A Newton judge, Shelley M. Richmond Joseph, was indicted yesterday on an obstruction of justice charge for allegedly helping a man escape from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Newton courthouse last year. A court officer, Wesley MacGregor, who has retired since the alleged incident, was also charged with obstruction of justice and an additional charge of perjury.
Joseph, 51, allegedly instructed the court officer, MacGregor, 56, to take Jose Medina-Perez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who reportedly entered the United States illegally three times, downstairs to retrieve something. MacGregor then used his security access card to open the sally-port exit downstairs and release Medina-Perez out the back, according to court documents.
Prior to Medina-Perez’s release, there is a recording of Joseph, MacGregor, a defense attorney, the assistant district attorney (ADA), and a clerk discussing his release. The defense attorney told Joseph that ICE was “convinced” that Medina-Perez was the man they were looking for in relation to a crime in Pennsylvania, citing a “biometric match.” Joseph asked the clerk to take the conversation off the record, at which time the recording stopped, according to court documents.
When they came back on the record, the defense attorney said that they were reasonably sure that Medina-Perez was not the man in question, after they had looked at photos and social security numbers. Bringing Medina-Perez downstairs to collect personal belongings was part of Joseph and MacGregor’s conspiracy to release him, court documents said.
“The idea of anyone interfering with federal law enforcement is troubling but if a judge did it, that is far, far worse,” said Andrew Lelling, the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney, at a news conference yesterday. “This case is not intended as a policy statement. At least not beyond making the point that the laws have to apply equally even if you’re a state court judge.”
Some have criticized the charges, though, saying that they are motivated by politics and the role of federal officials who have been told by President Trump to crack down on immigration enforcement.
“This prosecution is absolutely political,” said Tom Hoopes, Joseph’s attorney, outside of court. “Shelley Joseph is absolutely innocent.”
Maura Healey, the state attorney general, expressed outrage at the decision to prosecute, saying that the matter could have been handled by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Trial Court.
“Today’s indictment is a radical and politically motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts,” Healey said in a statement. “It is a bedrock principle of our constitutional system that federal prosecutors should not recklessly interfere with the operation of state courts and their administration of justice … I am deeply disappointed by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s misuse of prosecutorial resources and the chilling effect his actions will have.”
Daniel Kanstroom, a professor at Boston College Law School, has studied and published articles about immigration law and founded the BC Immigration and Asylum clinic, which has law students represent indigent noncitizens and asylum-seekers. He said he isn’t familiar with any previous indictments of a state judge or court officer.
“It strikes me as a substantial federal prosecutorial over-reach, given the complexities of state/federal intersections over immigration enforcement and major current controversies over ICE agents in state courtrooms,” he said in an email to The Heights. “The state judicial system—whether civil or criminal—simply cannot function properly if witnesses and others fear coming to state court because federal agents are using the courts as venues to catch and arrest people, especially for civil immigration violations.
“The alleged facts of this case are rather unusual, but the indictment is likely to have chilling effects far beyond those unusual facts.”
Joseph has been suspended without pay and MacGregor retired in March, according to The Boston Globe. She was appointed in November of 2017 by Governor Charlie Baker, who has since called for her temporary removal from the bench and a federal investigation.
“Look, judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice,” Baker said to reporters in December. “And as far as I can tell, based on the facts as they were presented, she clearly violated the court’s own policies with respect to the way they’re supposed to handle detainers.”
On the day in question, an ICE official arrived at the Newton Courthouse at 9:30 a.m., according to the court documents. He identified himself to people working at the court, including a clerk who informed Joseph that he was there. At 10:34 Medina-Perez, who is referred to as an Alien Subject (A.S.) in the document, was appointed a lawyer by Joseph and then arraigned.
Joseph agreed to re-call the case later, ordering the ADA to provide more information about the defendant’s fugitive charge. The A.S. was called back at 12:04, the report says, and the ADA said they would not seek to detain the defendant on the drug charge but would make a bail request for the fugitive charge.
Following this, the clerk told the ICE agent to leave and wait outside the courtroom, where the A.S. would be released, the court document says. It also stated that this is against Department of Homeland Security policy.
At 2:48 p.m. the conversation that was recorded and then cut off when Joseph asked to go off the record occurred. The ICE agent was unable to take custody of Medina-Perez, the court document said, because MacGregor released him out the back door.
Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For the Heights