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.