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Massachusetts judge charged with helping man evade immigration agent

Massachusetts judge charged with helping man evade immigration agent
Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, at a Boston news conference in March. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

A Massachusetts judge was indicted Thursday on charges that she helped a man who was living in the U.S. illegally evade an immigration agent by sneaking out the back door of a courthouse.

District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and onetime court officer Wesley MacGregor were charged with obstruction of justice in the case, which developed from accusations that they schemed to let the man escape after a hearing last year on charges that included drug possession.

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The charges against Joseph and MacGregor were swiftly condemned by the state's attorney general, who called the case “a radical and politically-motivated attack” on the courts by federal authorities.

Lawyers, judges and advocates have criticized President Trump's administration for stepping up immigration arrests at courthouses, saying it is disrupting the criminal justice system and scaring people away from halls of justice.

Massachusetts U.S. Atty. Andrew Lelling said the charges were not meant to send a message about immigration policy. Everyone must be held to the rule of law, even the privileged and powerful, he said.

“From certain corners I have heard the occasional gasp of dismay or outrage at the notion of holding a judge accountable for violating federal law,” Lelling said. “But if the law is not applied equally it cannot credibly be applied to anyone.”

Joseph, 51, and MacGregor, 56, were scheduled to appear in Boston federal court Thursday. Joseph has been suspended without pay, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said.

They came under federal investigation last year after authorities said they schemed to let the man escape from the Newton courthouse.

An immigration agent was in the courtroom to detain the man. Authorities say Joseph asked the agent to leave the courtroom and told him that the suspect would be released into the courthouse lobby.

Instead, after the hearing, MacGregor led the defendant downstairs to the lockup and let him out a rear door, Lelling said.

The man, who had been barred from entering the U.S. until 2027, was caught by immigration officials about a month after the hearing, Lelling said, and is now in immigration proceedings.

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