BOSTON (CBS) – A trial court judge and a court officer have been indicted on federal charges of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors allege that Newton District Court judge Shelley Joseph and court officer Wesley MacGregor helped a defendant leave through a back door to avoid being detained by an ICE officer.
United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling announced details of the case Thursday afternoon. A short time later, the Supreme Judicial Court announced Joseph has been suspended without pay until further notice.
Both Joseph and MacGregor were arraigned Thursday afternoon and pleaded not guilty.
“This prosecution is absolutely political, Shelley Joseph is absolutely innocent,” Joseph’s attorney Tom Hoopes said outside court.
Jose Medina-Perez, identified in court documents as “A.S.” or alien subject, was arrested March 30, 2018 as a fugitive from justice from Pennsylvania on narcotics possession charges. ICE issued a federal immigration detainer.
Medina-Perez had allegedly entered the country illegally for a third time.
According to court documents, on April 2 around 9:30 a.m. an ICE officer arrived in plainclothes, identified himself, and sat in the courtroom during the morning session. Medina-Perez’s case was called around 10:30 a.m., but Joseph agreed to re-call it later in to the day.
Documents allege that Joseph ordered the clerk to have the ICE officer wait outside until the defendant was released into the lobby.
During a sidebar recorded during another hearing later in the day, Joseph asks “(Clerk) can we go off the record for a moment?” and the courtroom recorder is shut off for 52 seconds.
“ICE is going to pick him up if he walks out the front door,” a defense attorney later said on the record, according to a transcript. “But I think the best thing for us to do is clear the fugitive issue, release him on a personal, and hope that he can avoid ICE … That’s the best I can do.”
Joseph ordered Medina-Perez released and speaking about the ICE officer says “I’m not gonna allow them to come in here,” according to the transcript.
Medina-Perez was returned to lockup to gather belongings. MacGregor allegedly used his security access card at a back door around 3 p.m.
The ICE officer did not know Medina-Perez exited the courthouse.
ICE issued a statement following Joseph’s indictment.
The actions of the judge in this incident are a detriment to the rule of law and highly offensive to the law enforcement officers of ICE who swear an oath to uphold our nation’s immigration laws,” said Todd M. Lyons, Acting Field Office Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, Boston. “In order for our criminal justice system to work fairly for all people, it must be protected against judicial officials who would seek to replace the implementation of our laws with their own ideological views or politically-driven agenda. I would also like to thank U.S. Attorney Lelling for his local leadership and his continuous and faithful support of the ERO law enforcement mission.
Prosecutors claim Joseph made false statements about why the courtroom recording was shut off during the sidebar. Joseph allegedly “falsely attributed unfamiliarity with the courtroom recording equipment as the reason the recorder was turned off.”
Joseph and MacGregor are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a federal proceeding and perjury.
Gov. Charlie Baker called the allegations “disturbing.”
“Nobody’s above the law,” he said.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey slammed the decision to prosecute as a “radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts.
The American Civil Liberties Union also was critical of the decision, saying in a statement the charges are a result of President Trump’s “anti-immigrant agenda.”
“This decision seems to have little to do with the actual facts, and everything to do with enforcing the president’s anti-immigrant agenda,” the ACLU said. “This prosecution is nothing less than an assault on justice in Massachusetts courts, and it will further undermine community trust and safety. If Attorney General Barr really meant what he said about obstruction of justice when he held his press conference about President Trump—and even if he didn’t mean a word of it—he should immediately order that this case be dropped.”