A Massachusetts appeals court Monday overruled a Boston judge who insisted over prosecutors’ wishes that a man arrested at last week’s “Straight Pride Parade” be criminally prosecuted.
The ruling is a win for Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, a reform-minded prosecutor who said many of the 30-plus arrests at the parade were not worth prosecuting.
Last week, when prosecutors moved to dismiss some of those charges, Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott refused. He arraigned many of the defendants anyway.
Rollins filed an emergency petition last week challenging Sinnott’s constitutional ability to do that, and the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled in her favor on Monday.
The appeal, which pitted an elected progressive prosecutor against a tough-on-crime judge, was specific to one protester’s case. Still, the legal battle was broadly representative of the challenges prosecutors in major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Baltimore have faced in the past few years in their attempts to reform the criminal justice system away from prosecuting poor people and people of color.
Rollins said the entire fight was a “colossal waste of time,” and she criticized what she said was Sinnott’s abuse of power in refusing to abide by their decision not to prosecute.
“Change is really hard,” Rollins said Monday. “There are lots of people that like the way the system is working right now.”
Rollins said the appeals court ruling affirmed that district attorneys, and not judges, have full discretion for choosing what to prosecute.
“What this ruling will do — to non-lawyers — is let you understand that we have the power to do this anytime we choose,” she said, referring to decisions not to prosecute.
How we got here
The legal debate stems from arrests at the “Straight Pride Parade” last week. The march through downtown Boston was organized by Super Happy Fun America, a trollish group that argues straight people are an “oppressed majority.” Milo Yiannopoulos, the disgraced far-right provocateur, was the grand marshal.
Protected by a heavy police presence, marchers stood on floats and carried signs at the parade promoting the military and President Trump. They were met by large groups of counter protesters who said the parade was mocking Boston’s LGBTQ Pride parade.
Thirty-four people were arrested at the parade, said Boston Police Officer James Moccia, a department spokesman. Four officers suffered minor injuries, he said.
Of those arrested, Rollins moved to arraign eight people on criminal charges because they had prior arrests or the allegations indicated violence, she said. However, she moved to dismiss or “nolle prosequi” — a legal term meaning not to prosecute — charges against many of those arrested on disorderly conduct or other charges that she said were not worth prosecuting.
Sinnott refused to recognize the dismissals, and he argued the district attorney’s office failed to comply with the state Victim’s Bill of Rights, according to Rollins’ emergency petition. His decision was “unprecedented and outrageous,” Rollins said.
In addition, the judge handcuffed and placed in custody a defense attorney representing protesters who objected to that decision and interrupted Sinnott.
Judge Sinnott declined to comment, said Jennifer Donahue, spokesperson for the court.
Sinnott was appointed to the bench by Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2017. Before becoming a judge, Sinnott practiced civil and criminal law with his own law office for more than 25 years, according to his nomination announcement. He was an Army Reserve judge advocate and Iraq war veteran, the announcement said.
On Monday, Rollins declined to say whether Sinnott should continue to act as a judge with the power to decide citizens’ freedoms.
“I’ve had bad days before as well. I just don’t think this was his finest moment,” she said.