Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph is finding herself on the other side of the law. The woman who’s used to handing out legal judgement is now under examination for her role helping an undocumented immigrant escape ICE detention. She’s joined in this examination by Wesley MacGregor, a court officer who purportedly assisted her. The events began when Jose Medina-Perez was awaiting arrest at court. The duo is charged with helping Jose escape detection by the agents. The ICE agents were waiting out in front of the courtroom. Meanwhile the legal duo helped Jose escape through the back doors. It’s easy to consider the issue of whether the arrest was right or wrong. But Andrew Lelling, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, pointed out something vital to this case. Lelling reminded people that the allegations involve obstruction of the law by a sitting judge. One can easily let personal feelings about the laws under discussion cloud perception of the strict rule of law.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that Medina-Perez has significant legal baggage. He’d already been deported back to Mexico two times before the current incident. And when he escaped ICE detention he was still wanted under a drunk driving charge. The judge had been giving firm instructions along with Medina-Perez’s detainer. She was to hand him over to ICE. After which he’d be held for 48 hours before deportation. Instead, she helped him escape out the back door. This situation is made all the more striking for how little ambiguity is involved. She was recorded as stating “ICE will pick him up if he walks out the front door”.

This was followed by her statement that “I think the best thing for us to do is clear the fugitive issue and release him on a personal, and hope that he can avoid ICE.” She demanded that the recording equipment in the courtroom be shut off immediately after making that statement. All of this provides extremely suggestive evidence that the judge was quite aware of what she was doing. Not just that she was helping Jose avoid ICE, but that in doing so she was taking the law into her own hands. This concept was later touched on by Peter Fitzberg, serving as special agent with the Homeland Security Investigations. Fitzberg had some firm statements to make as the figure in charge of the investigation. He pointed out that public servants, and in particular those in court, make a promise. They promise to serve the people’s interests above all else. And he stated with no ambiguity that he believes the judge broke that promise.

This all comes to an important, but often misunderstood, aspect of the court system. People often think that the courts are there to decide what’s right and wrong. Along with this one might imagine that a judge is there to decide on the morality of a case brought before her. But in reality this isn’t always the case. One can hope that morality comes into play. But morality only comes into it as far as influencing law. A judge doesn’t decide on what is and isn’t law. But judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph is accused of doing exactly that. Instead of judging whether someone broke the law, she decided to act on her perception of the law’s underlying morality. This is a serious issue in the legal system, which highlights why it’s under such intense scrutiny.