Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph and court officer Wesley MacGregor were both charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a federal proceeding and perjury for an incident on April 2, 2018 - in an indictment today by a federal grand jury that has been investigating them for nearly a year.
At issue, according to the indictment, is a man arrested in Newton on March 30 on drug charges and as a fugitive from justices from Pennsylvania. Newton Police sent his fingerprints to a national database, where an ICE agent noticed them and submitted a "detainer" to have the man held for possible deportation because he had already been deported from the US in 2003 and 2007.
According to the affidavit, a plainclothes ICE agent went to Newton District Court and alerted court officers, an assistant Middlesex County DA and the man's lawyer that he was there to take the man into federal custody, before taking a seat in Joseph's courtroom. After letting the agent cool his heels for several hours - and at one point having her clerk order him out of the courtroom to wait in the court lobby, the indictment alleges, Joseph had MacGregor take the man's lawyer - who maintained his client was not the guy wanted in Pennsylvania - down to the man in a basement lockup, where MacGregor then opened a rear door and let the man and his lawyer out, evading ICE detention.
Part of the conspiracy charge involves Joseph turning off a courtroom recording device for 51 seconds during a sidebar discussion with the lawyer - who was not charged in the indictment. Federal prosecutors say this is when Joseph and the lawyer figured out how to get the man out of the courthouse.
The feds also charge that Joseph then lied about what happened during a meeting with other district-court judges by allegedly lying that the machine went off because of her unfamiliarity with the equipment. MacGregor is charged with lying to the grand jury last July when testifying about how he let the man out of the court; prosecutors allege he falsely claimed that he didn't know the man was wanted by ICE or that there was an ICE agent in the courthouse.
Joseph, 51, of Natick, and MacGregor, 56, of Watertown, could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted, the US Attorney's office reports.
In a statement, US Attorney Lelling Andrew Lelling said:
This case is 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. 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.
Matt Cameron, an immigration lawyer in East Boston, retorts:
There are no words for my fury. THIS, only 1 wk after the #MuellerReport, is where the DOJ draws the line on obstruction?
I stand with Judge Joseph & challenge anyone who claims to care about federalism, states' rights, & "limited government," to join me
In short, Judge Joseph:
1) Had serious concerns about whether ICE was about to detain the right guy
2) Exercised authority as a trial judge charged w/preserving order & dignity in the court to instruct a court officer to escort the defendant off the premises
The indictment (1.7M PDF).