A Massachusetts district court judge and a former court officer face federal charges for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant evade immigration authorities. According to the indictment, they helped the unnamed immigrant escape out a courthouse rear exit while an Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer waited in the lobby.
Newton District Court Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph, 51, and former trial court officer Wesley MacGregor, 56, were charged Thursday, April 25 with obstruction of justice and other federal charges.
"This case is not about immigration. This case is about the rule of law," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said at a press conference at a U.S District Court in Boston. "We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law."
Here's the top of the indictment of a judge and court officer - accused of helping a defendant evade ICE agents. Both are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice & obstruction of a fed proceeding. Only the court officer is charged with perjury. #wcvb pic.twitter.com/LiKlDSZeGv— Karen Anderson (@karenreports) April 25, 2019
According to authorities, on April 2, 2018, Joseph was hearing the case of an undocumented immigrant referred to in the indictment as “A.S.” The individual was arrested four days prior by Newtown police for drug possession and for being a fugitive from justice in Pennsylvania. “A.S.” had allegedly been deported twice (in 2003 and 2007) and was prohibited from re-entering the U.S. until 2027, CNN reports.
Upon learning about the arrest of A.S., ICE issued an order for a federal immigration detainer and warrant for removal, sending a plainclothes ICE officer to pick him up at the Newton District Courthouse.
According to Lelling, the ICE officer alerted several courthouse personnel, including MacGregor, of his intentions to take the undocumented immigrant into federal custody. Although the agent was initially sitting in the public audience area of the courtroom, Joseph directed a court clerk to ask the ICE officer to wait outside in the lobby before the unnamed undocumented immigrant’s court session.
In a court audio recording, the defendant’s attorney can be heard telling Joseph he believed his client was not the same person named in the fugitive warrant.
"ICE is going to pick him up if he walks out the front door. But I think the best thing for us to do is to clear the fugitive issue, release him on a personal, and hope that he can avoid ICE,” the attorney said, CNN reports. “That's the best I can do."
Joseph responded, “ICE is gonna get him?”
According to the indictment, Joseph then ordered the court clerk to turn off the court recording device, leaving a gap of 52 seconds — the period in which the Joseph and MacGregor allegedly conspired to have A.S. escape through the back door to avoid immigration authorities. Joseph allegedly later told a senior district court judge that the recording device was shut off due to "unfamiliarity with the Courtroom recording equipment."
When the recording device was turned on again, the prosecutor declared there was not enough evidence to hold him on the Pennsylvania warrant and Joseph ordered the man to be released. The immigrant’s defense attorney then requested to collect his client’s property downstairs. From there, MacGregor allegedly escorted the defendant, his attorney and an interpreter to lock up and used his security access card to open the rear exit.
“The grand jury has found probable cause that a judge intentionally interfered with a federal investigation by letting a fugitive out the backdoor of the courthouse... Everyone in the justice system — not just judges, but law enforcement officers, prosecutors and defense counsel — should be held to a higher standard,” Lelling said, adding that the Joseph made “false and misleading statements” when asked about the incident. “The law must apply to all of us, even the rich and famous. Today, I would add that it must apply to the privileged and the powerful.”
MacGregor and Joseph have been charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a federal proceeding, and aiding and abetting. MacGregor was also charged with one count of perjury. Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment from Joseph’s attorney have not been answered.
Both Joseph and MacGregor pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released without bond on Thursday, April 25. Joseph was suspended without pay by the state's Supreme Judicial Court—a move supported by Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, WCVB reports.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been critical of the Department of Justice, calling the indictments "a radical and politically motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts."
The executive director of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Massachusetts, Carol Rose, added that the Justice Department’s indictment is “preposterous, ironic, and deeply damaging to the rule of law.” In a statement, Rose added, “This decision seems to have little to do with the actual facts, and everything to do with enforcing the president’s anti-immigrant agenda.”
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