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Judicial Conduct Commission Investigating Judge Who Clashed With Suffolk DA Over Protesters

Counter-protesters scream at parade participants and police as they proceed down Tremont Street during the controversial "Straight Pride" parade. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Counter-protesters scream at parade participants and police as they proceed down Tremont Street during the controversial "Straight Pride" parade. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Boston Municipal Court judge at the center of controversy over his rulings related to protesters arrested at the so-called "Straight Pride" parade is under investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The commission said in a press release that it's investigating Judge Richard Sinnott's handling of the arraignments, including ordering a defense attorney in contempt and having her taken into custody.

A spokeswoman for the commission would not say what prompted the investigation.

Through a Massachusetts Trial Court spokeswoman, Sinnott said, “I look forward to a rapid resolution of this matter."

Sinnott came under fire earlier this month after he refused to accept prosecutors' requests to drop charges — a process called "nolle prosequi" — against a person who says he was making a film about the parade and arrested.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins asked the state's highest court to intervene, saying Sinnott overstepped his constitutional authority in refusing her request to drop charges against some counter-protesters charged with minor infractions, like disorderly conduct.

A Supreme Judicial Court justice sided with Rollins, saying Sinnott had "no authority" to reject a prosecutor's entry of "nolle prosequi.”

A spokesman for Rollins' office said the Commission on Judicial Conduct is the appropriate body to investigate this matter, and that she had no further comment.

In all, 36 people were arrested during the parade. Judges accepted "nolle prosequi" entries in 10 of those cases.

Cambridge attorney Susan Church was in court representing one of those defendants, when Sinnott held her in contempt and ordered her taken to a holding cell. Church was reading case law in support of prosecutors' requests to dismiss some cases, and her detention surprised and outraged other attorneys and courtroom observers. She was released after a few hours.

Church wouldn't confirm whether she filed the complaint that led to the investigation against Sinnott, citing rules from the commission.

She said she believes the judge was "incensed" over the Straight Pride parade protests, the police response to the protesters, and his dislike of Rollins and her policies.

"I don't know what's in his mind, but it's concerning to me that he took such an obviously illegal position ... to the point where when I was trying to cite the law to him, he arrested me," she said. "No one can fully understand his reasons but there they need to be investigated."

This article was originally published on September 24, 2019.

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Jerome Campbell Twitter Reporter
Jerome Campbell was a WBUR Poverty and Justice Fellow whose reporting was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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