BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker wants a judge he nominated pulled off the bench amid a federal investigation into whether she and other court staff helped a man evade immigration officials who believe he’s in the country illegally.
The Republican governor said Monday that District Court Judge Shelley Joseph shouldn’t hear criminal cases until the investigation is resolved.
“Judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice,” he told reporters at the State House. “I find this story, as it’s currently been presented, extremely troubling.”
The Boston Globe reported Sunday a federal grand jury is considering whether Joseph and other officials broke the law in helping Jose Medina-Perez leave the Newton District Court after an April hearing on charges, including drug possession and a warrant for drunken driving in Pennsylvania.
The newspaper said an immigration enforcement agent was in the courtroom to detain Medina-Perez following the proceeding, but the defendant was let out through a back door instead.
Medina-Perez told police during his most recent arrest he’s a 36-year-old U.S. citizen, but immigration enforcement officials say his real name is Oscar Manuel Peguero, a 38-year-old from Dominican Republic who has been deported twice already.
The Globe reported that Joseph was aware that Medina-Perez would be detained by immigration officials following the hearing and appeared to discuss ways to prevent that from happening, including continuing the case to a later date.
“ICE is going to get him,” Joseph told the state prosecutor and Medina-Perez’s lawyer during a sidebar discussion partially captured by the courtroom’s audio recorder. The judge eventually instructed the recorder be briefly shut off.
Newton is among several Massachusetts communities that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
Massachusetts trial courts also require that court staff neither help nor hinder federal agents and that all court sessions must be recorded, the Globe reported.
Joseph and state trial court officials have declined to comment.
The U.S. attorney’s office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Medina-Perez’s lawyer also didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Baker appointed Joseph to the state court last year after a career as prosecutor and later as a defense lawyer.