In May 2021, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with American Oversight, filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) for the release of records, including the communications of seven senior agency officials and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, concerning the investigation and prosecution of a Massachusetts state court judge.
At the time of filing, Massachusetts Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and Court Officer Wesley MacGregor were facing federal charges for allegedly allowing a criminal defendant to exit using the rear door of a courthouse April 2018, while an ICE agent was waiting in the lobby.
American Oversight and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in November 2019. The request followed a report by the New York Times in which Thomas Homan, former acting director of ICE, was quoted as saying that he “immediately began asking about legal recourse” after he was informed of the events at the courthouse.
Though the agency has produced some documents after the lawsuit was filed, it has failed to release any records related to Homan’s April 2018 actions. The FOIA request at the center of this lawsuit seeks all records concerning the alleged incident in Judge Joseph’s courtroom, including communications between Homan and Albence, and any guidance or directives provided to then-U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling.
In February 2022, the ACLU and American Oversight filed a final brief asking U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to order ICE to conduct additional records searches and provide additional information. Previous filings by ICE revealed troubling details about the agency’s record management practices, including vague assertions that it was ICE “standard practice” during the Trump administration to destroy and delete mobile phone content as devices were taken out of service. According to the brief, ICE’s own submissions raise serious questions about whether the agency intentionally destroyed some of those records.
Responding to the plaintiffs’ claim that ICE’s initial search was inadequate—in part because the agency refused to search for responsive text messages—the agency admitted “it was standard practice at ICE to factory reset/securely wipe/destroy and delete all contents of mobile phone devices as they were being taken out of service.”
Records produced by ICE in October 2021 include an email that showed top ICE attorney Tracy Short asking if Joseph’s arrest would be the “first of many.” On the day of Joseph’s indictment, Short wrote to senior ICE leadership, “This is a great day.”