State Representative Eugene O’Flaherty miscalculated badly when he tried to place the Chelsea District Court under the control of the central Boston Municipal Court. Reorganizing courts has some merit, but stuffing this move in a late-night budget amendment wasn’t the way to win converts to his cause.
The recent Probation Department scandal and subsequent indictments raised alarms and awareness of how lawmakers manipulate the administrative side of the judiciary when it serves their political and patronage purposes. The head of the state district court system, Lynda Connolly, had disciplined a bumbling clerk magistrate in Chelsea, who is a close friend and political supporter of O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, looked for all the world like a lawmaker bent on payback when he tried to poke the Chelsea court out of Connolly’s control.
Maybe it is inefficient for Chelsea to host the sole district court in Suffolk County that does not fall under the wider jurisdiction of the Boston Municipal Court. O’Flaherty thinks so. Or perhaps efficiency would be served best if Boston Municipal Court, which covers downtown Boston and the waterfront, were placed under Connolly’s jurisdiction along with dozens of other district courts across the state. In 2003, former Governor Romney tried unsuccessfully to put the Boston Municipal Court under the mainstream court system as a means to promote management efficiencies and root out patronage.
Such options should be explored in public view with the goal of delivering equal justice through the efficient hearing and disposition of cases. Even O’Flaherty came quickly to the realization that the public has had it with lawmakers’ tiresome meddling in the court system. And, wisely, he withdrew his amendment.
Harry Spence, a widely respected public manager, was recently appointed as the court administrator of the Trial Court. He’s best suited to lead the discussion on where the courts in contention fit into an overall strategy to improve personnel, technology, and physical facilities in the Trial Court. Lawmakers, meanwhile, should stop treating courts like political playthings.