Here’s what you need to know about the controversy over the Straight Pride Parade cases and the way Judge Richard J. Sinnott is handling them.
How did it start?
The controversial Straight Pride Parade, which drew about 200 marchers, attracted about 600 protesters Saturday on its 1-mile route from Copley Square to City Hall Plaza. After the parade ended, some protesters turned their anger toward police. Thirty-six were arrested after clashing with officers.
What’s the uproar about?
The Suffolk County district attorney’s office did not want to pursue cases against most of the protesters, saying most only faced disorderly conduct or resisting arrest charges or both. Experts said two options available to prosecutors were: Filing a nolle prosequi unilaterally declaring they would not pursue the case, or asking the judge to dismiss charges, which can sometimes result in a requirement for the defendant to do community service or get treatment. Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard J. Sinnott refused a request to dismiss a number of cases.
Why has District Attorney Rachael Rollins appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court?
In one of the cases, Sinnott also refused to approve a nolle prosequi filed by prosecutors. Rollins argued that the judge had overstepped his bounds and asked a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to step in and reverse Sinnott’s decision. Rollins’ office said in court papers that if the case goes ahead, “the prosecutor’s constitutionally-guaranteed discretionary determination not to prosecute will be thwarted.” Rollins told the Globe’s Adrian Walker, “Since time immemorial, prosecutors have been able to determine when they choose [to prosecute] or not.”
Why did a lawyer get detained?
Well-known Boston immigration lawyer Susan Church argued with Sinnott in court on Wednesday, saying “your honor does not have the authority to prevent the district attorney’s office from entering a nolle prosequi.” Sinnott had her taken into custody for three hours after citing her for contempt. “Ms. Church was filled with passion in representing her client and kept talking over me,” Sinnott explained from the bench when she was brought back to the court. “I don’t think it’s necessary for the court to take further action.” Church said, “This is highly inappropriate behavior by the judge. ... This was not legal and should not be let to stand.”
What has been the reaction?
Former colleagues and those who have appeared before Sinnott describe him as a bright, thorough jurist. The police patrolmen’s union has applauded Sinnott’s actions. But Rollins has called his actions “unprecedented and outrageous.” The Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers denounced Sinnott’s decision to detain Church as a “gross abuse of power that requires judicial disciplinary action” and called for an immediate investigation by Trial Court officials and the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct. Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for the state’s public defender’s office, said Sinnott’s decision to take Church into custody was “a stain on our Commonwealth’s judicial system.” Sinnott has declined to comment. Massachusetts judges are not permitted to comment on pending cases.
John R. Ellement, Shelley Murphy, Travis Andersen and Gal Tziperman Lotan of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondent Sarah Wu contributed to this report.