In an about-face, the Massachusetts Supreme Court said a judge accused of helping a twice-deported undocumented immigrant evade an immigration officer will be paid while she’s suspended.
Newton District Court Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph was indicted in April on obstruction of justice and other federal charges. The judge had ordered the immigrant, who was charged with drug possession and being a fugitive from justice, to be released.
Joseph was initially suspended without pay as she faced federal charges.
But on Tuesday, the majority of Massachusetts Supreme Court judges signed a court order saying Joseph will be suspended with pay. However, the court denied her request to be reassigned to administrative duties.
Joseph makes about $180,000 per year, according to the state legislature’s website.
The judge allegedly conspired with a court officer
Joseph is accused of conspiring with a former trial court officer, Wesley MacGregor, to help the defendant escape.
Authorities say MacGregor used his security access card to let the defendant out a back door of the courthouse while an ICE officer waited outside the courtroom.
Both Joseph and MacGregor face counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a federal proceeding and aiding and abetting, according to a federal indictment.
MacGregor was also charged with one count of perjury.
Joseph and MacGregor were released without bond after pleading not guilty, CNN affiliate WCVB reported.
“This case is about the rule of law,” US Attorney Andrew Lelling said after the indictments in April. “We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law.”
But Joseph’s attorney, Thomas Hoopes, said “this prosecution is totally political, and Shelley Joseph is absolutely innocent.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in April that the indictment was “a radical and politically motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts.”
Healey said the matter could have been handled by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Trial Court.
“It is a bedrock principle of our constitutional system that federal prosecutors should not recklessly interfere with the operation of state courts and their administration of justice,” she said in a statement.
A defendant was led out a back door, away from an ICE officer
The charges stemmed from an April 2018 incident in which Richmond and MacGregor allegedly allowed an undocumented immigrant at a criminal court hearing to escape detention by an Immigration an Customs Enforcement officer.
Newton Police had arrested and charged the undocumented immigrant days earlier with being a fugitive from justice and drug possession.
Authorities later learned he had been deported from the US in 2003 and 2007 and was prohibited from re-entering the country until 2027. ICE issued an immigration detainer and warrant of removal.
A plainclothes ICE officer went to the Newton courthouse to execute the warrant.
At one point, the judge – Joseph – directed the court clerk to ask the ICE officer to wait in the lobby, according to court documents.
When the case was called, a court audio recording captured Joseph, the defense attorney and the prosecutor speaking at sidebar about the ICE detainer.
The defendant’s attorney told Joseph he believed his client was not the same person named in the fugitive warrant.
“My client denies that it’s him,” the attorney said. “ICE is going to pick him up if he walks out the front door. But I think the best thing for us to do is to clear the fugitive issue, release him on a personal, and hope that he can avoid ICE. … That’s the best I can do.”
Joseph responded. “ICE is gonna get him? … What if we detain him?”
The judge then allegedly ordered the courtroom clerk to “go off the record for a moment.” The audio recorder was turned off for 52 seconds, the indictment said.
When the recorder was turned on again, Joseph said she intended to release the defendant, court documents state.
The prosecutor said, “Your Honor, with the information that I have, I don’t think that there is enough tying him to the Pennsylvania warrant.”
The defense attorney asked to speak with the defendant downstairs.
“I believe he has some property downstairs,” the attorney said. “I’d like to speak with him downstairs with the interpreter if I may.”
Joseph responded, “That’s fine. Of course,” according to prosecutors.
When reminded by the clerk that an ICE officer was in the courthouse, Joseph said, “That’s fine. I’m not gonna allow them to come in here. But he’s been released on this.”
MacGregor then allegedly escorted the defendant, his attorney and an interpreter downstairs to the lockup and used his security access card to open the rear exit and release the defendant, the indictment said.
The ICE officer, meanwhile, was waiting for the defendant in the lobby outside the courtroom – where the clerk told him the man would be released.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Eric Levenson and Sonia Moghe contributed to this report.