Supreme Judicial Court reinstates pay for judge facing criminal charges

Boston Statehouse
Shelley Joseph

FILE – In this April 25, 2019 file photo, district court judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph departs federal court in Boston after facing obstruction of justice charges for allegedly helping a man in the country illegally evade immigration officials as he left her Newton, Mass., courthouse after a hearing in 2018. On Wednesday, June 26, Joseph’s attorney Michael Keating told Massachusetts’ highest court it was wrong to suspend the judge without pay when she has only been charged and is presumed innocent. Keating is asking the justices to reinstate Joseph’s pay and let her work on administrative tasks for the court system while the criminal case plays out. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – A district court judge under federal indictment for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant evade arrest will remain suspended from her duties but have her pay reinstated under a Supreme Judicial Court order issued Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling indicted Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph in April, alleging that she and another court official obstructed justice by allowing a defendant to leave through a back door of a Newton courthouse to avoid Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Joseph had since requested that her suspension instead be with pay, and that she be reassigned to administrative duties while suspended. The court ordered that Joseph receive the compensation and benefits due to her since her suspension began in April, but declined to grant the reassignment.

“I recognize that this means that an indicted judge will be paid from public funds but will not be able to earn that salary through the performance of judicial or other duties,” Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote in the order. “I also recognize that, in the eyes of the general public, this is not a productive use of public funds. I agree, but I think it is the best of the bad alternatives under these circumstances.”

In an opinion also signed by justices Barbara Lenk and Kimberly Budd, Gants cited the importance of judicial independence and said that a suspension without pay may have particularly severe financial consequences for judges, who face restrictions on other methods of earning income.

Five of the seven justices supported suspending Joseph with pay, while Justice David Lowy was recused and Justice Frank Gaziano, one of five judges appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker, dissented.

Gaziano wrote that “Nothing has changed” since the justices initially decided a few months ago to suspend Joseph without pay. He said the court recognized at the time that there would be “serious financial consequences” for Joseph “but that we had no other option if we were to maintain public confidence in the Judiciary.”

Baker had supported the court’s initial decision to suspend Joseph without pay.

“Governor Baker believes Judge Joseph should not hear cases until the federal case is resolved and believes that no one should obstruct federal law enforcement officials trying to do their jobs,” Baker communications director Lizzy Guyton said in a statement. “The Baker-Polito Administration has filed and continues to support legislation to allow court officials as well as law-enforcement to work with federal immigration officials to detain dangerous individuals.”?

Justice Scott Kafker, in a concurring opinion also signed by Justice Elspeth Cypher, wrote “To my knowledge, this is one of the first instances, if not the first instance, where this court has been confronted with an indictment of a sitting judge.”

Kafker said that “a number of questions” have been raised about how Joseph handled the matter in question, and even if she is acquitted, “there may still be findings of judicial misconduct here that merit suspension without pay.”

“At this point, however, the facts are too unclear and contested to make any preliminary determination to that effect,” he wrote.

Joseph’s annual salary is $184,694, and she has been paid $62,512 this year through April 27, according to the state comptroller’s online payroll database.

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