Judge Joseph loses bid to toss charges against her

Immunity claim not addressed; case going to trial

SUSPENDED NEWTON District Court Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph and retired court officer Wesley MacGregor will face trial on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice after US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin denied their motions to dismiss the charges, according to a court filing.

The judge said in his order that the trial could proceed “because the indictment complies with the governing legal standard.” He dismissed their constitutional challenges. The trial date has not been set.

Joseph and MacGregor are accused of allowing Jose Medina-Perez, who was in the country illegally, to escape out the back door of the Newton District Court when it was made known a plainclothes ICE agent was present in the courthouse 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.

Sorokin made no determination on Joseph’s claim of judicial immunity, saying “it is not within this Court’s province on a motion to dismiss to determine whether judicial immunity, even if its reach encompasses criminal liability, provides a viable shelter for Joseph in the circumstances alleged here.”

In April 2019, US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office charged Joseph and MacGregor with three counts of federal obstruction of justice. Lelling, appointed by President Trump, faced criticism from some attorneys for his decision to charge a sitting judge with a federal crime.

In his complaint against Joseph, Lelling said federal officials cannot pick and choose the federal laws they follow or use their personal views to justify violating the law. “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,” the complaint said.

In April, Joseph insisted on a search of federal records for political bias, arguing Lelling’s actions reflected the anti-immigrant attitudes of Trump.

Thomas Hoopes, Joseph’s attorney, alleged that Lelling made a number of statements showing bias in the previous year and engaged in “improper government leaks” to the Boston Globe to harm his client.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

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.

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.

She turned down a plea offer last May from Lelling‘s office that would have allowed her to avoid prosecution and potentially allow her to remain on the bench.