BOSTON—A Massachusetts judge was indicted on Thursday, April 25, on charges that she helped a man who was living in the U.S. illegally sneak out a back door of the courthouse to evade a waiting immigration enforcement agent.
Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and former court officer Wesley MacGregor were charged with obstruction of justice based on accusations that they schemed to let the illegal alien escape after a hearing last year on charges that included drug possession.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the charges were not meant to send a message about immigration policy. He said everyone must be held to the rule of law, even the privileged and powerful.
“From certain corners I have heard the occasional gasp of dismay or outrage at the notion of holding a judge accountable for violating federal law,” Lelling said. “But if the law is not applied equally, it cannot credibly be applied to anyone.”
Joseph, 51, and MacGregor, 56, pleaded not guilty during brief appearances in Boston federal court. Joseph appeared to fight back tears as she left the courthouse.
Joseph, who was appointed as a District Court judge in 2017, has been suspended without pay, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said.
Authorities say an immigration agent was in the courtroom to detain the man when he appeared in the Newton courthouse in April 2018. The Dominican man had twice been deported and had been barred from entering the U.S. until 2027, prosecutors say.
Authorities say Joseph’s clerk asked the agent to leave the courtroom and told him that the suspect would be released into the courthouse lobby.
Instead, after the hearing, MacGregor led the defendant downstairs to the lockup and let him out a rear door, prosecutors say.
The man was caught by immigration officials about a month later, Lelling said, and is now in immigration proceedings.
The Trump administration has resisted calls to add courthouses to the list of so-called “sensitive locations” that are generally free from immigration enforcement, like schools and places of worship.
Immigration officials have said communities are forcing their hand by refusing to transfer immigrants in local prisons and jails to the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. They also argue that courthouse arrests are safer for agents because people have to go through metal detectors when they enter courthouses.
Courthouse arrests happened under former Democratic President Barack Obama.
MacGregor, the former court officer, was also charged with perjury. Authorities say he falsely told the grand jury that he was unaware that immigration agents were in the courthouse before he let the suspect out the door.
By Alanna Durkin Richer