Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

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.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'We Will Fight! We Will Win!': Nearly 200 Abortion Rights Defenders Arrested in DC

"If people don't see the rage," said one woman at the protest, "nothing changes."

Jon Queally ·


Federal Abortion Ban Desired by GOP Would Increase Maternal Deaths by 24%: Study

"Pregnancy shouldn't kill people—in fact, in other rich countries it very rarely does," said the lead author of the new analysis.

Jake Johnson ·


Naomi Klein: The US Is in the Midst of a 'Shock-and-Awe Judicial Coup'

"The rolling judicial coup coming from this court is by no means over," warned the author of "The Shock Doctrine."

Jake Johnson ·


Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo