Court move a hassle for commuters

Commuters may face difficulties

The Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse will be moving operations from Cambridge (shown here) to Woburn. The Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse will be moving operations from Cambridge (shown here) to Woburn. (George rizer/globe staff/file)
Email|Print| Text size + By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / February 14, 2008

In a little more than a month, Middlesex Superior Court will open in Woburn after nearly four decades at the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse in Cambridge. With it, the court will bring the roughly 500 people who pass through its doors each day — the clerical staff, lawyers, judges, jurors, plaintiffs, defendants, and others who use or work in the system.

The move, prompted by the need for extensive renovation and asbestos removal at the Sullivan facility, has led many to celebrate the looming exit from the dingy and dimly lighted Cambridge confines. But it has also raised serious questions about the accessibility of the new suburban location.

‘‘People are excited about having a building where the heat works in the winter and the air conditioning works in the summer, and you can actually open the windows,’’ said Michael A. Sullivan, clerk magistrate for Middlesex Superior Court.

‘‘But the big thing for me is going to be accessibility for our customer base. That’s something we need to work on.’’ The current courthouse sits three blocks from the Lechmere stop on the MBTA’s Green Line. The new building is part of TradeCenter 128, an office park developed by Cummings Properties in Woburn adjacent to Route 128, between exits 34 and 35; a 400,000-square-foot office building is nearing completion alongside the new court and an existing office building of roughly 150,000 square feet. The campus will be added as a stop on the MBTA’s No. 134 bus, a Cummings spokesman said. The bus runs an hour-long route from Wellington Station in Medford through Winchester and Woburn.

Sullivan, a nephew of the longtime clerk for whom the Cambridge building was named, said he lobbied the Administrative Office of the Trial Court, which oversees judiciary matters below the Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court, to provide additional access to the Woburn courthouse, such as a shuttle to and from the Anderson Regional Transportation Center, a bus and commuter-rail station a few miles to the northeast.

‘‘The Trial Court is working on it, but we’re coming up to the move date,’’ he said.

Woburn last week issued a temporary occupancy certificate for much of the new building, allowing workers to begin installing furniture. The old desks will stay behind in Cambridge, but in the coming weeks 20 years’ worth of case files — about 140,000 folders —and dozens of computers will be moved to Woburn for the March 17 opening, Sullivan said. His staff is preparing to contact people with pending cases to tell them about the move, though the Trial Court has not yet informed him of the new mailing address or phone numbers, Sullivan said.

Currently, the 22-story Cambridge building houses Middlesex Superior Court and Cambridge District Court, the Middlesex district attorney’s office, and the Middlesex Jail. Only the Superior Court is moving to the TradeCenter, which means a transfer of 15 courtrooms, clerks’ offices, the probation department, and the law library, among other components, Sullivan said.

The court serves most of the 54 communities in Middlesex County — which extends from Cambridge out to Hopkinton, Ashby, and Dracut; a two-room courthouse in Lowell serves cities and towns near the New Hampshire border.

According to Corey Welford, spokesman for Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr., the DA’s office and its 100-plus employees will move to a different location in Woburn, at 15 Commonwealth Ave., sometime next month.

The district court and the jail will remain in East Cambridge for the time being, as their relocation plans are finalized. The Superior Court will maintain a small office on site to provide some clerical services, Sullivan said.

The relocation grew out of a public fight a few years ago between court employees and lawyers and Chief Justice Robert A. Mulligan, who manages the Trial Court system, over proposed renovations and improvements in Cambridge. The plans included the removal of the 90,000 pounds of asbestos that had been used to fireproof the building during construction.

Amid calls for postponing the project until the building could be vacated, Mulligan pledged to notify all employees before any abatement began. However, some asbestos work proceeded anyway, prompting officials, employees, and lawyers at the Cambridge courthouse — including Martha Coakley, then the Middlesex district attorney and now the state’s attorney general — to sue the chief justice.

Meanwhile, the state in January 2006 issued a request for proposals to relocate the two courthouses, hoping for a bid that would allow them to remain under one roof in Cambridge. That didn’t happen, so the state signed a three-year, $28 million deal in Woburn with an option for two more years. At the time, the state estimated that repairs and renovations in Cambridge would cost $130 million; officials have not decided whether to proceed with that work or to rebuild.

At the courthouse earlier this week, lawyers and staff expressed mixed opinions about the move. Kenneth J. Mickiewicz, a corporate litigator who has argued cases at the Cambridge courthouse since the early 1970s, said he wouldn’t miss the sallow, artificial light that fills the Soviet-style tower. But the new location will cost many Boston and Cambridge lawyers time — and clients money — by substantially lengthening their commutes, he said.

‘‘The Green Line is so easy to get here,’’ Mickiewicz said. ‘‘I don’t know what public transportation is like to Woburn.’’ Near a bank of elevators that has failed multiple inspections, lawyer Matthew Kamholtz said he thought the added difficulty of reaching Woburn by mass transit might lead to inadvertent probation violations.

‘‘How are these people supposed to get there to report to their PO?’’ said Kamholtz, a partner in the Boston firm Feinberg & Kamholtz.

In the criminal clerk’s office, 20-year judicial employee Rosa Phinn-Westby was worried about the commute from her home in Mattapan.

‘‘I’ ll have to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning just to get to work,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t even know where Woburn is, to tell you the truth.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at

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