Gloucester court’s move could hurt those it serves
GLOUCESTER - For victims of abuse seeking restraining orders and elderly residents challenging traffic tickets, Gloucester District Court is easy to find - it’s on Main Street downtown - and staff members say they treat visitors personally, not as docket numbers.
Far from an imposing marble and granite fortress, the courthouse is the small second floor of a city building, just above the police station.
If courthouse services are moved to Salem, as proposed under a Massachusetts Trial Court plan to cut costs, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the greatest burden, and little or no money will be saved, employees and city officials said yesterday.
“This is more of a community court, and I think people feel very comfortable coming here,’’ said Margaret Crateau, the first assistant clerk magistrate, who holds hearings and grants warrants.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the state’s top judges detailed a plan to relocate the operations of 11 courts statewide.
The trial court’s timeline for the changes is unclear, but they must give 90 days notice to the Legislature.
The threat of closing has hung over Gloucester District Court for years, and employees said they would weather the relocation, but their constituents may not.
“This is just a shift of burden for the trial court onto the people with the most limited resources,’’ said Melissa Joy Teixeira, operations supervisor in the clerk’s office.
Abused women with children in hand come to the courthouse seeking restraining orders, she said, and reaching Salem will be a challenge for some of them, she predicted.
Appearing in Salem alongside the defendant could prove dangerous: “They could end up on a train together,’’ she said.
The Gloucester District Court has occupied the building rent-free since 1993 under a lease agreement with the city, Teixeira said.
In a 2010 hearing on court consolidations, Mayor Carolyn Kirk offered to pick up many of the court’s costs, estimated at about $45,000, just to keep the court in town. Yesterday, she renewed the offer.
But Joan Kenney, Supreme Judicial Court spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the loss of 1,126 staff members over four years necessitates the move.
“The Trial Court’s significant staffing shortage is the driving force requiring consolidation to redeploy court staff and court officers,’’ Kenney wrote.
The drive to Salem could cost the Gloucester Police Department an additional $25,000 to $40,000 a year. “I can live with that for now,’’ Chief Michael Lane said yesterday as he looked over his budget for 2012.
The move to the Salem court could even mean more standard sentencing, Lane said.
A judge among other judges, as opposed to Gloucester’s single judge who presides three days a week, might be tougher, which Lane sees as a good thing.
Richard Malynn, a defense lawyer and juvenile attorney who has an office with two other attorneys located just two buildings from the courthouse, is bracing for the changes and considering moving to Salem.
“We’ve already started discussing it, that we’d probably close our office,’’ he said.
Ben Wolford can be reached at email@example.com.