BOSTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors have agreed to dismiss charges against a Massachusetts judge accused of helping a man who lived in the United States illegally evade an immigration officer, officials said Thursday.
Prosecutors decided to drop the case against Newton District Judge Shelley Joseph after she agreed to refer herself to a state agency that is investigating allegations of misconduct by bench members.
“I have concluded that the interests of justice are best served by the consideration of this matter before the body that oversees the conduct of judges in the courts of the State of Massachusetts, rather than by an ongoing federal criminal prosecution,” Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said. a statement sent by email. “The requirement that Judge Joseph refer to the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct and make certain factual admissions will ensure that the review takes place.”
Cunha was assigned to oversee the case after Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins recused herself. In his previous role as district attorney for Suffolk County, Rollins was part of a lawsuit to prevent federal authorities from making courthouse arrests of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Joseph and a court officer were charged in 2019 with obstruction of justice over allegations they conspired to let the man slip through the back door of the courthouse after a hearing on drug possession charges .
The prosecution of a sitting judge has sparked outrage from many in the legal community, who have criticized the case brought under the Trump administration as politically motivated.
Prosecutors have decided to dismiss all charges against Joseph and three charges against former courtroom deputy Wesley MacGregor. Prosecutors have reached a deferred prosecution agreement with MacGregor on the remaining perjury charge, which means prosecutors will dismiss that charge if he meets certain obligations.
Joseph’s attorneys said the judge “maintains her innocence,” but has “agreed to refer this matter to the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct and will fully participate in any review the Commission deems appropriate.”
“This was a blatantly political indictment, blindly based on ambition to prosecute,” defense attorney Thomas Hoopes said in an emailed statement.
Authorities said an immigration officer was in the courtroom detaining the man when he appeared at the Newton courthouse in April 2018. The Dominican man had been deported twice and had not been allowed to enter the United States until 2027, prosecutors said.
Authorities say Joseph’s clerk asked the officer to leave the courtroom and told him the suspect would be released in the courthouse lobby. Instead, prosecutors said after the hearing, MacGregor led the defendant downstairs to the dungeon and let him out through a back door. The man was arrested by immigration officials about a month later.
Under the agreement, Joseph admitted certain facts which will now be considered by the Judiciary Committee.
In a statement of facts that was filed in court, Joseph agreed that she knew an immigration officer was waiting to take custody of the defendant at the courthouse. The statement says Joseph asked the court clerk to turn off the recording device while the defense attorney, prosecutor and judge had a side conversation about the defendant.
During that conversation, the defense attorney asked Joseph to allow his client to come downstairs, according to the statement. When the judge returned to the court case, the defense attorney asked if he and his client could come downstairs with an interpreter so they could talk, and Joseph agreed, according to the statement.
Shortly after they got off the court officer opened the door, allowing the man to escape, the statement said.