A Massachusetts judge and trial court officer were indicted Thursday on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly helping a man living in the U.S. illegally to evade a waiting immigration enforcement agent by sneaking out a back door.
The indictment, released Thursday, charges Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and former Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor with obstruction of justice. MacGregor was also charged with perjury.
The indictment says Joseph and MacGregor helped an undocumented immigrant appearing in their courtroom from evading detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Both Joseph and MacGregor pleaded not guilty to charges at their appearance in Boston federal court.
According to court documents, the charges stem from a case in March 30, 2018, where Newton police charged undocument immigrant Jose Medina Perez with drug possession and being a fugitive from justice from Pennsylvania. Perez was arraigned on April 2 and allowed by MacGregor to leave out a back door after the hearing, evading an ICE officer who was waiting at court to take him into custody.
Perez was caught by immigration officials about a month after the hearing and is now in immigration proceedings.
"From certain corners I have heard the occasional gasp of dismay or outrage at the notion of holding a judge accountable for violating federal law," Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling told reporters. "But if the law is not applied equally it cannot credibly be applied to anyone."
Joseph, 51, has been a Massachusetts District Court judge since 2017. MacGregor, 56, had worked as a Massachusetts Trial Court Officer since 1993.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court suspended Joseph without pay on Thursday after news of the indictment was made public.
"Abuses of power hurt us all," said Peter Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations in Boston. "It undermines the core mission of government to serve the people. It has no place in a just and accountable society."
After federal authorities opened an investigation into the matter, Gov. Charlie Baker said in December that he wanted Joseph suspended until the case was resolved.
Lizzy Guyton, Baker's communications director, said in a statement Thursday the governor "believes no one should obstruct federal law enforcement officials trying to do their jobs and supports the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to suspend Judge Joseph without pay. The Baker-Polito Administration has filed legislation to allow court officials as well as law-enforcement to work with federal immigration officials to detain dangerous individuals."
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey blasted the indictment, calling it a "radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts."
She said it is a "bedrock principle" of the constitutional system that "federal prosecutors should not recklessly interfere with the operation of state courts and their administration of justice."
Healey said the matter could have been handled by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Trial Court.