Ex-DA: Judge's prosecution will have 'chilling effect' on justice system

Ex-DA: Judge's prosecution will have 'chilling effect' on justice system

BOSTON — The tears on Shelley Joseph’s face as she left federal court Thursday sent shockwaves across the Massachusetts legal community.

A former federal judge is criticizing the U.S. Attorney for his decision to charge the Newton judge with obstruction of justice.

"There’s no doubt this kind of prosecution has a chilling effect," former Assistant District Attorney Ed Ryan told Boston 25 News. "What we have here is the U.S. Attorney prosecuting her, trying to enforce immigration laws."

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Ryan said many believe Judge Joseph is being used as a political pawn.

Federal investigators say last April, Judge Joseph and trial court officer Welsey MacGregor allowed Jose Medina Perez, an undocumented  immigrant, to leave out the back door of the Newton courthouse -- avoiding arrest by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent waiting in the lobby.

"It’s pretty clear the judge violated the Massachusetts court system’s own rules with respect to the way she handled that particular case," Governor Charlie Baker said Friday.

He agrees with U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling that this case is not a referendum on immigration policy.

However, former federal judge Nancy Gertner told Boston 25 News, this is an outrageous and unprecedented prosecution.

"Whatever the concerns the U.S. Attorney had could have been addressed internally in the state judiciary with discipline proceedings," she said. "Without doing major violence to the independence of the bench and state-federal relations.”

Ryan worries undocumented immigrants who are witnesses or victims of crime may now refuse to come to court.

"If people are going to be afraid to go to the courthouse, that’s a pretty terrible thing," he said. "In many other states, ICE cannot arrest or take into custody any illegal immigrant without a judicial warrant."

Ryan added the only protection for them and other judges must come from the legislature.

We reached out to Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office to see if he’s heard from other lawyers and judge requesting that kind of legislation. We also spoke with the attorney for Jose Medina Perez, he declined to comment.