The ACLU of Massachusetts today submitted a “friend-of-the-court” brief on behalf of 61 retired Massachusetts judges, urging a federal court to dismiss obstruction of justice charges against a Massachusetts judge.

Federal prosecutors charged Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph with obstruction of justice in April for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant escape from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer at a courthouse.

According to the new amicus brief, Judge Joseph’s alleged conduct was an exercise of court control over the courtroom. A judge must weigh multiple constitutional considerations, including due process and access to the courts, when deciding how to respond to a federal officer’s attempt to arrest a person at a courthouse. Law enforcement attempts to arrest someone inside a courthouse could impair a person’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial and First Amendment right to access court proceedings.

The 61 retired judges signing onto the brief are members of an Ad Hoc Committee for Judicial Independence, and they represent a broad range of judicial experience, including the Commonwealth’s Trial Court, its Appeals Court, and its Supreme Judicial Court.

“As retired judges, [we] can state with confidence that, if this prosecution is permitted to proceed, the practical consequences for the Massachusetts judiciary will be devastating,” the judges write in the brief. “Saying ‘no’ to executive actors is part of every judge’s job. Yet, if Judge Joseph is prosecuted, every Massachusetts judge in every Massachusetts courthouse will feel a constant external pressure to refrain from actions that might antagonize federal officials. That pressure will be particularly acute in cases where noncitizens are before the court as parties or witnesses.”

“Judicial independence is an indispensable principle in our legal system,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The ACLU of Massachusetts is proud to represent these retired judges who are standing up for that principle today.”  

Read the full brief

For an appendix listing the retired judges who signed on to the brief, click here.

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