Remember when judges used to uphold the law? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case today.
Consider the Massachusetts trial judge who is accused of helping a twice-deported illegal immigrant slip out the back door rather than hand him over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent waiting to arrest him.
According to authorities, Massachusetts District Court Judge Shelley Joseph conspired with her bailiff and a defense attorney to set the illegal immigrant free. And most of the episode was recorded.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling charged Joseph and her bailiff last month with conspiracy to obstruct justice, perjury and other crimes.
But now local prosecutors are trying to pick up where the judge left off. They’re suing to prevent the feds from arresting illegal immigrants in state courthouses, even though the Executive Office of the Massachusetts Trial Court issued guidance requiring all state judges and court personnel to cooperate with ICE.
Here’s some background to this bizarre case, according to authorities, courtroom recordings obtained by the Boston Globe, and court documents released last month:.On March 30, 2018, Newton, Mass., police arrested an illegal immigrant identified as Jose Medina-Perez on charges of narcotics possession and being a fugitive from Pennsylvania.
A fingerprint check revealed that, after his last deportation, Medina-Perez was ordered not to enter the United States until 2027. So ICE issued a federal immigration detainer for him to the Newton Police.
The police say they forwarded the warrant to the court clerk’s office, the district attorney, the probation office, courthouse personnel and the defense attorney.
In other words, everyone in the local court system was on notice that federal officials had a valid warrant for Medina-Perez. Once his state court proceedings were over, the court was required to turn him over to the ICE officer who was coming to the courthouse.
When the case was called, Judge Joseph conferred with the defense attorney and the prosecutor at the bench – a common occurrence. But what happened next was anything but typical.
First, the judge ordered the ICE agent out of her courtroom, saying that if the defendant was released, he would be released into the lobby. Though not the normal practice in this court, the agent complied with the judge’s order and waited in the lobby.
Still at the bench, the defense attorney told the judge that he didn’t think the fugitive warrant from Pennsylvania was for his client. The prosecutor agreed saying, “I don’t think it’s him.”
The defense attorney then reportedly suggested: “The best thing for us to do is to clear the fugitive issue, release him on a personal (recognizance), and hope he can avoid ICE.”
The prosecutor, clearly uncomfortable with the ICE issue, noted that there was still the ICE detainer, to which the judge asked: “ICE is gonna detain him?”
The defense attorney said “yes,” at which point the judge ordered the court clerk to turn off the courtroom recording equipment, in violation of local court rules.
About a minute later, the recorder was turned back on. Once on the record again, the prosecutor dismissed the Pennsylvania warrant and agreed to let the defendant be released on his own recognizance for the drug case.
The judge then should have handed Medina-Perez over to the ICE agent. But when the clerk reminded her about the waiting agent, the judge said, “I’m not gonna allow them to come in here.”
Wesley MacGregor, the judge’s bailiff, then used his security access card to open the rear exit of lock-up and let the defendant leave the courthouse, authorities said.
The judge and her bailiff have been charged with obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct justice for interfering with a federal immigration proceeding. McGregor was also charged with perjury for lying to the grand jury. (He had said he didn’t know there was an immigration detainer or an ICE agent waiting).
By the way, the grand jury says that Joseph, too, “made false and misleading statements,” when she “falsely attributed unfamiliarity with the Courtroom recording equipment as the reason the recorder was turned off.”
Local prosecutors in the Boston area have now teamed up with public defenders to sue the federal government for taking custody of illegal immigrants in state courthouses. They seem to forget that, under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, federal law trumps state law when it comes to immigration enforcement.
It’s in the same section that says “the Judges in every State shall be bound” by the U.S. Constitution and any valid federal laws passed pursuant to the Constitution.
In other words, the fact that this judge is not ideologically in favor of federal immigration law does not give her the ability, as a state judge, to ignore or obstruct the enforcement of federal law.
The lawsuit filed against the federal government lacks merit and should be dismissed. And if the evidence laid out in the grand jury indictment is proven, Judge Joseph should be removed from office and disbarred.
Judges are not above the law. As U.S. Attorney Lelling observed, officers of the courts can’t “pick and choose” the “federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law.”
Charles Stimson is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.