Judge’s attorney accuses Lelling of political bias

Cites comments, op-eds, newspaper leaks

THE ATTORNEY REPRESENTING a judge charged with helping an undocumented immigrant evade federal immigration officials at her court is accusing US Attorney Andrew Lelling of political bias through his public statements, his leaking of confidential material to the news media, and his granting of immunity to a key witness.

Thomas Hoopes, the attorney for suspended Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph, sent a 12-page letter on Tuesday to Lelling asking him to turn over all evidence of his and the federal government’s political bias.

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 Immigration and Customers Enforcement 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 in 2018.

Joseph was initially suspended without pay in April 2019 after her indictment, but her $184,000-a-year salary was restored in August by the Supreme Judicial Court.

From June 2019 to February 2020, Hoopes said Lelling made a number of statements and engaged in “improper government leaks” to the Boston Globe to harm his client. He also said Lelling’s actions seemed to reflect the generally anti-immigrant attitudes of President Trump, local Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Todd Lyons, and other members of the Department of Homeland Security.

Hoopes also claims that the defense attorney for the unauthorized immigrant was offered “complete immunity” from prosecution “contingent on his retelling of the same fictitious story” at trial that he told to a grand jury.

Hoopes and Lelling’s office both declined to comment on Wednesday.

As an example of Lelling’s bias, Hoopes pointed to a February 10 Boston Herald op-ed in which Lelling criticized sanctuary cities but did not mention the Joseph case. He did mention a case in which another Newton district court judge granted bail to an undocumented immigrant accused of raping a Boston College student while working as an Uber driver. The immigrant subsequently fled the country.

“Why the United States attorney wrote a political op-ed piece at all in his position as a supposedly unbiased law enforcement officer of the US is unclear,” Hoopes wrote.

Hoopes also alleged that officials with the US Attorney’s office illegally leaked confidential information to the Boston Globe. The story in question, written on December 1, 2018, by Andrea Estes and Maria Cramer, cited “five people with direct knowledge” that a grand jury was investigating whether Joseph broke the law in helping Medina-Perez and that several court employees had been called to testify.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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 long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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.

Joseph turned down a plea offer last May from US Attorney Andrew Lelling‘s office that would have avoided prosecution and potentially allow her to remain on the bench.

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

Joseph faces up to 20 years in prison if she is convicted. “Our client has pleaded not guilty because she is not guilty,” Hoopes told Commonwealth in a 2019 interview. A recent hearing on Joseph’s motion to dismiss has been postponed to June because of the coronavirus pandemic.