Judge rejects prosecutor bid to drop charges against 'straight pride' protesters; defense lawyer handcuffed
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Updated: A district attorney in Boston is asking the state’s highest court to step in after a judge refused her office’s bid to drop charges against protesters and observers at a “straight pride” parade.
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins filed an emergency petition Wednesday. She contends in a press release that the actions of Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott “are unprecedented and outrageous. His insistence on arraigning individuals when my office has used its discretion to decline a case is an unconstitutional abuse of his power.” The Associated Press, the Boston Herald and MassLive.com have coverage.
On Saturday, police arrested about three dozen protesters who contend the straight-pride parade mocked the LGBTQ movement. Sinnott refused to drop charges in seven cases Tuesday, but agreed to the dismissal in two other cases, according to the Boston Globe.
Sinnott denied two more requests to drop charges Wednesday, the same day that he held a defense lawyer in contempt of court.
In some cases, prosecutors asked for outright dismissals and in others they asked that the dropped charges be conditioned on the defendants providing community service. Prosecutors asked for outright dismissals, known as a nolle prosequi, in at least two cases, including that of a protester represented by Susan Church, the defense lawyer held in contempt, according to the press release by Rollins.
In the cases seeking community service, the DA was seeking dismissal from the bench, rather than a nolle prosequi, according to former Boston federal judge Nancy Gertner, who criticized Sinnott’s actions in an interview with the Boston Globe.
“Is the judge going to prosecute the case?” Gertner wondered.
Church was held in contempt and led away in handcuffs Wednesday after she read aloud case law about prosecutors’ powers to decline prosecution, report MassLive.com and the Boston Herald. She was released hours later.
Sinnott had complained that Church was talking over him. “This is the only warning you’re going to get. Do not try to talk over me, do not try to turn this into theater,” he said.
Church’s client, Lilley Antoinette, appeared impressed with Church’s actions. “My lawyer is a badass,” she told the Boston Herald.
Rollins’ petition focuses on Sinnott’s refusal to drop charges against Roderick Webber, who was charged with disorderly conduct. The petition said Massachusetts gives prosecutors absolute power to drop charges by entering a nolle prosequi, as it did in Webber’s case.
Sinnott had contended that prosecutors could not enter a nolle prosequi without notifying parade organizers because they could be considered victims under the state statute protecting victims’ rights.
The Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure say prosecutors have “absolute” discretion to file a nolle prosequi for dismissal of charges “except possibly in instances of scandalous abuse of the authority,” according to the Boston Globe story.
A footnote says that in federal courts, dismissal is allowed only with leave of court. “It did not seem advisable to engraft this additional requirement onto the Massachusetts rule, however, since it is doubted that the court has the power to compel the commonwealth to proceed with a case which it does not believe warrants prosecution,” the footnote said.
Webber, a Boston area man who goes by “Rod” rather than “Roderick,” told the ABA Journal that he has concerns about the group sponsoring the march, and he was there to document what was happening.
He describes himself as “the adult in the room” and says police targeted him, although he had calmly asked them whether there was a dispersal order. He said he was in excruciating pain after police put him in a chokehold, and he was unable to walk because of a pinched nerve.
Webber says his YouTube channel was taken down after the protest, but his video is available on Facebook.
Updated Sept. 5 at 12:32 p.m. to include additional information from Webber.