U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announces the indictment of a Mass. District Court judge and trial court officer who allegedly allowed an illegal immigrant to evade ICE. (MA U.S. Attorney's Office)
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — A Massachusetts District Court judge and a former Newton District Court officer have been indicted on obstruction of justice charges after the U.S. Attorney's office alleged they kept an ICE officer from taking a man into custody.
Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph, 51 of Natick, and court officer Wesley MacGregor, 56 of Watertown, were indicted on one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and two counts of aiding and abetting obstruction of justice.
They're accused of letting a man who was wanted by ICE for being in the country illegally escape out the back of the courthouse to avoid the ICE agent who was waiting inside the building to take him into custody.
Joseph and MacGregor are appeared in Federal Court in Boston Thursday afternoon, where they both pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the case was about the rule of 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," Lelling said in the statement. "We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law. Everyone in the justice system—not just judges, but law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and defense counsel—should be held to a higher standard. The people of Massachusetts expect that, just like they expect judges to be fair, impartial and to follow the law themselves."
Read the full indictment here:
The undocumented immigrant in this situation, Jose Medina-Perez, was facing deportation for drug offenses in Newton and for an outstanding warrant for drunk driving in Pennsylvania. He had previously been deported in 2003 and in 2007, and had a federal order prohibiting him from entering the US until 2027.
An ICE agent was present and waiting to take Medina-Perez into custody when he appeared in Newton District Court in April 2018, but Judge Joseph did not allow that agent into the courtroom.
Judge Joseph allegedly ordered a recording device shut off so she could hide her conversation, and allowed MacGregor to let Medina-Perez escape through the back door.
"You can't have a sitting judge intentionally interfering with a federal investigation and letting a fugitive out the back door of a courthouse," Lelling told WBZ NewsRadio's James Rojas.
Lelling's office said MacGregor is also charged with perjury for telling a grand jury back in July that, when he released Medina-Perez, he didn't know ICE agents were waiting for him at court with a detainer.
Medina-Perez was arrested a month later, but freed on bond. His case is currently pending.
Following the incident, Gov. Charlie Baker called for Judge Joseph's removal. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered Judge Joseph suspended without pay Thursday afternoon.
Lelling told WBZ NewsRadio's James Rojas that cases like this get a tremendous amount of thought in their office, but that everyone must be equally subject to the law.
"At the end of the day, the case is about the rule of law to us," Leling said. "The rules apply to you if you're rich and famous, or if you're just in a position of power. You have to be following the same rules as everybody else."
In a statement, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey disagreed, calling the case a "misuse of prosecutorial resources." She's unhappy that a federal body interfered with state court business.
"Today’s indictment is a radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts," her statement read. "It is a bedrock principle of our constitutional system that federal prosecutors should not recklessly interfere with the operation of state courts and their administration of justice."
She claims that the matter could have been handled at the state level without federal action, and warned of the "chilling effect [Lelling's] actions will have."
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement that the case "is nothing less than an assault on justice in Massachusetts courts, and it will further undermine community trust and safety."
Matt Cameron, managing partner of Cameron Law Offices and co-director of the Golden Stairs Immigration Center, said he's "still in shock" about the indictment.
"This is the federal government coming after one of our state officer employees and one of our judges, and they're coming after them for purely political reasons," he said. "For a judge simply to be exercising her authority to maintain order, peace in the courtroom—to be charged federally for that, it's just out of control."
Cameron believes the case is a message from ICE that they'll do anything to execute their civil warrants.
"Remember, ICE isn't there looking for someone convicted of a crime," he said. "They're looking for someone wanted on a civil immigration warrant, not a criminal matter. For them to use these kind of heavy handed tactics to do that it should concern everyone."
Lelling said that the investigation was a long one.
"I can now confirm that, I think back in December when the Globe ran an article about this, there was in pact a pending federal grand jury investigation on this matter," he said.
WBZ NewsRadio's James Rojas (@JamesRojasWBZ) reports