A Massachusetts judge is under federal investigation for allegedly aiding an undocumented immigrant escape from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A grand jury has been enlisted to look into whether Newton District Judge Shelley M. Joseph and other courthouse staff broke any federal laws back in April when hearing the case of Jose Medina-Perez, according to the Boston Globe.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is calling for the judge to be taken off the bench during the investigation even as the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers requested the “state Attorney General to initiate a federal lawsuit to stop ICE agents from making detentions at state courthouses,” Patch.com reported.
Medina-Perez, originally from the Dominican Republic, faced an ICE detainer and was in court facing charges on a fugitive warrant for drunken driving in Pennsylvania as well as suspected drug possession. Moments into the hearing on April 2, his defense attorney asked to approach the bench where the attorneys and judge discussed the situation as an ICE agent was reportedly present in the courtroom to detain Medina-Perez.
According to the Globe, which obtained audio of part of the conversation:
“ICE is going to get him,” the judge told the attorneys during the April 2 sidebar conversation. “What if we continue [the case]?” she suggested, before instructing a clerk to turn off the courtroom’s audio recorder. Whatever was said during the next 58 seconds went unrecorded.
Minutes later, Medina-Perez was escorted downstairs, released from custody, and allowed out a back door, according to two people briefed on the episode. He scaled a fence and took off, leaving the immigration agent behind, the people said.
Some of the court employees have already testified before the grand jury about what happened that day as the federal investigation focuses on the sitting state court judge.
“There is a big difference between doing nothing and taking affirmative steps to prevent some authority from exercising its rights,” former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan said, admitting it would be “shocking” for any court official to help a defendant flee from federal authorities.
And Medina-Perez, whose real name is Oscar Manuel Peguero, was not free for long, getting arrested later that month. The 38-year-old Dominican Republic citizen was deported twice before, according to ICE.
Judge Joseph and the two attorneys on the case in the April hearing were picked up discussing the immigration situation on audio, as the Boston Globe reported.
“I don’t think it’s him,” Middlesex County Assistant District Attorney Shannon Jurgens could be heard saying.
“ICE is convinced that this guy [inaudible],” Medina-Perez’s defense attorney David Jellinek said. ICE will 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. “And release him on personal [inaudible].”
“If you need more time to figure this out. Or until tomorrow,” the judge said after some other conversation.
“There is a detainer attached to my paperwork. But I felt like that’s separate and apart from what my role is,” Jurgens replied as the judge commented, “ICE is going to get him.”
After nearly one minute of unrecorded conversation after the judge ordered the courtroom’s audio recording device to be turned off, the hearing resumed with the drunk driving warrant charge getting dropped. The judge reportedly then allowed Medina-Perez to go downstairs with his lawyer because he had “some property” there.
Medina-Perez then allegedly left the building through a back door, even as an ICE agent was asking to “visit lock-up.”
“I’m not going to allow them to come in here,” the judge had responded.
Joseph’s actions may qualify as an obstruction of justice even though Newton is a sanctuary city and Massachusetts officials are not required to honor ICE detainer requests.