The Massachusetts School of Law has a significant piece of Chelsea history situated right inside its institution on the law school’s campus in Andover.
The now 115-year-old courtroom from the old Chelsea District Court, formerly located inside the Chelsea Police station building on Park Street, has been at the law school for the past 20 years. Students at the law school use the courtroom as part of their educational training to be lawyers.
The judge’s bench, the witness stand, a lawyer’s table, the prisoner’s bar that surrounded the old courtroom, the mini-benches (where the court officers sat) and the judge’s bookcases have all been relocated from Chelsea to the Massachusetts School of Law.
Michael L. Coyne, associate dean and professor of law at the Massachusetts School of Law, said when officials heard that the old Chelsea courthouse was being closed back in 1991, they made inquiries about the courtroom.
“We were trying to develop some courtrooms here and Judge John Fenton, who was the chief administrative justice of the trial court at that time, said to us, “If you guys can get it [the old courtroom in Chelsea], then you can have it.”
Coyne said he and four law school students came to Chelsea to take a look at the courtroom.
“We felt the Chelsea courtroom would be a perfect fit for our law school,” said Coyne. “The courtroom was originally constructed in 1892; it’s handcrafted and a beautiful piece of work.”
Coyne said students from the law school disassembled the old courtroom, put it in the back of some U-Haul trucks, and brought it back to Andover.
“As many as 25 of our students helped us get the structure together and make it look like a courtroom that had always been there,” said Coyne.
The former “Chelsea” courtroom is located in an easily accessible area that students pass by on their way to classes.
“The courtroom is the centerpiece of the school in many ways because we pride ourselves on developing great advocates and to be able to have students train in a facility that for over 80 years was used as an urban, active courtroom really brings the practical aspect of being a lawyer into a pretty sterile educational facility otherwise,” said Coyne.
Coyne said students are encouraged to sit in the courtroom and observe the law school’s trial team practice for competitions.
“What happens is that it really becomes a piece that the students talk about; students are on their feet acting as advocates, working, as we like to say, with the benefits of a net – so if they make a mistake in this simulated courtroom environment, no one goes to jail and no one has to pay a million dollars. But if they learn to stop making those mistakes, at the end of the process we’ve developed better lawyers as a result of the use of the courtroom facilities.”
Coyne said the Massachusetts Appeals Court also regularly uses the courtroom to hear “real” legal cases inside the facility.
Chelsea residents and attorneys will be happy to hear that old Chelsea courtroom remains in good working condition.
“The furniture is oak and it has stood the test of time of being more than 100 years old,” said Coyne. “It’s funny but the more modern items like our new podium has already broken a couple of times. But the historic items we have from the Chelsea courtroom is terrific. It’s from an era when the craftsmen really knew what they were doing.”
Coyne said Chelsea residents are welcomed to come to the law school for a tour of the facility and a first-hand look at the courtroom.