Newton, MA – A federal grand jury is investigating a Newton District Court judge amid allegations that she allowed a twice-deported illegal alien to escape out the back door of the courthouse to avoid him being taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
On Monday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker urged court officials to prohibit Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph from presiding over criminal cases, pending the outcome of the federal investigation, the Boston Globe reported.
“I don’t believe she should be hearing criminal cases until that federal case is resolved,” Baker said. “Look, judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice.”
Baker personally appointed Joseph to the district court in 2017, and said he believes she may have violated state court rules that prohibit judges from helping or hindering ICE agents.
Jose Medina-Perez – whose true name may actually be Oscar Manuel Peguero or Julio Alexis Rios – was arrested by Newton police on Mar. 30 on an outstanding Pennsylvania warrant for drunk driving, the Boston Globe reported.
Officers also found a pill and two bags of suspected cocaine on Medina-Perez at the time of his arrest.
The suspect told police he was a 36-year-old American citizen, and was ultimately charged with drug possession and being a fugitive from justice.
When he went to Joseph’s court on Apr. 2 for his initial appearance, he was provided with a Spanish interpreter and an attorney, David Jellinek.
But as the hearing began, Jellinek, Joseph, and Middlesex County Prosecutor Shannon Jurgens huddled together to discuss Medina-Perez’s illegal status and whether or not he was truly the same person named in the Pennsylvania warrant.
“ICE will pick him up if he walks out the front door,” Jellinek said in a courtroom audio recording, according to the Boston Globe. “But I think the best thing for us to do is clear the fugitive issue and release him…”
Jurgens didn’t even attempt to resist the defense attorney’s proposal.
“There is a detainer attached to my paperwork, but I felt like that’s separate and apart from what my role is,” she said in the recording.
“ICE is going to get him,” Joseph concluded, just before she told the court clerk to stop recording the proceeding.
The audio recording resumed about one minute later.
Jurgens then asked Joseph to dismiss the warrant against Medina-Perez, and claimed he did not match the mugshot on the warrant.
Joseph dismissed the fugitive charge and was not required to hold the suspect in jail for the pending drug offenses.
The judge also gave Jellinek permission to escort Medina-Perez downstairs so he could pick up “some property” there, the Boston Globe reported.
As the hearing was coming to an end, a member of the courtroom staff told Joseph that an ICE agent was “requesting permission to visit lockup,” according to the paper.
“I’m not going to allow them to come in here,” the judge said.
Minutes later, Medina-Perez was taken downstairs, released from custody, and ushered out a back door, the Boston Globe reported.
The illegal alien quickly scaled a fence and took off.
Later in April, he was arrested in Roslindale, but an immigration judge freed him on bond until his hearing.
According to ICE, Medina-Perez is a citizen of the Dominican Republic who was previously deported from the U.S. in January of 2003 and in June of 2007.
Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said that Joseph could potentially be charged with obstructing justice if it is determined that she helped the illegal alien to escape from federal agents.
“There is a big difference between doing nothing and taking affirmative steps to prevent some authority from exercising its rights,” Sullivan told the Boston Globe.
“It would be gravely concerning to us, as well as disrespectful to the men and women of ICE who put themselves in harms’ way to protect our communities, if anyone, especially a representative of a court, were alleged to have taken deliberate actions to aid an immigration fugitive in evading the law,” ICE acting director of the Boston filed office Todd Lyons said in a statement.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson blasted the court over the allegations, which he called “completely outrageous.”
“I don’t know how you can send a message to the public that you’re there to protect people from criminals and then undermine law enforcement by letting them out the door,” Sheriff Hodgson said.
“It’s as bad as it gets when we have courts undermining law enforcement,” he railed. “They’re supposed to work together.”
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers released a statement arguing against a federal investigation into Joseph’s actions, and instead asked the attorney general to prohibit ICE agents from being able to arrest anyone outside a state courtroom.
“Our judges and court personnel must operate free from federal interference and intimidation,” the association said.