Massachusetts Needs Independent Probe of Judges

Printed from:

Maybe ICE agents should start showing up at Massachusetts courts undercover. They could look and act like someone who poses no legal threat to illegal aliens. Perhaps they could pose as drug dealers or gang members … or maybe wear a black robe.

The latest outrage is that a district court judge in Newton is under federal investigation (reportedly) for helping an illegal alien elude federal authorities by dismissing an out-of-state fugitive-from-justice warrant and then continuing a Newton police drug case against him and then making it easy for him to slip out the back of the courthouse before a waiting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent could arrest him.

The case of Shelley Joseph, judge, is still pending. She hasn’t been charged with anything. She deserves all the usual niceties of our legal system, including the presumption of innocence. But the outrage expressed by the Newton police chief (who knows the story) and by two former federal prosecutors suggests this case is for real – and the real question is:  how many more are there where judges bent over backwards to help illegal-alien criminals over Americans?

Consider Judge Lisa Grant in Boston Municipal Housing Court, who sentenced a Guinea-Bissau immigrant (here legally) to 364 days for two armed bank robberies in September 2016 because a “full” year would have triggered ICE to try to deport him once he got out. The immigrant got out early for good behavior (make that really early) and subsequently, police say, killed two doctors in their apartment in South Boston with a knife.

Seven months after Judge Grant’s jurisprudence, on April 25, 2017, Judge Mary Beth Heffernan set bail at $2,500 for a previously deported Uber driver from the Dominican Republic who while using a fake name was accused by a Boston College student of raping her three times. The judge set this laughable bail even after a prosecutor requested $100,000 bail and told the judge that federal immigration authorities were drafting a detainer for the suspect to try to deport him again. Instead, the judge seemed eager to get the suspect released on bail before an afternoon deadline that would have forced him to go to the house of correction. (The suspect left Newton District Court and hasn’t been seen since.)

Judge Timothy Feeley on February 28, 2018 sentenced a Dominican man convicted in Salem District Court of selling heroin to probation. Why? The drug dealer was just doing it to support his family and if he were sentenced to the house of correction he’d likely get deported. “If he was a citizen, I’d send him — I’d probably do house time — but I’d send him to the house. I would,” Judge Feeley said, according to a transcript reported by the Salem News.

This isn’t equal justice under the law. It’s a sort of illegal-immigrant supremacy.

Has any of these judges been removed from office?


Has any of these judges resigned?


The only judge who has resigned under pressure in recent times is Thomas Estes, who engaged in adulterous sex acts in his chambers at the Belchertown courthouse with a court-appointed social worker over whom he had supervisory jurisdiction. (Let us count the ways …)

Now, let’s do a little scene setting. Judges are politically connected lawyers who (often) get their black robe by making timely political contributions to the right politicians. Many are attracted to the job by the favorable working conditions (including eyebrow-raising allotments for paid vacation), steady six-figure salaries, and pot-of-gold pensions at the end of the rainbow.

Put this way, there’s no inherent reason to think they are any more or less honorable than the people who appear before them.

Some judges are honest people who follow the law and apply it as best they can. Some aren’t. The point is:  Both the good judges and the bad judges need encouragement to do good and avoid evil. Right now they’re not getting enough.

If the problem judges were just one or two, then perhaps a well-timed removal or forced resignation or public humiliation would be enough. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the Massachusetts judiciary appears to be in free fall.

Therefore, Massachusetts needs a comprehensive investigation into what judges are doing and not doing – particularly in the vast majority of cases that never make the newspapers but that have a lot to do with whether our laws are enforced and our citizenry kept safe. The Massachusetts Legislature should commission an independent investigation of our judiciary.

Such an investigation would do much more public good than the investigation last year into former Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg and purported assaults and intimidation against lobbyists by his now-estranged civil-law spouse. That ugly episode impeded business on Beacon Hill and besmirched the integrity of the Massachusetts Senate. But that body besmirches its integrity all the time and often engages in business that could use impeding.

Judges, though, have a lot to say most days of the week about whether our laws are enforced. A troubling number of these judges are failing us, with little consequence to themselves.

Massachusetts residents are rightly questioning the dependability of our judges. It’s time for a reckoning of accounts.