Citing massive budget cuts, the Massachusetts Trial Court system announced yesterday it's intention to shutter Gloucester District Court and move operations to Salem District Court, justices said.
In a joint statement Supreme Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland and Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan said the budget for the 2012 fiscal year signed by Governor Deval Patrick on Monday, left the trial court system with $24.2 million less revenue from the previous year. Due to lack of funding, 11 courts across the Commonwealth, including Gloucester District Court, would have to be consolidated with other court facilities. The justices said this is the third consecutive year of cuts, representing a 16 percent drop in funding since 2009.
"The Trial Court has lost 1,115 employees and over 60 percent of the courts are staffed well below the level necessary to ensure the safe, effective and efficient delivery of justice," the two justices said. "Given these constraints, we have notified the Governor, Senate President, and Speaker of the House that we must proceed with plans to relocate and consolidate court operations in a number of locations among our 101 courthouses."
Gloucester District Court is Cape Ann's only district court facility.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Democrat of Gloucester, said she was disappointed in the justices' announcement and said the costs of running the courthouse were extremely low.
"I think Cape Ann in particular made a very strong case for the court to stay open," Ferrante said. "The court is located above the police station in a rent free space. The city would even pay for the telephones."
Ferrante said the proposed move would especially hurt the population in the area without access to vehicles, who might be disinclined to seek justice for themselves or come forward as witnesses.
The justices did not give a timeline for any closures, but are required by law to notify the legislature 90 days in advance of any action.
Supreme Judicial Court spokeswoman Joan Kenney said Salem's new courthouse would have plenty of room to accommodate the Gloucester operation and said the move was necessary to due widespread staffing shortages.
"We anticipate that Gloucester District Court operations would move to the Salem District Court which will have ample space to accommodate additional business in the new Ruane Judicial Center scheduled to open later this year, Kenney said. "Employees from the closed courthouses would be redeployed to other locations to address significant staffing shortages."
The other proposed court changes announced yesterday were moving the Norfolk Juvenile Court to Brookline District Court; the Charleston Division of the Boston Municipal Court to Boston's main municipal Court; ; the Berkshire Juvenile Court to Northern Berkshire District Court in North Adams; Hingham District Court to Brockton District Court; Westfield District Court to Holyoke District Court; Leominster District Court to Clinton/Fitchburg District Court; Framingham Juvenile Court to Marlborough District Court; Wareham District Court to Plymouth District Court and Westborough District Court to Worcester District Court.
Stewart Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org