BOSTON — The high court in Massachusetts on Monday ruled on the side of Boston's district attorney, Rachael Rollins, in a high-profile dispute with a city judge who refused to drop charges against counter protesters arrested at last month's Straight Pride Parade.
Frank Gaziano, a justice with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, sided with Rollins in a written opinion, arguing that Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott violated the state constitution's separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches.
Rollins asked the Supreme Court to intervene after Sinnott last week ignored prosecutors' requests to drop charges against many of the 36 counter protesters arrested for disorderly conduct during the Aug. 31 parade and rally.
"Fundamentally, the judge has no authority to 'deny,' the commonwealth's entry of a nolle prosequi," Gaziano wrote, referring to the legal term to abandon charges. "The prosecutor's sole authority to determine which cases to prosecute, and when not to pursue a prosecution, has been affirmed repeatedly by this court since the beginning of the 19th century."
The controversial Straight Pride Parade, organized by three conservative straight men, attracted between 200 and 300 marchers but many more counter protesters, including people who identify with the anti-fascist group antifa.
They shouted "Nazi scum!" at the marchers, jeered and heckled them throughout the mile-long parade, and confronted the extraordinary number of police who worked to separate the two sides. Most of the arrests happened after the rally as officers tried to disperse the crowd of counter protesters to reopen streets.
The legal fallout pitted the Suffolk County District Attorney, elected on a reform-minded progressive platform last year, and a judge appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in 2017.
"There's clarity now," Rollins said at a news conference. "We thought we had it but now it is crystal clear that we have the authority to do what it is that we did. We will continue to do so.
"Change is really hard. There are lots of people who like the way the system is working right now. This was a colossal waste of time, quite frankly, because anyone who's gone to law school knows that there's a separation of powers."
In his nine-page order, Gaziano agreed to grant "extraordinary relief" to Roderick Webber, a counter protester whose case was the subject of Rollins' petition to the Supreme Court.
Gaziano ordered that his arraignment be vacated immediately and his case remanded back to Municipal Court. He also ordered his criminal record from the arrest be expunged.
Sinnott had argued Rollins did not properly notify the case's "victims" — leaders of the conservative group Super Happy Fun America, which organized the parade — of her decision to drop charges. But Gaziano said disorderly conduct is an offense against the public, not a single victim.
Rollins is still prosecuting eight people arrested for violent acts at the Straight Pride Parade. Each has been charged with either assault and battery on a police officer or assault, accosting, affray, or carrying a dangerous weapon.
Each of the cases that Rollins sought to dismiss involved nonviolent charges and defendants with no prior criminal records. The District Attorney's Office said they will now individually review each of those case following the Supreme Court judgement.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Straight Pride Parade fallout: DA wins fight over protester arrests