Politically, It Would Have Been Better for AG Not to Comment on This Case

Friday, April 26, 2019

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has gone all in in the matter an indicted Newton District Court judge and an indicted court officer.

Now we'll have to see if Healey's position in this case comes back to haunt her promising political career or if her defense of a judge and court officer accused of allowing a defendant in a drug case to avoid capture by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement service (ICE) will be quickly forgotten by the voters?

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced yesterday that Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph, 51, and Wesley MacGregor, 56, a now retired Newton Court officer, had each been charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and two counts of obstruction of justice: aiding and abetting.  MacGregor was also charged with one count of perjury.

According to a federal indictment against Judge Joseph and MacGregor, an ICE officer arrived at the court on April 2, 2018, and made known to authorities his intention to arrest Jose Medina-Perez after his arraignment that day on drug-related charges. 

The indictment claims Judge Joseph ordered the clerk of courts to ask the ICE officer to wait by the court's front door for Medina-Perez.

The indictment further claims that, during Medina-Perez's arraignment, Judge Joseph turned off the courtroom's audio recorder, in violation of court rules, and then allowed MacGregor to escort the defendant, his attorney and an interpreter downstairs, where MacGregor opened a rear exit door and the defendant walked free.

ICE reports that Jose Medina-Perez is not the defendant's real name, that he is in fact Oscar Manuel Peguero.  ICE has experience with Medina-Perez/Peguero, having facilitated his deportation from the U.S. on two occasions, first in January, 2003, and again in June, 2007.

Lelling said: "This case is about the rule of law.  The allegations in today's indictment involve obstruction by a sitting judge, that is, intentional interference with the enforcement of federal law, and that is a crime.  We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law."

Healey called Lelling's indictment of Judge Joseph and MacGregor "a radical and politically motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts," adding:

"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.  This matter could have been appropriately handled by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Trial Court. I am deeply disappointed by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's misuse of prosecutorial resources and the chilling effect his actions will have."

I hear what Healey's saying, that the actions of Judge Joseph and MacGregor in this case do not warrant a federal investigation and quite possibly a trial in federal district court. But I doubt that a majority of the electorate, looking at the twice-deported, alias-employing defendant who precipitated this action, agrees with our AG. 

I believe that Governor Charlie Baker, who appointed Judge Joseph to the bench in November, 2017 -- and who could be facing off against Healey in 2022 should he seek re-election -- has responded in a way that resounds more deeply with the electorate. 

Back in December, when the news broke that the feds were investigating Judge Joseph and MacGregor, Baker did not hesitate to say he thought the judge should be suspended until the investigation was resolved. 

"Judges," Baker said, "are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice.  And, as far as I can tell, based on the facts as they were presented, she clearly violated the court's own policies with respect to the way they're supposed to handle continuance and involve federal immigration enforcement."

Judges cannot choose which laws they are going to enforce any more than which Constitutional rights they are going to safeguard.

I do feel bad for the court officer who allegedly walked the defendant out the door.

I do not feel bad for the judge who allegedly set up the basement-door getaway.  Judge Joseph should have been smarter, wiser, more prudent.  She is a seasoned attorney, a well-compensated, life-tenured professional on whom was conferred the great honor, the high responsibility, of a judgeship.