Boston Judge Smacked Down for Overruling D.A. Who Tried To Drop 'Straight Pride' Protest Charges

Top justice rules that trying to push a criminal case forward over prosecutors’ objections is a violation of separation of powers.


Massachusetts' top court has ruled that a judge overstepped his bounds by trying to keep the local district attorney from dropping charges against a protester. The protester was arrested at a recent "Straight Pride" march in Boston.

On Saturday, August 31, progressive protesters collided with alt-righters at a trollish "Straight Pride" march intended to inflame antagonism. Police used pepper spray on some protesters and ultimately arrested 36 people, some of whom they said were throwing rocks and unidentified liquids at the police themselves. Four officers reported non-life-threatening injuries.

One man, Roderick Webber, was recorded being arrested while apparently peacefully speaking and filming the event. Recently elected Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins decided she would not press charges against Webber and others brought in for nonviolent crimes at the rally, part of her effort to scale back overprosecution of petty crimes.

This did not sit well with Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott, who last week refused to let Rollins drop charges against seven defendants, including Webber. And when a defense attorney tried to object to Sinnott's behavior and to argue that he was overreaching his authority, he had her removed from the court.

Rollins criticized Sinnott's behavior and petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court (Massachusetts' top court) asking for some sort of intervention. Today, the Boston Globe reports, Rollins got her wish. Justice Frank Ganziano agreed that Sinnott had overstepped his authority and infringed on separation of powers when he attempted to push these cases forward in defiance of the District Attorney's Office's requests.

"The prosecutor's sole authority to determine which cases to prosecute, and when not to pursue a prosecution, has been affirmed repeatedly by this court since the beginning of the nineteenth century," he wrote, citing Massachusetts case law going all the way back to 1806.

This ruling specifically applies to Webber, but the same arguments clearly extend to any cases that Rollins chooses to drop. As I wrote last week as this drama was unfolding, if Sinnott objects to Rollins' prosecutorial priorities, the constitutionally proper response is to support her opponent in the next election—or just run against her himself.

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  1. Is the DA the only person who can file charges ever? So if the DA is cozy with corrupt cops or some mobster, too bad?

    1. Technically no. The ADAs that serve under the DA can file charges if they want.. However, they would have trouble refiling charges that were dropped by the DA personally.

      Some states allow cops to file charges directly. However, The DA’s office immediately takes over the case after that and the DA, or the ADA assigned to prosecute the case can immediately drop the case, without approval from the police.

      1. But a regular citizen cannot file charges against anyone without the DA’s office doing it for them?

        1. No, that is strictly a function of the state.

          1. Criminal charges…

          2. Except in New Jersey, as was discussed in a recent post on the Volokh Conspiracy.

        2. In most US jurisdictions, that is correct. You can bring a civil suit against someone but only the government can bring a criminal charge.

          In the UK, there is a history of a right to private prosecutions – and considerable evidence that their policy has had its own set of adverse consequences. It’s probably worth noting that the folks setting up the US system of government knew all about and deliberately did not include the concept of private prosecutions.

    2. The feds could prosecute a corrupt DA. Now a corrupt president who was cozy with mobsters, well, that’s a different story.

  2. Sounds like this guy Sinnott was watching Trudeau’s disgraceful behaviour with the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

    Other than that, I can do without the ‘trollish’ and ‘tiresome’ descriptors to make your point Scott.

    Would you guys call the next women’s march (or any other protest not affiliated with the so-called ‘alt-right’?) ‘trollish’?

    One could assert they’re trolling the sane and rational, no?

    Just the facts ma’am.

  3. Y’know, Scott, when I see shit like this–

    On Saturday, August 31, progressive protesters collided with alt-righters at a trollish “Straight Pride” march intended to inflame antagonism.

    I have to ask myself, have you even ever been to a Pride parade?

    There is so much rub-it-in-your-face antagonisn at the average Pride parade that it makes trolling into an art form.

    Remember the old chant? ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” what did you think that was? Exchanging pleasantries?

    1. Much of it is petulant performative nonsense but speech is speech. Personally I’m not a huge fan of 99% of any demonstrations, marches, etc, because they inevitably inconvenience and obstruct those not involved from going about their private business, and negatively affecting people who do not wish to be involved. Property damage, cost of policing, cost to infrastructure, cost to businesses who aren’t able to conduct business as they normally would.

      Something like Hong Kong or Tiananmen Square is absolutely vital, but the rub-it-in-your-face marches for “life” or “reproductive rights” or alphabet people pride are performative, futile, and ultimately a violation of the NAP.

  4. “if Sinnott objects to Rollins’ prosecutorial priorities, the constitutionally proper response”

    …would IMHO be a legal change of some sort, providing special prosecutors when the DA refuses to do her job.

    Bear in mind that the DA’s personal approval (which apparently will not be routinely given) is needed under her policies for charges of malicious destruction of property, shoplifting, and other “NAP violations.”

    Remind me how a libertarian organ should be OK with this?

    And if the prosecutor’s legal powers are great enough that they can ignore crimes designated as such by the legislature, then *that* is a violation of separation of powers which needs a legislative remedy.

    1. Not being OK with it, and thinking it is a violation of the law, are two different things. That’s one thing Libertarians used to be good at noticing: The difference between “bad” and “ought to be illegal”.

      It was virtually certain that this judge would be overruled. The only question was whether or not he’d be sanctioned, too. Hopefully that will happen, too, after the way he treated the defense attorney who pointed out he was acting illegally.

      1. “Not being OK with it, and thinking it is a violation of the law, are two different things.”

        OK, and how did my advocacy of “a legal change” contradict this?

        1. Likewise I mentioned “a legislative remedy” – again, I’m not sure where I confused the legal “ought” with the legal “is.”

        2. Perhaps I should have said, the difference between “bad” and ought to be illegal”.

          1. Well, there *ought* to be a law to let a special prosecutor fill in if the DA is improperly biased – which IMHO should include a bias against prosecuting the guilty.

    2. “And if the prosecutor’s legal powers are great enough that they can ignore crimes designated as such by the legislature, then *that* is a violation of separation of powers which needs a legislative remedy.”

      Proprietorial discretion has a long and little-questioned history. It’s not going away any time soon.

      Are you also upset by the federal government standing down on enforcing federal marijuana laws against people who are complying with their state’s laws?

      1. No, because those laws are unconstitutional.

        1. Doesn’t that create a bigger separation of powers problem? Now the executive is taking on the legislative and judicial roles.

          1. No, and in any case you’ve changed the subject from prosecutorial discretion.

            1. No I haven’t. That’s what the federal government was exercising when it backed off marijuana enforcement.

              1. I disagree with their implied threat to enforce an unconstitutional law at their discretion, but obviously I’m not going to criticize them to the extent they choose not to enforce that law – I’ll limit my criticism to their violations of the Constitution, not their occasional, accidental compliance with it.

  5. Beyond just this case, I think the courts likely have a bigger problem in Judge Sinnott in general that they might want to address.

    1. If I’m not mistaken, judges have to sign off on all plea deals and the like. This could, TECHNICALLY, be squeezed in other that.

  6. The ultimate prosecutorial solution is to set it for a jury trial, subpoena no witnesses and then offer no evidence whatsoever.

    1. That would be an amusing solution, but would be a waste of time and money compared to not bothering to prosecute. DAs decide not to prosecute minor cases all the time.
      In this case the judge did not have leg to stand on as Weber did not steal anything, block traffic or do anything violent.
      There are no laws in MA providing for a special prosecutor when the elected prosecutor does something a judge (not the public) doesn’t like. The judges are appointed, not elected in MA, by the way.

  7. “And when a defense attorney tried to object to Sinnott’s behavior and to argue that he was overreaching his authority, he had her removed from the court.”

    That’s kind of an understatement. According to other sources, “had her removed from court” meant having her handcuffed and shackled, led out of the courtroom in shackles, and put in a holding cell for several hours. Was there any sanction against the judge for that?

    1. This was after he informed her that reading time is over.

      Contempt citation was valid.

  8. “with alt-righters at a trollish “Straight Pride” march intended to inflame antagonism.”

    i.e., “she’s a whore and was asking for it by dressing like one”

    How many self declared “alt-righters” can Reason identity at the march?

    How many Reason declared “alt-righters” can Reason identity at the march, and back up their “alt-righter” classification with facts?

    Reason is becoming such a toilet.

  9. I have to agree with all sides involved. Yes, the judge overstepped his authority. I also have to question one person being able to universally state that certain laws do not exist (as the DA has). There are ways around this. However, they are deliberately troublesome and are only available in egregious circumstances, such as the Smollett case.

    On the other hand, given that I am a member of “Big Oil”, I am used to being told that I have no protection under the law from any self-declared protesters. That is something that concerns me greatly. People, under guise of “protest” commit violence or even atrocities against conservative groups or energy companies on a fairly regular basis, and political pressure removes all hope of trial, much less conviction. Therefore, there is a degree of comeuppance involved.

  10. “progressive protesters collided with alt-righters at a trollish “Straight Pride” march intended to inflame antagonism”

    What the f*ck is wrong with you reason. F*cking hell.

    1. They have to bolster their “woke” cred.

  11. I have to occasionally remind myself I’m reading Reason, not Salon.

    1. Why bother anymore?

  12. Rollins was interviewed last night on a Boston area evening drive show “Howie Carr”. In spite of what I expected to hear, she came across as trying to thoughtfully enforce the written law, and was picking those cases that she thought she could win (rather than going after the weak case that she believed she would loose to a jury anyway). She commented clearly on the difference between the DA (prosecutor) and judge (referee), and also noted that 8 of the antifas who engaged in violent crimes were still being charged; the one she decided to drop the charges against was only charged with trespass.

    Please don’t get pissy with my, I’m just reporting what I heard. I’m sure you can dig up a recording or podcast and listen to it yourself and draw your own conclusions.

    1. “me” not “my”…. what happened to preview????

  13. Would a Gay Pride parade be “alt-left”?

  14. My daily drive by of Reason. Trump bashing article, check. False equivalency article in regards to an alleged “Alt-right” event, who knew that being straight and proud was somehow sinister, where the actual trolls the counter protesters get violent, check.

  15. Sounds like municipal court judges in Massachusetts are as unfamiliar with the law as are Ohio’s muni judges. In Ohio they can’t even get traffic cases right, which–thank God–is what they spend most of their time on. Judging traffic cases is a revenue raising occupation much like the job of a tax collector requiring no legal skills. Just being adept at bulling and threatening is all that is required.

  16. Hey, Shackford and Antifa are correct, straight folks have nothing to be proud of!

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