Judging the judge

Two takes from the Globe on Newton jurist

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN with Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph, who is apparently the focus of a federal grand jury considering whether she improperly aided a defendant in eluding federal immigration officials?

The Boston Globe has a thing or, it turns out, two to say about it all.

An editorial in today’s paper urges the chief justice of the state’s Trial Court, Paula Carey, to remove Joseph from hearing any criminal cases while the issue is sorted out. “For the sake of the orderly administration of justice, she ought to exercise that authority immediately,” the paper says of Carey.

The editorial comes a day after Gov. Charlie Baker made just such a call. “I don’t believe she should be hearing criminal cases until that federal case is resolved,” Baker said on Monday. “Look, judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice.”

As far as Globe columnist Adrian Walker is concerned, however, the governor — and his paper’s editorial board — have it all wrong. Walker weighs in today slamming Baker for being willing to “kick due process to the curb.” He faults the governor for playing judge and jury in a matter that’s being handled through proper legal channels. “Who needs a grand jury when we have Baker?” he asks sarcastically.

The case revolves around whether Joseph and other court officials helped a defendant facing drug charges, who had already twice been deported from the country, exit out a backdoor of the Newton courthouse and evade federal immigration officials who were there to take him into custody if released by the judge.

The tale comes complete with a Watergate-style gap in the courtroom recording system, which was turned off for 58 seconds at a pivotal point in a hushed-tone sidebar conference Joseph held with the prosecutor and defense lawyer for Jose Medina-Perez.

The case highlights the growing tensions between state courts and municipal governments and federal immigration authorities. State judges have been wary of allowing immigration officials into their courts, in part because of fears that their presence will undercut justice by scaring undocumented victims and witnesses away from court proceedings.

The Trial Court has settled on a policy stating that judges and court personnel should “neither help nor hinder federal agents,” the Globe editorial says. “If Joseph schemed with Medina-Perez’s lawyer to help him avoid ICE, that sounds a lot like hindering.”

Ordering the court audio recorder turned off, as Joseph appeared to do, is also a violation of Trial Court rules.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

While Walker faults Baker for stepping into the issue, the Globe editorial sees nothing wrong with him speaking out, saying “he does have the bully pulpit necessary to make the judicial branch at least think about removing Joseph from criminal sessions in the district court.”

If broader tensions over immigration policy form the backdrop here, important context for Baker’s pointed reaction to the case is the fact that he named Joseph to the bench last year. While the main focus now is on her judgment, he knows his could also come under scrutiny.