A Massachusetts judge charged with assisting an immigrant escape a federal agent waiting to arrest him will be compensated while her legal battle plays out, the nation’s highest court ruled Tuesday.
Reversing course in a closely watched case that has highlighted official immunity to the Trump administration’s tough immigration policy, the Supreme Judicial Court stated Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph would resume collecting her yearly salary of $181,000.
In a 5-1 decision, in addition, it ordered that she receive back pay dating to late April, once the high court ruled she should be suspended without pay.
Joseph is fighting federal criminal charges for allegedly helping a guy in the Dominican Republic slide out a back door of her while a federal immigration officer was waiting for him. She has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice, and court documents indicate she rejected a plea bargain offered by federal prosecutors last month. A former court officer was charged.
The case has attracted national attention, with Joseph’s lawyer denouncing her indictment as “absolutely political.”
“The federal and state governments have staked out different and sometimes conflicting positions on what can or cannot be done with respect to immigrants who are subject only to … civil warrants in state courthouses,” Justice Scott Kafker noted in an opinion attached to the decision made public Tuesday.
Joseph had contended in an affidavit filed last spring that her family faced mounting legal bills, had to borrow money from family and friends and was at risk of having to sell their residence.
Lawyers’ groups along with a set of retired judges backed Joseph, calling it “unprecedented” to remove the cover of a judge who has not been found guilty of wrongdoing.
The Massachusetts Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys stated in court records that judges “must be able to act without fearing for their livelihood or the well-being of their family if a powerful litigant, the public, or other judges disagree with their actions.”
Chief Justice Ralph Gants said Tuesday that he came around to this view.
“In turbulent times, the risk of being stripped of a paycheck may have a chilling effect on a judge’s willingness to challenge the conduct of a prosecutor and thereby diminish the overall independence of the judiciary,” he wrote.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Frank Gaziano said the conclusion “smacks of preferential treatment, and thereby erodes public confidence in the judiciary.”
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