It is time for the Massachusetts House to give full consideration to a proposal to move Danvers and Middleton cases from Salem to Peabody District Court, an idea that has been around for decades. However, there are still several questions that must be answered before any change is made.
State Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers filed legislation last year to move the local caseloads (as well as cases from Saugus), saying it would ease the burden on a busy Salem court and give an economic boost to Peabody’s downtown, a top priority for Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt.
Speliotis told reporter Ethan Forman he filed the bill on behalf of the court and the city of Peabody. “The court, in my opinion, is currently underutilized,” he said, “and I think it’s difficult for communities like Danvers to get over there (to Salem).”
Salem is certainly a much busier court than Peabody. Salem had 12,630 cases filed in fiscal 2013, compared with 6,863 in Peabody, according to the Massachusetts District Court Department.
“We’re not looking to steal anybody’s thunder,” said Peabody District Court Clerk Magistrate Kevin Finnegan, who testified in support of the bill on Beacon Hill. “We’re just trying to help out Salem, which is over-burdened. Quite frankly, we’re a little under-utilized.”
The extra cases would bring with them more police officers, as well as lawyers and their clients, which could mean more customers at downtown restaurants and a few more law offices in sight of the Peabody courthouse. That is no small thing: Salem’s bustling court system, much of it housed in the new $106 million J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center, has long been a key to the health of that city’s downtown business district.
Moving the bill through the Legislature has been difficult, Speliotis noted. “I think I have to have the political stars line up,” he said. “It’s not an easy task.”