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MA Judge accused of helping man escape immigration custody admits to facts, federal charges dropped

BOSTON — The federal case against a Newton district court judge who was accused of helping a man escape the custody of federal immigration officers has been dismissed after the judge admitted to “relevant facts” in the case and referred herself to the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates judicial misconduct.

District Court Judge Shelley Joseph was indicted in April 2019 in the District of Massachusetts on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly preventing an ICE Officer from taking custody of an “alien defendant.”

Joseph and retired court officer Wesley MacGregor were accused of allowing the man that ICE was after to escape from her courthouse.

A separate agreement has also been reached to defer prosecution against MacGregor who had been charged with one count of perjury.

“This will resolve the entirety of the pending federal prosecution,” according to a statement from the US Attorney’s office.

“This case is about the conduct of a sitting state court judge, on the bench, in the course of her judicial duties. Its purpose has been to shed light on, and, as warranted, to secure accountability for that conduct,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha.

“After I was assigned to oversee this matter, I undertook a full and comprehensive review of the evidence, the applicable law, and relevant equitable and prudential factors,” said Cunha. “Having done so, I have concluded that the interests of justice are best served by review of this matter before the body that oversees the conduct of Massachusetts state court judges, rather than in a continued federal criminal prosecution.”

“The requirement that Judge Joseph refer herself to the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct and make certain factual admissions will ensure that review takes place,” said Cunha.

According to that agreement, Judge Joseph agreed that she will not contest the accuracy of a statement of facts that showed “Joseph knew that an ICE officer was present in the courthouse waiting to take custody of (the defendant) if he was released from state custody. Joseph directed a court clerk to request that the ICE officer remain outside the courtroom in accordance with the practice of the presiding justice in Newton District Court. This direction was contrary to the DHS policy, which reflects, consistent with Supreme Court precedent and constitutional guarantees, that courthouses and courtrooms are public spaces and open to the public absent extraordinary circumstances not present here.”

“After the off-the record portion of the sidebar, the defense attorney asked, on the record, if he could go downstairs with (the defendant) and an interpreter so that they could speak. The defense attorney also stated that his client had property downstairs. Joseph stated on the record that she was granting the defense attorney’s request. The clerk reminded the Judge on the record that ICE agents were present and seeking to take the defendant into custody.”

“The defense attorney and the interpreter accompanied (the defendant) downstairs to the lockup area. Shortly thereafter, a court officer used his key card to open the door to the sallyport and released (the defendant) out the back door.”

“The ICE officers learned about (the defendant’s) release after it happened. (The defendant) was not taken into ICE custody on April 2, 2018.”

Judge Joseph had previously argued that, as a state district court judge, she was immune from federal prosecution for the conduct alleged in the indictment. That immunity, she argued, protected her against not just conviction, but also against prosecution.

Back in March, a federal appeals court denied a motion to review or dismiss the case as against Joseph as “premature.”

The ACLU of Massachusetts, which previously filed an amicus brief related to the case, on behalf of 61 retired Massachusetts judges, weighed in on the dismissal of charges on Thursday.

“This prosecution was flawed from the start,” said Matthew Segal, legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The ACLU of Massachusetts was proud to represent retired state judges in amicus briefs warning that this prosecution could have devastating consequences for the Massachusetts judiciary and the separation of powers. Judicial independence is an indispensable principle in our legal system, and we are pleased that steps are being taken now to uphold that principle.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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