Even before Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott had defense attorney Susan Church handcuffed on Wednesday morning, proceedings in his courtroom had gotten bizarre — and worrying.
The court had been dealing with those arrested protesting Saturday’s “Straight Pride Parade,” a demonstration by a collection of alt-right trolls, white supremacists, and Trump fans whose sole, sleazy goal was to own the libs. Fights broke out, and some of those protesting the event were charged with assault and battery. Others were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Suffolk County prosecutors will pursue the violent offenses, but asked the judge to dismiss the minor charges in other cases.
Sinnott wasn’t having it.
“The judge here appears to be acting entirely lawlessly,” said First Amendment attorney Harvey Silverglate. “It takes two to tango. If the DA decides that she does not want to tango with a defendant, the judge has no authority of which I’m aware to keep the prosecution alive.”
Perhaps Sinnott has a bee in his bonnet about these particular demonstrators, whom the right derisively calls “Antifa” — it is meant as a disparagement, because being antifascist is apparently a bad thing now. The judge, who comes from a family with a background in law enforcement, is certainly sympathetic to police officers, who have been accused of being too rough with those they arrested on Saturday.
It’s clear that some Boston police officers share the right’s distaste for those who turned out to protest the cynical “Straight Pride” provocateurs. Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association vice president Lawrence Calderone told the Globe he was happy Sinnott was refusing to dismiss the cases. He said some of those facing charges are not residents of Boston, but “came here as agitators . . . to create havoc,” as if that meant they deserved fewer rights than city residents. And the police union’s newsletter refers to Antifa as a “police/military hate group,” calling it “PANTI-FA.” Get it? Panties!
Anyway, Sinnott’s intransigence may have delighted the police union, but it did not impress everybody. On Tuesday night, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins issued a statement saying the judge had overstepped, and “punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest.”
Rollins was elected on promises to use the resources of her office to prosecute serious crimes, and to hold off on the minor offenses that gum up the system and can ruin the lives of people who are otherwise law-abiding and disproportionately poor. Like other reformist district attorneys, she has gotten serious pushback on that, from police, other district attorneys, and the US attorney general.
So, Rollins is used to having her judgment challenged. Our friend Judge Sinnott? Less so. He appeared to have come back to his courtroom on Wednesday morning even more determined to impose his will. When a prosecutor asked the judge to dismiss the minor charges against another protester, Sinnott resisted again. Defense attorney Church tried to argue that the judge had no legal authority to do that, attempting to cite the case law.
She and the judge talked over each other, and Sinnott ordered Church handcuffed and taken out of the courtroom. She was detained for four hours, adding a Kafkaesque dimension to an already-surreal situation.
We don’t yet know why Sinnott is so determined here. Does he have a problem with these particular protesters? Or, like some others, with Rollins? Perhaps he was just having a bad day, or a run of them.
Whatever the reason, Sinnott has done some damage here.
Ordering Church detained was an act of pique and extraordinary overreach. Perhaps Sinnott, upon reflection (or an intervention by the SJC), will see that and regret it.
Best not to hold one’s breath, though.