Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Attorney Susan Church speaks to the media after she was held in contempt by Judge Richard Sinnott and taken onto custody then released at Boston Municipal Court on September 4, 2019.

Attorney Susan Church speaks to the media after she was held in contempt by Judge Richard Sinnott and taken onto custody then released at Boston Municipal Court on September 4, 2019. ( Photo: Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

'Outrageous Behavior' as Boston Judge Holds National Lawyers Guild Attorney in Contempt for Reading Case Law in Court

"By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals' First Amendment right to protest."

Eoin Higgins

After a defense attorney for nonviolent demonstrators arrested in last weekend's alt-right "Straight Pride Parade" in Boston read the letter of the law in protest of Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott refusing to allow the Suffolk County District Attorney's office to drop charges, the judge threw the lawyer in jail for contempt of court, the latest in a string of incidents in the city courtroom with respect to the protests.

Attorney Susan Church, who works with the National Lawyers' Guild of Massachusetts, was released a few hours later. 

"All I was trying to do is to read the law to the court, and I was summarily arrested, handcuffed, brought down to the holding cell, held there for hours," said Church. 

Sinnott sent the lawyer to jail on contempt after she read him case law that contradicted the judge's decision to reject Suffolk County D.A. Rachel Rollins' decision not to press charges against the demonstrators. 

"This was outrageous behavior," Church said.

Other members of the legal profession agreed. 

"This is out of control," tweeted law firm PiltserCowan. "Arresting a defense lawyer for doing her job crossed the line from abuse of authority to needing to be removed from judicial office."

The protestors were arrested for actions over the weekend in opposition to a racist, extreme right political march dubbed a "Straight Pride Parade" by organizers. The march ended with clashes between police and the some demonstrators, resulting in a number of arrests. 

In his courtroom on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sinnott repeatedly denied requests from the district attorney's office to drop the charges for most of those arrested.

As The Boston Globe reported:

As members of the police union looked on, Sinnott agreed to drop charges against just two of the 16 protesters who came before him Tuesday: a 63-year-old Vermont woman charged with disorderly conduct and a 21-year-old man from Worcester accused of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Prosecutors asked for dismissal of nonviolent charges against seven more people, most in exchange for eight hours of community service. Sinnott denied the requests. Prosecutors did not ask Sinnott to drop any charges of assault or of violence against police.

Rollins, in a series of tweets Tuesday evening, said her office's decision to forego prosecutions should not have been overruled by the judge.

"By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals' First Amendment right to protest," said Rolllins.

She added that her office would work to overturn Sinnott's decision.

"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.

As the National Lawyers Guild pointed out in its statement on Church's arrest, Sinnott has regularly acted to stymie the Rollins agenda, which aims to bring a more measured approach to law enforcement in Suffolk County.

"This is in gross violation of the separation of powers and has the impact of obstructing the policy priorities of the Rachel Rollins administration," wrote the guild.

The move was "lawless," Judge Nancy Gertner told WBUR.

In a tweet, New York City public defender Sam Feldman said he hoped there would be consequences for Sinnott's actions. 

"Hoping against hope that Judge Sinnott's flagrant violations of the law result in his removal from the bench," said Feldman.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Starbucks Violated Law and Must Bargain With Union in Seattle: NLRB

The coffee giant, which plans to appeal, "is continuing its aggressive anti-union campaign against workers by delaying, confusing, and flat-out refusing to bargain with them," said Starbucks Workers United.

Jessica Corbett ·

Three UK Universities Ban Fossil Fuel Industry Recruiters From Campus

"It is vital that our universities show with actions, not words, that they are taking the side of climate justice, and not of the industries driving us deeper into a climate crisis," said one campaigner.

Julia Conley ·

Lula Aims to Create New Federal Police Unit to Curb Environmental Crimes in Brazil

"Reverting the destruction from the past administration and taking meaningful action to protect the Amazon and the climate must be a priority of the new government," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·

Merkley Bill Aims to Dismantle Hedge Fund Stranglehold on Housing Market

Senate Democrat accuses Wall Street of "pouring fuel on the fire of the affordable housing crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

'Donald Trump Has Finally Run Out of Places to Hide' as House Dems Get Tax Returns

"It's no longer a question of if he's hiding something big," one watchdog group asserted, "it's a question of what he's hiding."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo