Judging the judge
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.”
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.
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.
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