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Charges in Boston Calling case dismissed

A federal judge Thursday dismissed extortion charges against Timothy Sullivan (left) and Kenneth Brissette.
A federal judge Thursday dismissed extortion charges against Timothy Sullivan (left) and Kenneth Brissette.(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/file)

A federal judge Thursday dismissed extortion charges against two Boston City Hall officials accused of strong-arming organizers of the Boston Calling music festival into hiring union members.

A day after canceling the upcoming trial in the public corruption case, US District Judge Leo T. Sorokin formally dismissed the charges against Kenneth Brissette, the city’s chief of tourism, and Timothy Sullivan, head of intergovernmental affairs.

Prosecutors had conceded they lacked the evidence to reach the legal standard Sorokin had established for a conviction and had not opposed a defense motion to dismiss the case.

“This is an unusual case,” Sorokin wrote in a three-page decision. “Resolution of the question now, in this manner, spares the parties, the public, and the Court the time, burden, and expense of a trial, while permitting the government to seek review of the Court’s legal ruling.”

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Federal prosecutors have already signaled their intention to seek permission from the US solicitor general to appeal.

The case has raised questions about Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s ties to organized labor. In a statement Thursday, Walsh said, “I appreciate this being brought to resolution.”

“I look forward to continuing our focus on moving the city forward and working to expand opportunities for Boston residents,” he said.

Sorokin had held that the government needed to prove the defendants benefited personally when they obtained the jobs for the union, a standard that prosecutors said would undercut the Hobbs Act, the federal law that forbids extortion, and set a dangerous precedent for future extortion cases.

But Sorokin said it was prosecutors who were misunderstanding the law and noted that the Supreme Court had repeatedly warned against taking too broad a view of the Hobbs Act.

“The government’s position converts many actual or potential violations of civil law by government officials into federal felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison,” Sorokin wrote.

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Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.