SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

April 25, 2014

Benton: Clout keeps courts in Salem

News that work is about to begin on a $55 million renovation of the historic Essex Probate and Family Court building on Federal Street provides yet another reminder of the tremendous clout Salem has enjoyed on Beacon Hill.

Sadly, the recent departure of state Sen. Fred Berry and the decision by state Rep. John Keenan not to seek re-election this November leaves a huge void in terms of the city’s influence in the halls of the Statehouse. Those two, along with the late Mike Ruane, were instrumental in securing funds for a major overhaul of the county court complex, along with the construction of new facilities including a new law library in the former First Baptist Church.

Sen. Joan Lovely, now nearing the end of her first term; and Paul Tucker, Keenan’s likely successor as state representative for Salem; will have big shoes to fill.

There was a time only a decade or so ago when judges, lawyers and elected officials were advocating for construction of a new court complex with lots of room for parking out on the highway in Peabody or Danvers. Such a move would have been devastating to Salem’s central business district, which has served as the hub of legal activity in the region since even before the infamous witchcraft trials in the latter part of the 17th century.

Ruane, who rose to become one of the most influential members of the House Ways & Means Committee, and Keenan, along with Berry, the former Senate majority leader from Peabody, made sure the courts remained in downtown Salem.

The state funds that have been poured into the construction of the new J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center and the renovation of the majestic Probate Court building next door should cement Salem’s place as the center of the regional judicial system for decades to come.

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