A Massachusetts judge conspired with a court officer to help an undocumented immigrant slip out a back exit of a courthouse and elude arrest by immigration authorities, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.
Judge Shelley Joseph and court officer Wesley MacGregor were hit with federal obstruction of justice charges for their role in aiding the defendant, who was facing drug possession charges in April 2018, according to an indictment by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston.
The man, identified as A.S., was also facing charges of being a fugitive from justice in Pennsylvania when he was allowed to dash out of a rear sally port entrance at the state courthouse in Newton, Mass., federal prosecutors said.
“This case is about the rule of law,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling.
"We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law. Everyone in the justice system – not just judges, but law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and defense counsel – should be held to a higher standard."
The plan was hatched after the prosecutor and suspect's defense lawyer told the judge they thought the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer in the courthouse was targeting the wrong person.
"ICE is going to pick him up if he walks out the front door. But I think the best thing for us to do is clear the fugitive issue, release him on a personal, and hope that he can avoid ICE," the attorney said during a sidebar that was recorded, according to the indictment. "…That’s the best I can do."
The judge responded: "ICE is gonna get him? What if we detain him?" according to the indictment.
Joseph then requested that the courtroom recorder be turned off as the conversation continued, prosecutors say. The courtroom recorder was turned back on after 52 seconds, the indictment says.
At that point, the prosecutor agreed with the defense lawyer that it seemed to be a case of mistaken identity.
"With the information that I have, I don't think that there is enough tying him to the Pennsylvania warrant," the prosecutor said, according to the indictment.
It was not clear what happened to the immigrant after the courthouse escape.
“The actions of the judge in this incident are a detriment to the rule of law and highly offensive to the law enforcement officers of ICE who swear an oath to uphold our nation’s immigration laws,” said Todd M. Lyons, acting field director of enforcement and removal operations for ICE in Boston.