No Dismissal of Charges Against Massachusetts Judge Who Allegedly Helped an Arrestee Evade Immigration Officials


From Judge Leo Sorokin's decision Monday in U.S. v. Joseph:

The government has charged Massachusetts District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and Massachusetts Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor in an Indictment alleging conspiracy and obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512 and obstruction of a federal proceeding in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505. MacGregor also is charged with perjury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1623.

The defendants have moved to dismiss the conspiracy and obstruction charges pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3), the doctrine of judicial immunity, and the Fifth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution. In their view, the Indictment fails as a matter of law to allege the elements necessary to establish a crime under the relevant obstruction statutes, and the government's attempt to extend those statutes to the conduct described in the Indictment raises constitutional and other serious legal concerns. After careful consideration, the motions to dismiss are DENIED because the Indictment alleges the elements of the offenses and sufficient supporting factual detail….

The Indictment describes events that allegedly occurred at the Newton District Court ("NDC") on April 2, 2018, while Joseph was presiding and MacGregor was working as a court officer at the NDC. Per the Indictment, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") officer working for the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") arrived at the Courthouse that morning seeking to take into custody an individual who had been arrested days earlier in Newton.

The Indictment alleges that the individual was the subject of an immigration detainer and a warrant based on "a final order" of removal, reflecting DHS's intent to detain him and effect his removal from the United States in the event he was released from state custody. Again, according to the Indictment, Joseph and MacGregor, along with a privately retained criminal defense attorney, allegedly facilitated the individual's departure from the NDC using the rear sally port door of the lockup on the lower level of the NDC, rather than through the main door leading from the courtroom to the lobby where the ICE officer was waiting.

Based on these factual allegations, … a grand jury charged the defendants in Count I of the Indictment with conspiring to obstruct justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(2) and (k) as follows:

"On or about April 2, 2018, in Newton, in the District of Massachusetts, the defendants [Joseph and MacGregor] conspired with the Defense Attorney to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, namely, a federal immigration removal proceeding before the United States Department of Homeland Security."

Count II charges the underlying offense of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) in nearly identical terms. In Count III, the defendants are charged with obstructing a federal proceeding in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505 as follows:

"On or about April 2, 2018, in Newton, in the District of Massachusetts, the defendants [Joseph and MacGregor] did corruptly influence, obstruct, and impede, and endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede, the due and proper administration of the law under which a pending proceeding was being had before a department and agency of the United States, namely, a federal immigration removal proceeding before the United States Department of Homeland Security."

{MacGregor is charged in Count IV with perjury, which is not the subject of the pending motions to dismiss.} …

The question presented by a motion seeking dismissal of a lawfully returned criminal indictment "is not whether the government has presented enough evidence to support the charge, but solely whether the allegations in the indictment are sufficient to apprise the defendant of the charged offense." The Court presumes the allegations of an indictment are true for purposes of assessing its sufficiency. Because dismissal of an indictment "directly encroaches upon the fundamental role of the grand jury," the circumstances under which a trial court properly may invoke its authority in this regard are "extremely limited." …

First, Joseph argues that the charges against her violate "core principles of judicial immunity." … [E]ven if judicial immunity extends to the criminal context, it would apply only where "judicial acts performed within a judge's jurisdiction" are concerned. Of course, any such immunity, if it exists, would never shield "corruption or bribery." Where the Indictment charges that Joseph acted "corruptly," it is not within this Court's province on a motion to dismiss to determine whether judicial immunity, even if its reach encompasses criminal liability, provides a viable shelter for Joseph in the circumstances alleged here.

Next, Joseph and MacGregor seek dismissal of the Indictment because, they argue, it fails to state an offense under either of the two obstruction statutes it invokes. In particular, they urge that the Indictment "does not allege any corrupt intent on the part of" either defendant; it alleges interference with "the execution of a civil immigration warrant [which] does not qualify as a 'proceeding'" under either obstruction statute; and it does not allege the sort of crime they assert is required to sustain conspiracy and obstruction charges under § 1512.

In advancing these arguments, Joseph and MacGregor lose sight of the governing legal standard. Each of the first three Counts in the Indictment alleges the elements of the charged offense by invoking the relevant statutory language, and provides sufficient factual detail to "notify the defendant[s] of the nature of the accusation against [them] and to apprise the court of the facts alleged," Nothing more is required at this stage of the prosecution.

Finally, Joseph and MacGregor suggest that application of the charged obstruction statutes to the conduct at issue violates the Tenth Amendment and principles of Due Process. In advancing these challenges, the defendants characterize the Indictment as criminalizing their "lawful decision not to assist" the ICE officer in administering federal immigration laws, Joseph's "decisions about how to manage [her] courtroom[]," and MacGregor's "exercise of his daily duties." … Joseph [suggests she] engaged in only "lawful and discretionary acts" and "did not 'affirmatively impede' anything" ….

At bottom, the defendants' constitutional arguments require the assessment of disputed facts, characterizations of the events underlying the Indictment, or other evidentiary analysis. Such fact-laden determinations are outside the scope of a motion to dismiss. Because the Indictment complies with the governing legal standard, neither constitutional challenge provides an avenue to dismissal.