A state judge in Massachusetts was indicted Thursday for refusing to allow ICE to take custody of an undocumented immigrant, according to court papers.
Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph, 51, of Natick, was charged in the case along with a court officer, Wesley MacGregor, 56, of Watertown.
In court on Thursday, the judge and court officer were released after appearing. The undocumented immigrant is in deportation hearings but not in custody.
“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," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling. "We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law."
According to officials, police in Newton arrested a suspect on March 30, 2018, for being a fugitive on narcotics charges. Officials discovered that the suspect had been deported twice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a detainer.
On April 2, 2018, a plainclothes ICE officer came to the district court in Newton to take custody of the suspect and was told to wait in the lobby.
But during the course of the proceedings, Joseph allegedly arranged for the suspect, his lawyer and an interpreter, to leave through a different exit, escorted by MacGregor.
“The actions of the judge in this incident are a detriment to the rule of law and highly offensive to the law enforcement officers of ICE who swear an oath to uphold our nation’s immigration laws,” said Todd M. Lyons, the acting field office director of ICE in Boston.
The defendant, who’s not identified by name in court documents, had been previously deported twice from the U.S., officials said.
According to the court documents, Judge Joseph arraigned the undocumented immigrant facing deportation on those charges, but later in the day she recalled his case. At that point, according to court documents Judge Joseph asked the ICE officer to wait outside the courtroom while proceedings took place.
The indictment includes court transcripts from the hearing which took place on April 2, 2018.
“ICE is gonna get him?” she asks the defendant’s attorney before turning off the court recorder, which the indictment said is a violation of Massachusetts court rules.
According to the government, 52 seconds later court recordings were turned back on.
The court clerk then asked the judge if she wanted to let the ICE officer back in, because he was set to visit the lockup portion of the jail, she declined and lets the unidentified subject go.
"That's fine. I'm not gonna allow them to come in here. But he's been released on this,” she says.
The court officer, who is also charged, asks if he is released. The judge said yes.
“He is. Um, [Defense Attorney] asked if the interpreter can accompany him downstairs, um, to further interview him...- and I've allowed that to happen,” she continued.
After that, the government says without the knowledge of the ICE officer, MacGregor released the alleged suspect out the back door, the government alleged, and said that "defendant Joseph and the Defense Attorney discussed devising a way to have A.S. avoid being arrested by the ICE Officer."
“Immediately following the proceeding, defendant MacGregor escorted A.S. from the Courtroom downstairs to the lockup, accompanied by the Defense Attorney and an interpreter," the indictment reads. "Once inside the lockup, defendant MacGregor used his security access card to open the rear sally-port exit and released A.S. out the backdoor at approximately 3:01 p.m,," the indictment stated.
Joseph previously served as a criminal defense attorney and was appointed to the Massachusetts district court by Governor Charlie Baker in 2017.
"The people of this country deserve nothing less than to know that their appointed and elected representatives are working on their behalf, while adhering to and enforcing the rule of law, not a personal agenda," said ICE Special Agent Peter Fitzhugh.
State court judges have voiced opposition to ICE agents making courthouse arrests as part of the Trump administration’s enforcement crackdown.
"Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws," California Supreme Court Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote in a 2017 letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Immigrant advocates and experts say ICE’s court house arrests can intimidate potential witnesses and compromise the judicial process.
When the allegations first surfaced, Governor Baker told the Boston Globe that the judge should be removed from hearing criminal cases pending an investigation into her conduct.
“Look, judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice," Baker said.
Judge Joseph was not reachable for comment.