The probate unit of the Sacramento County Superior Court (Department 129) will have a new judge in February 2021.  Judge Joginder Dhillon will become the probate judge, replacing Judge Kevin R. Culhane who has served in that role since January 2020.

Governor Jerry Brown announced the appointment of Judge Dhillon in December 2018, providing the following background information: “Dhillon has served as a senior advisor in the Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. since 2013.  He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1982 and served in the Air Force for 20 years, including assignments to Panama, Saudi Arabia and Germany.  Prior to his retirement from active duty, Dhillon was the legal advisor to U.S. Space Command/North American Aerospace Defense Command. Dhillon served as chief counsel for the California Gambling Control Commission from 2009 to 2013 and as general counsel for the California Emergency Management Agency from 2007 to 2009.  He was director of academic support at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law from 2005 to 2007, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton from 2004 to 2005 and an associate and shareholder at Schuering Zimmerman and Doyle LLP from 2002 to 2004.  Dhillon earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a Master of Laws degree in intellectual property law from the University of Houston Law Center.”

Department 129, located on the second floor of the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse amidst family law departments, handles all proceedings under the Probate Code, ranging from guardianships, conservatorships and routine probate matters to hotly-contested trust and estate disputes.  While “short cause” trials generally are heard in Department 129, “long cause” trials are sent to trial departments at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse in downtown Sacramento.

In mid-2020, however, Department 129 adjusted to COVID-19 health precautions by moving the probate calendar to Zoom videoconferencing at this link.  Parties noticing hearings should serve a Zoom appearance notification, Zoom instructions, and a proof of service to ensure that all parties are properly noticed and prepared to appear using Zoom.  An “infographic” with other Department 129 updates related to COVID-19 is available here.

Sacramento County Superior Court has a high volume of probate cases.  According to the Judicial Council of California, Sacramento had 1,899 new probate filings in fiscal year 2018-2019, down from the prior year, but still more than double the probate filings in San Francisco.  At a typical 9:00 a.m. probate calendar in Department 129, several dozen matters are heard.  Currently, new matters may be set out four months for hearing.  Judge Culhane commented at a January 2021 hearing that Department 129 needs more judicial resources.

Jeffrey Galvin is an attorney with Downey Brand LLP, based in Sacramento. He litigates trust and estate cases in Northern California, including disputes involving trust and probate administration, contests of trusts and wills, and financial elder abuse claims.