Judge James Sullivan Takes Over As The New First Justice Of Nantucket District Court

David Creed •

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The Hon. James M. Sullivan took over as the new Nantucket District Court judge last week, and he says he is excited for the opportunity to be on the island’s bench.

“I am so excited to be here and the opportunity was intriguing,” Sullivan said. “I was sort of at a crossroads of whether to settle in at Plymouth for the duration or try something new. I still love Plymouth and I hope to continue sitting there in the days where I’m not here. But this was a unique opportunity and the island is unique.”

Sullivan has been the presiding judge in Plymouth District Court for the past eight years. He began his legal career with a brief stint in solo practice before becoming an assistant district attorney with the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office in 1991, where he maintained a position until 2002.

From there Sullivan assumed a role as an associate justice at Taunton District Court and as an acting first justice at Hingham District Court and Attleboro District Court before moving into his most recent role as Plymouth District Court’s first justice.

Sullivan grew up on Cape Cod and he has ties to Nantucket. He has been coming to the island on a semi-regular basis for the past 10 to 12 years and has traveled to Nantucket for a few court sessions each year whenever former Nantucket District Court Judge Thomas S. Barrett was unavailable. Some of those sittings took place during August jury weeks while others took place in the middle of the winter, giving Sullivan a good idea of what the island is at its busiest and slowest.

But Sullivan has deeper ties to Nantucket than just his occasional sittings in the District Court. Sullivan and his wife got married on Nantucket years ago and because of an October storm, the wedding eventually took place in the lobby of the Nantucket District Courthouse.

“It is a funny story,” Sullivan said. “The judge who presided over my marriage was Judge Jim O’Neill who sat here on Nantucket for years. I had known him for quite some time, and I was working as an ADA at the time. My wife and I were supposed to get married out in Brant Point, but unfortunately it was October and there was a monsoon. It was raining sideways and so I actually ended up getting married here in the lobby of the Nantucket District Court. That was sort of one of my first interactions with Nantucket. I liked the idea of getting married over here and so we spent a few weeks.”

The ties between Sullivan and the island, however, expand even beyond that. Sullivan’s father took a job with the Steamship Authority following a long career in construction. His father was a regular on the Steamship's M/V Eagle, and so he and his family would come visit him on occasion since the boat ties up on Nantucket for the night.

Sullivan has always been fascinated by the old fishing stories of whalers being out at sea for at least two or three years at a time or longer. And he has always had a passion for the sea, having gotten his start in Plymouth as a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat in 1983.

Sullivan has never lived on Nantucket year-round. He will continue to live off island while traveling here on a weekly basis in the winters and for longer periods of time in the summers when there are at least two District Court sessions taking place per week.

Sullivan said he feels like he has a decent idea of what Nantucket is and hopes to bring that perspective into this new role.

“People get a romanticized notion of Nantucket but it is grind living on an island,” he said. “My mother grew up on an island in Ireland and between talking to her, my father, and my own experiences here, I know that it can be really hard. People live and die by the ferry schedules. Being out here alone makes a lot of the year a grind, but the payoff is that it is such a gorgeous place.”

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