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Suffolk DA slams judge for demanding defendant appear in court despite pandemic

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins on Saturday slammed a Boston Municipal Court judge who she said is putting people’s health and legal rights in jeopardy by trying to demand defendants appear in court despite the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, Rollins’s office filed an emergency petition with a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court asking for the voiding of an arrest warrant that Judge Mark Summerville issued because a defendant did not show up in court or online for a hearing to dismiss charges in his case, according to a statement from her office.

Just 10 days earlier, following a request from Rollins, Justice Elspeth Cypher vacated an earlier order from Summerville demanding that a different defendant — who lives in Delaware — appear in a Boston courtroom, Rollins’s office said.

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Summerville did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday evening. Through a spokeswoman, the Supreme Judicial Court declined to comment.

The state Trial Court said in a statement, “The record reflects that the defendant, after having been ordered to appear virtually in court, was defaulted for failure to do so, and a warrant issued for his arrest.”

Rollins’s office also pointed to an August order from Boston Municipal Court saying that all court business, except for jury trials and actions required to occur in person, will be held online.

On Friday, Summerville refused to allow a prosecutor from Rollins’s office to drop a charge of unlicensed use of a motor vehicle against Raul Cuevas, who had no other criminal history, her office said. The judge instead issued a default warrant allowing law enforcement to arrest Cuevas on sight, according to Rollins’s office.

After refusing to drop the charge, Summerville “upbraided the prosecutor for not being physically present in the courtroom. He also told the prosecutor that emailing the filing (the way the clerk’s office is receiving filings for virtual sessions) was inappropriate,” according Rollins’s emergency petition, which was quoted in the statement.

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When a prosecutor offered to walk a physical copy of the request to drop charges into Summerville’s courtroom, the judge “refused and instead issued a default warrant” for Cuevas, according to the petition.

Rollins said defendants are not required to be in court when charges are dropped and that prosecutors do not need a judge’s permission to file a nolle prosequi, the document that formally drops charges.

“Nolle prosequi’s are entered by the Commonwealth,” Rollins said. “Judges are not even a consideration in the process.”

The filing points to Rollins’s victory last year, when a Supreme Judicial Court justice ruled that another Boston judge had “no authority” to force Rollins to push ahead with the prosecution of a Straight Pride Parade protester, writing that the lower court judge was infringing upon the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branch.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.