only a handful of probate litigation matters under his or her belt. Having to make important decisions related to such complex probate litigation matters while dealing with a heavy case load and perhaps more than 50 family law matters scheduled for hearing on any given motion calendar day, creates even more challenges when a complex probate litigation matter is next on the hearing list. Accordingly, the FLS appears to be a welcome addition to the court in its ongoing effort to provide an efficient and cost-effective forum to resolve contested and complex probate litigation disputes.
For more information about the FLS, or to discuss a case that may be appropriate for assignment to the FLS, please contact the probate litigators at Fitch Law Partners LLP.