State judge Shelley Richmond Joseph’s $181,000 annual salary will be reinstated during her suspension over federal obstruction charges for allegedly helping a Dominican illegal immigrant slip out of her courtroom to avoid an ICE agent, the state’s high court ruled Tuesday.
Five justices of the Supreme Judicial Court ordered that Joseph, a Newton District Court judge, receive her back pay and all other benefits, while rejecting her request to perform administrative duties during her suspension.
“We’re grateful to the court they were willing to re-examine their earlier decision,” said attorney Michael Keating, who argued on Joseph’s behalf before the court last month. “We think it’s a fair decision here. … I think it also reinforces the judicial independence of our judges.”
The Trial Court has reinstated Joseph for the current pay period and is arranging payment of her retroactive state salary, totaling $51,146 before taxes, Jennifer Donahue, spokeswoman for the state’s courts, wrote in an email Tuesday.
Justice Frank Gaziano issued the lone dissent to the court’s ruling.
“Because this decision smacks of preferential treatment, and thereby erodes public confidence in the judiciary, I cannot join my colleagues,” he wrote.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants, writing one of two concurring opinions, cited Joseph’s restrictions to earn income as a judge during her indefinite suspension as a reason to reinstate her pay.
Justice Scott Kafker, writing the second concurring opinion, said one must be “extremely cautious” about justifying differential treatment for judges and agreed with reinstating Joseph’s pay for a different reason.
“There remains an open question whether Judge Joseph’s defense is … part and parcel of the defense of the power of State judges to regulate the activities of ICE in State court houses,” he wrote.
Keating said Kafker was viewing the case from an institutional point of view.
“He’s worried that if she didn’t have compensation as a result of the Supreme Court’s original order, that it might impinge on her ability to defend that defense,” Keating said.
Joseph and retired court officer Wesley MacGregor pleaded not guilty in April to federal charges of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting for allegedly interfering with a federal investigation.
Joseph rejected a plea deal in the case, court filings revealed. A final status conference in her federal case is scheduled for Sept. 10 in U.S. District Court.
Lizzy Guyton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Charlie Baker, said in a statement the governor believes Joseph should not hear cases until her federal case is resolved. Baker nominated Joseph to the district court bench in 2017.
“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,” Guyton wrote.
Keating said it is understandable why the public would view Joseph’s suspension with pay with skepticism. But he said, “What it really does is it reinforces the independence of the judiciary, which frankly in my judgement is more important than whether Judge Joseph should be paid.”