Judge turns down plea deal from US attorney

Lawyer: Joseph rejected offer because she’s not guilty

THE DISTRICT COURT judge accused of allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant evade capture by federal authorities is not going gently into that goodnight.

The Boston Globe reports that Judge Shelley Joseph turned down a plea offer from US Attorney Andrew Lelling‘s office that would have avoided prosecution and potentially allowed her to remain on the bench.

She faces criminal charge on counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, aiding and abetting obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting obstruction of a federal proceeding.

Joseph’s choice means she will face the possibility of up to 20 years in prison if she were to be convicted. “Our client has pleaded not guilty because she is not guilty,” said her lawyer, Thomas Hoopes.

Joseph is accused of allowing Jose Medina-Perez, who was in the country illegally, escape out the back door of her courthouse when it was made known a plainclothes ICE agent was at the Newton District Court to detain him. Medina-Perez faced deportation following drug charges in Newton and a drunk driving charge in Pennsylvania. He was apprehended by ICE following his escape.

It is unclear if Joseph would have lost her job or license. She is already on unpaid suspension. Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel and chief operating officer for the Massachusetts Bar Association, told the Globe he believes “there is great likelihood that she could lose her ability to practice law” with the acceptance of a plea deal.

Opinions on Joseph’s decision and Lelling’s indictment are varied. Depending on who you ask, she’s either Jesus or Judas.

Former Massachusetts US attorney Michael J. Sullivan, who supports Lelling’s decision to charge Joseph, said he was “shocked” she didn’t take it. He defended Lelling’s decision-making on the issue, calling his ethics “fair and balanced.” Similarly, Ralph Boyd, a former US assistant attorney general, hailed Lelling’s “principled stand.”

But over at WBUR, Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge, had some other thoughts. She likened the reach of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement into state courthouses to that of the Fugitive Slave Acts, laws from the 18th and 19th century that allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves. Her argument centers on the premise that allowing ICE to capture someone on their detainer list in a state courthouse would infringe upon the Commonwealth’s right to not having state authority commandeered by the feds.

Retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Geraldine Hines said a sitting judge being indicted for criminal behavior has not occurred since 1787, when a judge was found guilty of libel for defending farmers involved in the armed uprising of Shays’ Rebellion. He lost his job and served seven months in jail.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.