Local boy Jack Kerouac son of a potato farmer said: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” It is appropriate I think to ask Judge Joseph where does she think she will be going in the near future after the Boston U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling finishes up with her. But I also to wonder where America is also going when situations like this arise.
Judge Joseph is allege to have kicked an immigration (ICE) officer out of her courtroom. This ICE officer held a warrant to arrest a person who was appearing before her in court on a criminal charges . Then she is said to have provided that person a secret escape route out of the court so that the ICE officer was thwarted in the performance of his job. Lelling indicted her for obstruction of justice.
Her attorney Thomas Hoopes said: “This prosecution is totally political and Shelley Joseph is absolutely innocent.” That remains to be seen although I suggest it is far from political. Others though suggested it was political and that the judge should not have been indicted.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey held little back when she expressed her opinion about Judge Joseph’s federal indictment: “Today’s indictment is a radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts. 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. I am deeply disappointed by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s misuse of prosecutorial resources and the chilling effect his actions will have.”
Healy suggested the matter should have been handled by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Trial Court. I can’t say I disagree with Healey about that even though I don’t think it is political or agree with much else she said. But what Healey is suggesting was never going to happen. U.S. Attorney Lelling was in a position where he rightly believed that nothing would have been done by the Commonwealth. Almost a year had passed without anyone in the Commonwealth’s judicial branch lifting a finger against Judge Joseph. What has Healey to say about that?
Waiting a year and presenting the matter to a grand jury cannot be considered reckless as Healey would have it. Sure Judge Joseph’s action was just a little brush fire but just doing nothing about it could turn it into a raging forest fire. What if the Massachusetts judges actively worked to prevent persons being sought by ICE to escape from them? What if the district attorneys from Middlesex and Suffolk county joined the judges to stop ICE officials from doing their jobs? As we know, the latter did happen which is another story in itself.
Judge Joseph graduated in 1989 from Boston College, where she majored in political science and romance languages. She received her law degree in 1992 from the New England School of Law. Her background shows her to be liberal Democrat. She was appointed to the bench around October 2017 after being nominated by Governor Charles Baker. The incident for which she was charged was in April 2018.
When the matter first came to light Baker said: “Judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice. I find this story, as it’s currently been presented, extremely troubling.” You wonder why he found it so when he should have known her political leanings.
Her political mindset would tend to account for her falling into a trap set by the prosecutor and defense counsel, both who seem to have misled her, with the assistance of a long-term court officer – new judges should always avoid falling under the influence of ancient court officers who have their own agendas and baggage – by playing on her sympathies for the defendant who was here illegally against the big bad ICE officials. Her heart overtook her brain – she knew she’d feel better that night over a glass of wine telling how she cleverly let the violator of our laws escape arrest – so she appeared to have entered into a scheme to let him avoid capture.
She was stupid to fall into that situation. Is stupidity an excuse for her actions in what the Attorney Lelling said is a “case is about the rule of law.” It may be depending upon the ultimate issue involved. No harm, no foul is a good rule to follow. The person here illegally, Oscar Manuel Peguero, has been arrested again. He’s back in custody of the ICE officials, as far as I can tell, but why he is and is not back in the Domincan Republic is a mystery since he’s been deported twice before.
Add to that, how is it that he keeps coming back? If a person is deported once and comes back do you just do the same thing again? And again? Can we expect him back again? Will only a wall stop him?
True there is no harm with respect to the man here illegally being free. Yet that is not the only harm which can come from this. Lelling is right when he says, “We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow, or use our personal views to justify violating the law.” I think all would agree with that.
Even so, Lelling has the option to decide what to do when a case which may involve breaking the law comes before him. Not every violation of the law has to be charged. Lelling when faced with Judge Joseph’s situation had the discretion not to charge her. Had the Commonwealth frowned upon her actions he may have stayed his hand.
But what message would he be sending out if nothing was done. As the person responsible for enforcing the federal laws in Massachusetts would he be telling us that it is all right if judges obstruct justice? Would other judges feel free to join in an underground railroad type of action where those sought by ICE officers could flee to courtrooms and obtain succor.
I suggest in the circumstances he did what was right. We must be a country of laws even when the president sets the example that Lelling suggests should not happen which is using his “personal views to justify violating the laws.”
“Whither goest thou, America,” when the top law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth calls a necessary action by the local U.S. attorney a “radical and politically-motivated attack” and the president announces he will not respond to any requests from Congress.