Judge jails defense attorney for arguing too hard
Rollins seeks SJC clarification on prosecutorial powers
Add reciting case law in a Boston courtroom to the list of offenses that can get you thrown in jail.
That’s what happened to defense attorney Susan Church yesterday. Church was quoting from a 1991 ruling that referenced the “long-standing proposition” that the decision not to prosecute a criminal case is “within the discretion of the executive branch of government, free from judicial intervention.”
Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott told her she could not read the opinion, gave her a “last warning,” and then, when she kept talking, ordered court officers to take her into custody, the Boston Globe reported. She was handcuffed and jailed for about three hours before Sinnott released her with no charges being filed..
The jailing inflamed an already intense legal dispute arising from the latest clash in the culture wars. Prosecutors working for District Attorney Rachael Rollins had decided not to pursue charges against non-violent protesters who were arrested on Saturday. Sinnott decided he would not allow the prosecutors to drop the charges against seven protesters, one of whom was represented by Church.
The protesters had been, among other things, exercising their First Amendment rights. The police who arrested them were out protecting free speech principles as well.
The collars were made at the “Straight Pride” parade, a small march whose organizers trolled Bostonians on the route from Copley Square to City Hall Plaza.
The event featured a float trumpeting President Trump on which stood disgraced right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulis and a scattering of other marchers. An enormous police presence accompanied the parade as protesters heckled and chanted from behind barricades.
Up until four years ago, state governments could enforce straight-only marriage laws. It is gay and transgender people, not straight folk, who have been subjected to brutal harassment and persecution because of their sexuality. But the absurdity of the parade’s message was not enough for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to deny it a permit. The First Amendment’s protections of all sorts of speech superseded the mayor’s sensibilities.
“The City of Boston cannot deny a permit based on an organization’s values,” Walsh said in June in a series of tweets explaining how the city would handle the parade organizers. Now Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell wants to review the city’s permitting of public events.It calls to mind an episode more than a century ago, when Mayor James Michael Curley convened a hearing to determine whether he should censor the film The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and won the endorsement of President Woodrow Wilson, according to a biography by Jack Beatty. Curley felt powerless to ban the racist propaganda film, but he asked the filmmaker to cut a few scenes, which he did before the opening. Then, as recounted in a documentary by Dick Lehr, the African-American activist William Monroe Trotter was beaten and arrested at a screening at the Tremont Theater. On Saturday, the “Straight Pride” parade passed noisily by the site of the former cinema.
All of that serves as a reminder that the freedoms ingrained in the First Amendment are often subject to the politics and vagaries of the day.