Update: Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday regarding Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott’s actions, The Boston Globe reports. In it, her office argues that Sinnott “ignored the clear and unambiguous constraints placed on the judiciary by the separation of powers” in not following through with prosecutors’ intent to drop the charges against the nonviolent protesters.
“The judge’s interference with the district attorney’s constitutional authority cannot stand,” the petition reads.
Rollins filed the petition on behalf of one of the nonviolent defendants, with the intention of it setting a precedent for the other similar cases, according to the newspaper.
“The actions of Judge Richard Sinnott are unprecedented and outrageous,” the district attorney wrote on Twitter, linking to the Globe story on her petition.
Rollins then expanded on that point:
The power to pursue prosecution falls exclusively on the executive branch, not the judiciary. The judge overstepped his authority here, and only an action of our state's highest court can correct this injustice.
— DA Rachael Rollins (@DARollins) September 4, 2019
My petition is a call for order to be returned to our courts, to ensure the fair administration of justice, and to restore the public’s trust in the integrity of our legal system. The people of Suffolk County elected me to do exactly what I am doing.
— DA Rachael Rollins (@DARollins) September 4, 2019
Original story below:
Following the clash between “Straight Pride Parade” protesters and police in downtown Boston over the weekend, an unusual clash is now unfolding between prosecutors and a local judge handling the cases of those arrested during the event.
Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott refused to dismiss charges Tuesday against a number of nonviolent protesters arrested during the parade and ensuing counter-demonstration. Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins says Sinnott is “overstepping” his role
“By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest,” Rollins said in a statement posted on social media Tuesday night.
A total of 36 people were arrested during the parade Saturday. According to Rollins’s office, prosecutors are pressing forward in the cases in which the charges are violent in nature, including assault and battery on a police officer. However, 20 of the people arrested were charged only with disorderly conduct alone or disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. And in those cases, prosecutors have been asking Sinnott to drop the charges, according to the DA’s office.
Time after time Tuesday, Sinnott said no.
According to The Boston Globe, the Boston-bred judge, who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2017, agreed to drop charges against just two of the nine people for whom prosecutors had asked for the dismissal of nonviolent charges in exchange for community service.
“For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech—many of whom had no prior criminal record—I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role,” Rollins said Tuesday.
Elected as Suffolk County’s first female district attorney last year, Rollins has garnered national attention for her progressive criminal justice platform, including a list of 15 petty crimes for which her office’s default stance is to not prosecute. Both disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, as a standalone charge or in combination with another charge on the list, are among the nonviolent offenses on the list.
Rollins said Tuesday that, at her request, prosecutors were using their constitutional discretion “to triage cases and use our resources most effectively to protect public safety.”
However, in one exchange Tuesday, Sinnott reportedly chided a prosecutor for suggesting that while the actions of Lowell man — charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest for allegedly forming a human chain with other protesters — were “not appropriate,” prosecuting the 26-year-old would not do anything to make the community safer.
“Not appropriate? It sounds like he picked up the wrong fork at dinner,” Sinnott shot back, according to the Globe.
Rollins also reiterated Tuesday that her office wasn’t attempting to drop charges against everyone arrested in the downtown kerfuffle that broke out between demonstrators and police Saturday. After the parade ended, police used force — and sometimes pepper spray — to clear the crowd, which reportedly moved into the road near the intersection of Congress and State streets.
Nine of the 36 people arrested during the parade face charges of assault and battery on a police officer. Boston police said that four officers were injured. Earlier this week, the head of the local police union called for all 36 to be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
“We all just do our jobs and hope the courts do their jobs,” Michael Leary, the president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, told the Boston Herald.
“Make no mistake,” Rollins wrote Tuesday, “some people were appropriately arraigned and will be held accountable for actions that put the safety of the public and law enforcement at risk.”