Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is calling for the temporary removal of a state judge who allegedly helped an undocumented immigrant to evade immigration authorities who were in a courthouse waiting to detain him.
Newton District Judge Shelley Joseph is being investigated by a federal grand jury for aiding other court personnel in arranging for Jose Medina-Perez, 38, and from the Dominican Republic, to slip out of a back door of the courthouse while agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement held a detainer for his arrest. The incident occurred in early April.
"I don't believe she should be hearing criminal cases until that federal case is resolved," Baker told reporters at the State House as quoted by the Boston Globe. "Look, judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice."
Medina-Perez, whose real name is Oscar Manuel Peguero, was facing a local drug charge. He also had a fugitive warrant for drunken driving in Pennsylvania, according to reports.
Citing a courtroom audio recording of a bench conference between the judge, the state prosecutor and the defendant's attorney, the Globe reported Sunday that the three discussed the fact that ICE was looking for Medina-Perez.
A key section of the bench conference was not recorded because the judge ordered a clerk to turn off the courtroom audio recorder. When the recording resumed, the Globe reported, the prosecutor asked the judge to drop the fugitive warrant because the Pennsylvania mugshot did not match Medina-Perez. The local drug charge did not require the defendant to be held in custody.
Soon thereafter, Medina-Perez was escorted out of the courtroom by his defense attorney and released from custody through a rear courthouse door, thus avoiding ICE.
But he wasn't free for very long. Medina-Perez, who also goes by the name Julio Alexis Rios, was picked up by police later in April. He now faces deportation, according to officials cited by the Globe. He has been deported twice before: in 2003 and 2007.
The Globe added:
"The federal investigation into a sitting state court judge is extraordinary and underscores the highly politicized push and pull between state authorities and federal officials who have been instructed to crack down on undocumented immigrants."
Earlier this year, then-acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, issued a policy directive allowing agents to go into federal, state and local courthouses seeking to arrest unauthorized immigrants, despite the objections of immigrant advocates and some judges, including U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston and the chief justice of California, Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
Judge Joseph may have violated two court policies. One is a requirement that court personnel should not aid or obstruct federal immigration agents. Another is a requirement that all court conversations be recorded.
The judge is a former prosecutor and defense attorney appointed to the bench by Gov. Baker in October 2017.
NPR has contacted the judge and prosecutor for comment, but at the time of publication a response has not yet been received.