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Official drops call for shift of Chelsea court

O’Flaherty cites public ‘perception’; denies trying to protect supporter

Eugene O’Flaherty said he still believes it makes sense to place the Chelsea court under Boston’s system.
Eugene O’Flaherty said he still believes it makes sense to place the Chelsea court under Boston’s system. Globe Staff/File

The House Judiciary Committee chairman said Tuesday that he is backing off his controversial push to shift control of Chelsea District Court to the Boston Municipal Court, saying his plan had created a perception of a legislative power play against the courts.

The Globe reported Tuesday that Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty quietly attached an amendment to the House budget after Lynda M. Connolly, the chief justice of the state’s district court system, took disciplinary action against Chelsea’s clerk magistrate, Kevin G. Murphy, a close family friend and political supporter of O’Flaherty’s.

His amendment, if adopted in the final budget plan signed by Governor Deval L. Patrick, would have stripped Connolly of control over both Murphy and the Chelsea court.

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O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, said that he still believes it makes sense to place the Chelsea court under the Boston Municipal Court system in terms of management and efficiencies. But he said he now recognizes that the timing and perception undercut what he feels is a smart management move.

“In view of the saucy and sexy partin terms of the timing and the public’s perception it creates, I’m suggesting to the speaker that he not advocate for the amendment when negotiating with the Senate over the budget,’’ O’Flaherty said.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo declined to comment Tuesday.

O’Flaherty, a close confidant of DeLeo, has insisted that his proposal was not an attempt to protect Murphy.

But O’Flaherty said he also is sensitive to the abundant history of legislative interference with the management of the court system, moves that over the years have created political battles and even criminal investigations.

“I’m very, very cognizant of that history and perception,’’ O’Flaherty said. “I don’t think this is the same thing, but I can understand why people see it that way.’’

David Falcone, a spokesman for Senate President Therese Murray, said the Senate would not have gone along with the House amendment, which was added to the $32 billion spending plan without debate and in the final hours of the budget session on April 25.

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O’Flaherty said he will instead look to court administrators, who are beginning to carry out a legislative mandate to review court jurisdictions, to determine whether the Chelsea Court should be joined with the Boston Municipal Court.

Earlier this year, Connolly disciplined Murphy for failing to maintain proper custody of three guns that had gone missing in several criminal cases. He was sent to Salem District Court for training on procedures regarding custody of evidence, while the Suffolk district attorney’s office investigates the case.

O’Flaherty’s now-defunct proposal had called for the Chelsea court to move under the management of Boston Municipal Court, which over the years has used its powerful political ties on Beacon Hill to remain a separate entity from the state’s district court system.

Since 2003, the Boston Municipal Court has overseen the seven district courts in the city of Boston. O’Flaherty had initially argued that it made sense to move the Chelsea court, which also handles Revere cases, under Boston Municipal Court, so all Suffolk County district courts would be under the same umbrella.


Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.