BOSTON — A judge charged with helping an immigrant escape a federal agent waiting to arrest him at a courthouse should keep her salary while she fights to clear her name, one of her lawyers told Massachusetts’ highest court Wednesday.
Stripping Judge Shelley Joseph of her pay as soon as she was charged goes against the presumption of innocence and sends the message to judges across the state that their livelihood could be taken away merely because of an allegation, attorney Michael Keating said.
“As a judge, she’s charged with giving everyone who appears before her due process of law,” Keating told the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. “I think she is entitled to due process of law before this panel.”
Joseph was suspended without pay in April after federal prosecutors alleged she and a former court officer helped a man from the Dominican Republic slip out a back door of Newton District Court.
She has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice, and another of her lawyers, Thomas Hoopes, has called the case against her “political.”
Joseph, who made $181,000 last year, said in an affidavit filed with the Supreme Judicial Court that her family faces mounting legal bills, has had to borrow money from friends and family, and may be forced to sell their home.
Her pay should be restored, and she should be allowed to work on administrative tasks for the court system while the case plays out, her lawyers say.
Lawyers’ groups and a collection of retired judges are backing Joseph, calling it “unprecedented” to take away the pay of a judge who hasn’t been found guilty of wrongdoing.
“Judges must be able to act without fearing for their livelihood or the well-being of their family if a powerful litigant, the public, or other judges disagree with their actions,” the Massachusetts Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys said in court documents.
But several of the justices questioned how it would be fair to allow judges to keep their salary when other court officials — like a clerk or probation officer — would lose theirs under court policy if they are criminally charged.
“What do we say to that probation officer or that court officer or that clerk?” Chief Justice Ralph Gants asked.