Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Federal grand jury wrong to indict Newton judge for obstruction of justice

A Newton District Court judge and a former court officer were indicted by a grand jury on Thursday for obstruction of justice after the two officials allegedly assisted an undocumented immigrant to escape arrest by a federal immigration officer.

Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph took the necessary steps to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from unlawfully detaining a man. Pursuing the indictment of a Massachusetts court judge by a federal grand jury, which is highly unusual, was used in this case as a political tool to damage the reputation of the state court.

Jose Medina-Perez, the immigrant in question, was arrested in March on drug charges after his license plate matched a fugitive warrant in Pennsylvania for drunk driving, and officers allegedly found what they thought was cocaine on his person.

When Medina-Perez arrived at his trial for drug possession — completely separate from the Pennsylvania charges — it was only a few minutes before the defense attorney asked to speak privately with the judge and prosecution. The attorney expressed concerns that the defendant would be detained and ultimately deported by ICE on the basis of the Pennsylvania warrant if he was released from the courtroom.

Concerned with the legitimacy of the warrant, which had a mugshot attached that did not match Medina-Perez, the judge requested the courtroom recorder be turned off. Less than a minute later, the recording resumes and the judge can be heard stating she does not believe the warrant matches the defendant.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge learned an ICE officer was waiting within the courthouse to detain Medina-Perez upon his release. In order to prevent the ICE employee from arresting the defendant on the basis of an illegitimate warrant, a state court officer escorted Medina-Perez out the back of the courthouse, allowing him to escape potential ICE custody.

Joseph and Court Officer Wesley MacGregor were completely justified in their assistance to the defendant. ICE attempted to detain a man using an invalid warrant in order to eventually deport him. When that failed, they resorted to threatening the legitimacy of a state court for protecting the law.

The actions of Joseph can easily be portrayed as questionable — she paused an official recording and interfered with the agenda of a federal agency. But, last year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts made it illegal to detain someone purely on immigration violations, and ICE had no concrete proof of any crimes Medina-Perez committed other than what he had been released on minutes before.

The initial incident is representative of our broken immigration system, but the additional pursuit of a grand jury illustrates a broader issue. The federal government interfering with the independence of state courts and the population’s access to justice is a testament to the widening division between federal, state and local governments.

Courtrooms should be a safe space for anyone indicted in a U.S. court, regardless of their status as a citizen or undocumented immigrant. Igniting fear to attend trial is a better example of obstruction of justice than protecting a man from an unwarranted arrest and the court acted as it had to in order to protect justice.

4 Comments

  1. This little story that Judge Joseph didn’t think the picture on the warrant looked enough like Jose Medina-Perez as the reason why she was justified in helping him evade ICE agents is some pretty weak sauce. If the warrant was incorrect then Jose Medina-Perez had nothing to worry about, did he? Thus, there would be no reason to sneak him out the back door. So, that’s not going to hold up. I’m surprised she tried to pass that off, but I guess when you’re potentially facing 25 years, you’ll try anything.
    As for the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts making it illegal to detain someone purely on immigration violations…this may apply to agents of the State Of Massachusetts, but it doesn’t apply to ICE. They most certainly can detain someone on immigration violations. Judge Joseph KNEW the ICE agent was there, she told the ICE agent that Jose Medina-Perez would be released to the lobby, instructed the ICE agent to leave the courtroom and wait for him there. That’s when she snuck him out the back door. If there’s ever been a case of more willful obstruction of the law, I’ve never seen it. She may be a judge, but if justice isn’t for all, then you can’t call it justice.

    • No one who has followed ICE’s activities over the past few years would be naive enough to think that an incorrect warrant would be enough to stop them from deporting a brown person who fell into their hands. If they stop using brownshirt tactics, maybe they can expect cooperation from MA courts. Until then, no dice.

  2. What the state supreme court ruled is irrelevant, federal law supersedes stale law. Remember when Arizona enforced its own immigration laws and lost?

    • I’m pretty sure federal law doesn’t give any government agency a free pass to use fraudulent documents to justify arresting someone.