Shelley Joseph, the district court judge who was indicted on obstruction charges for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant escape federal detention, is seeking to have her salary reinstated as she remains on suspension and her legal bills mount.
Joseph, 51, was suspended without pay by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court after a federal grand jury indicted her April 25.
On Thursday, her lawyers filed a motion with the SJC requesting that her annual salary of $181,000 be reinstated while the case winds its way through federal court in Boston.
“Imposition of such a sanction prior to any determination of wrongdoing is contrary to the presumption of innocence to which Judge Joseph is constitutionally entitled,” the motion stated.
Her lawyers, Michael B. Keating and David A. Kluft, said they had found no cases where a judge had been suspended without pay “prior to a determination of wrongdoing by this court or an administrative body.”
“The court’s order regarding Judge Joseph is without precedent,” they wrote.
In an affidavit, Joseph said she has two daughters in college and financially supports her mother, whose husband — Joseph’s father — died in December 2017. Joseph and her husband, a real estate attorney with his own practice, have seriously considered selling their house in Natick to cover their expenses and her legal bills, her affidavit stated.
“Prior to the indictment, my family was able to meet its financial expenses, but with very little room for error,” Joseph wrote in the affidavit. “Since my suspension without pay, our family income has decreased by more than half, because I had been earning more than my husband.”
Joseph wrote that she and her husband have “no savings other than retirement funds.” Her unpaid suspension “may impact her ability to defend herself against the indictment,” her lawyers wrote.
Her lawyers work at Foley Hoag, a Boston-based firm that is taking the case pro bono, the motion stated.
The law firm representing Joseph also represented retired Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan in 2010 after Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley filed a complaint against him with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, accusing him of bias.
Keating, the lead lawyer on that case, came under scrutiny for providing Dougan free legal services, which some viewed as a violation of judicial conduct rules that bar judges from receiving gifts from firms whose lawyers have appeared before them or are likely to in the future. State ethics law also bars public officials from accepting most gifts.
It had been a longstanding policy of the judicial conduct commission that judges under investigation were required to pay their own legal bills. But after the Globe wrote about the controversy, an ethics panel of the Supreme Judicial Court decided that judges could accept free legal services.
At the time, Keating said that giving Dougan free legal services was in “full compliance with Massachusetts legal and ethical standards.” Conley’s complaint against Dougan was dismissed.
On Thursday, the Globe asked the firm if lawyers were concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest if Joseph were reinstated and attorneys for Foley Hoag had a case before her.
“Foley Hoag always acts in compliance with ethical rules,” Keating replied in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the state’s court system declined comment.
Joseph’s motion was filed on the same day a status conference in her criminal case was held in Boston. Her lawyer, Thomas Hoopes, asked for two months to prepare a motion to dismiss the charges against Joseph, who faces up to 20 years in prison for allegedly helping a Dominican national flee out the back entrance of the Newton courthouse on April 2, 2018.
“Nobody wants to go faster than we do,” Hoopes said. “My client is suspended without pay.”
Hoopes said he needed time to prepare his motion in part because he expects to receive many amicus briefs on her behalf.
Many lawyers and retired judges have come out in support of Joseph, slamming the indictment against her as prosecutorial overreach.
Retired SJC Justice Geraldine Hines, who has criticized the indictment, attended Thursday’s hearing but declined to comment.
Former federal prosecutors and opponents of illegal immigration have said US Attorney Andrew Lelling was right to indict Joseph.
The Globe reported last week that Joseph turned down a deal from prosecutors that would have allowed her to avoid prison time and a record of a felony conviction in exchange for admitting to the allegations detailed in the indictment.
Lelling has said an officer from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had come to the Newton courthouse with a civil warrant to detain Jose Medina-Perez, who had entered the country illegally three times and been arrested by Newton police on March 30 on charges of drug possession and being a fugitive from justice in Pennsylvania.
Joseph allegedly ordered that the court recorder be turned off for 52 seconds and during that time devised a plan with Medina-Perez’s lawyer to sneak him out the back.
Wesley MacGregor, a former court officer, was also indicted on obstruction for allegedly using his security card to let Medina-Perez out. MacGregor, who was in court Thursday, declined to comment through his lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio.
He came with half a dozen supporters, who shook his hand and waved at him as he left the courtroom.
“Hang in there, bro,” one of them said.
ICE eventually detained Medina-Perez, who has not been identified by federal prosecutors. He was released by an immigration judge and is facing a hearing in July, according to ICE.
Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.