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Federal appeals court allows case against Newton District Court judge to proceed

Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph left Federal Court on April 25, 2019.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

A federal appeals court has declined to dismiss charges against Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph and a retired court officer who were indicted during the Trump administration for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant evade a federal agent who had come to the courthouse to detain him.

Lawyers for Joseph and her courtroom deputy, Wesley MacGregor, had argued that the criminal case against them is unconstitutional and that Joseph is protected from federal prosecution under judicial immunity, according to court documents.

But US Circuit Judge William Kayatta, writing on behalf of a three-judge panel, ruled that the appeals are “premature” and the court does not have jurisdiction to review the case because Joseph and MacGregor have not gone to trial.


“The flaw in this argument is that judicial immunity — even assuming that it applies in this criminal case — does not provide a right not to be tried that can serve as a basis for interlocutory review,” Kayatta wrote in the ruling, issued Monday.

The Massachusetts US attorney’s office indicted Joseph and MacGregor on obstruction of justice charges in 2019. Joseph and MacGregor’s lawyers had also argued that the 10th Amendment bars federal agencies from requiring state officers to enforce federal law. The panel rejected this argument, saying it could be asserted at trial.

“True, Judge Joseph and Deputy MacGregor will confront the costs of trial and the very significant anxiety of being defendants in a federal prosecution,” Kayatta wrote. “Without minimizing those adverse consequences, we must recognize that they are visited on all criminal defendants. So they cannot justify an interlocutory appeal unless we are to allow such appeals of most motions to dismiss in criminal cases.”

Prosecutors have said that in 2018 Joseph and MacGregor helped a man who had just been released from state custody evade an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent by slipping out of the courthouse through a back door. The agent was there to arrest the man on a deportation warrant and had been waiting in Joseph’s courtroom, according to court documents.


Joseph instructed the court clerk to tell the ICE agent to leave the courtroom. The agent complied after the clerk said the man would leave the courthouse through the lobby, but he never did, according to court documents.

Prosecutors allege that Joseph devised a plan in an off-the-record conversation with the man’s lawyer for him to leave the courthouse by going downstairs and out a rear exit that MacGregor opened using his access card, according to court documents.

Joseph’s lawyers have said she was being targeted as part of a campaign led by former president Donald Trump to enforce his hardline immigration policies. The indictments were also criticized by Democrats who said the charges were politically motivated.

Joseph’s lawyer, Thomas Hoopes, declined comment Tuesday except to say “we are reviewing all our options.”

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.