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Employee accused of having sex in court

FBI says he told woman he'd get charges dismissed

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / February 28, 2009
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An assistant clerk at Chelsea District Court was charged yesterday with having sex in an empty courtroom with a woman accused of prostitution. In exchange, the FBI said, he promised to help get the charge against her dismissed.

FBI agents arrested 41-year-old James Burke at his Chelsea home yesterday and brought him to federal court to face charges that he deprived the woman of her constitutional rights.

"It's a perversion of the legal system and a gross abuse of power," said Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly, head of the US attorney's public corruption unit.

Burke was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and ordered to return to federal court March 26 for a hearing.

Stephen Judge, a Lynn lawyer who represents Burke, did not return calls from the Globe.

A spokeswoman for the trial court said Burke was suspended without pay from his $84,869-a-year job, pending the outcome of the criminal case. She said Burke was hired at the Chelsea courthouse in 1998 and had worked as a probation officer in Quincy District Court for five years.

An FBI affidavit filed in court stated that the woman spotted Burke in December while she was at the Chelsea courthouse trying to get a prostitution charge against her dismissed. She told her lawyer that Burke approached her when she was in the courthouse lockup after her arrest on the charge in February 2005, asked whether she was a "working girl," and offered to get her case dismissed if she provided sex, the affidavit said.

The woman alleged that Burke took her from the lockup and brought her to an empty courtroom, where she performed oral sex on him. The charge was not dismissed and is pending.

After her lawyer alerted the FBI, the woman began cooperating with agents and secretly recorded conversations with Burke, who allegedly acknowledged their earlier sexual encounter and again offered to help her get the old charges dismissed if she provided sex, according to the affidavit.

During a Dec. 8, 2008, telephone call secretly recorded by the FBI, Burke said they were able to have sex undisturbed in the courtroom in 2005 "because it was late in the day and the only judge left was not going to go downstairs," the affidavit said.

Burke asked the woman whether she thought it was "hot" that they had sex in a courtroom, and told her, "It's good because it's like it's so bad," according to the affidavit.

Burke also said that he was "just hookin' up" with someone else in another room at the courthouse, but that person infuriated him by telling other people about it afterward, the affidavit said.

During a Dec. 18 meeting at the courthouse that was also recorded by the FBI, Burke assured the woman that he had spoken to the district attorney's office and that she was "all set" with her case, according to the affidavit. He suggested they "do it right now," but the woman declined.

It is unclear whether Burke ever spoke to anyone in the district attorney's office about the woman's case.

First Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Joshua I. Wall said, "The fact that the case is still pending speaks for itself and is the clearest measure of the integrity of the district attorney's office."

Burke is the second public official to be charged as a result of the woman's cooperation with the FBI.

Boston attorney John Swomley, who represents the woman, said she is the same woman who cooperated with the FBI after Michael LoPriore, then a Boston police officer, coerced her to perform sex on him in September 2004.

In that case, the woman swiped LoPriore's badge during their sexual encounter and cooperated with the FBI as agents secretly recorded the officer's attempts to get it back. LoPriore resigned from his job, pleaded guilty to depriving the woman of her rights, and was sentenced to a year in prison in 2007.

"She got to the point where she had enough," Swomley said. "If this in some way sends a message to other people who have power over helpless human beings that their actions will be held to account, then good."

Swomley said Burke should not have been able to pull his client out of lockup without raising suspicion and questioned whether other employees helped him or were aware of wrongdoing.

Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the court, said the Trial Court Security Department is conducting an internal investigation.

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