A judge and a former court officer in Massachusetts have been charged for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant get out of a courthouse so they could escape from an Immigration Customs Enforcement officer.
Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and Wesley MacGregor were indicted Thursday on charges of obstruction of justice after allegedly helping an unnamed immigrant sneak out of a District Courthouse in Newton, Massachusetts, in April 2018.
Prosecutors said Joseph, 51, ordered the man to leave the building through a backdoor in the basement, rather than exit through the lobby, where she allegedly knew an ICE officer was waiting.
“Prior to the afternoon session, the courtroom clerk – at Joseph’s direction – allegedly instructed the ICE Officer to leave the courtroom and wait outside in the lobby, stating that in the event that the defendant was released, it would be through the courtroom and into the lobby,” the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement.
The man had been arrested by Newton police in March 2018 and charged with being a fugitive from justice and with narcotics possession, officials said.
He had allegedly been deported from the U.S. two times before and a federal order prohibited him from entering the country again, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“After learning of the defendant’s arrest, ICE issued a Federal Immigration Detainer and Warrant of Removal, which stated that the defendant was subject to removal from the United States,” the office said.
But after the case was called, the courtroom’s audio recorder allegedly captured Joseph, the defense attorney and the ADA speaking about the ICE detainer during a sidebar.
“Go off the record for a moment,” the judge told the courtroom clerk, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After 52 seconds, the recorder was turned back on, and Joseph said she was releasing the defendant. Joseph allegedly then allowed the man’s defense attorney to speak with their client downstairs, and when she was reminded that an ICE officer was in the building, she said: “That’s fine. I’m not going to allow them to come in here. But he’s been released on this.”
MacGregor allegedly escorted the man, his attorney and an interpreter downstairs, and used his security access to open the rear sally-port exit, authorities said.
“The allegations in today’s indictment involve obstruction by a sitting judge, that is intentional interference with the enforcement of federal law, and that is a crime,” United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement. “We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law.”
Joseph and MacGregor were each charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, prosecutors said. MacGregor was also charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury about the incident. They both have pleaded not guilty.
Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts spoke out against the charges, calling the indictment “a radical and politically motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts.”
“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,” Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Joseph has been suspended from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court without pay, The New York Times reported. If convicted, she could face up to 25 years in prison. MacGregor could face up to 30 years if he is convicted, officials said.