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Mass. High Court Sides With Suffolk DA Rollins In Battle With Judge Over Protester Charge

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A Supreme Judicial Court justice sided with Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins on Monday, vacating the decision of a lower court judge to arraign a counter-protester of the so-called "Straight Pride" parade earlier this month.

Justice Frank Gaziano wrote that Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott had "no authority" to reject a prosecutor's entry of "nolle prosequi" — a decision not to prosecute the case — when arraigning defendant Roderick Webber.

Sinnott also rejected several motions to dismiss cases against counter-protesters arrested at the Aug. 31 parade and rally.

Rollins argued last week that Sinnott overstepped his constitutional authority in refusing her request to drop charges against some counter-protesters charged with minor infractions, like disorderly conduct. In his decision, Gaziano agreed.

"The prosecutor's sole authority to determine which cases to prosecute, and when not to pursue a prosecution, has been affirmed repeatedly by this court since the beginning of the nineteenth century," Gaziano wrote.

In total, judges rejected motions to dismiss in seven related cases; Rollins said her office will now re-review those cases in light of the decision.

In a press conference Monday after the ruling, Rollins said she was proud of the decision.

"There's clarity now," Rollins said. "We thought we had it, but now it is crystal clear that we have the authority to do what it is that we did."

Earlier in the day, Rollins spoke to WBUR’s Radio Boston, before the decision came down. She criticized Judge Sinnott for overstepping his role.

“Judges are referees,” she said. “They don’t get to steal the ball and try to dunk it, and that’s exactly what this judge did in this circumstance — and missed, by the way.”

Making it even more egregious, she said, is that the judge was appointed — not elected, like the DA.

“A person appointed thinks that their opinion can somehow trump hundreds of years of precedence because they disagree with what we’re proposing, and that’s just unacceptable,” she said.

Sinnott was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker two years ago. He declined to comment through a trial court spokeswoman.

Gaziano ordered the lower court to enter the "nolle prosequi," and to expunge Webber's criminal record. Webber was charged with disorderly conduct.

In all, 36 people were arrested in connection to the event. Judges accepted "nolle prosequi" entries in 10 of those cases.

Eight of those charged in related cases were involved in violent acts, Rollins said, and her office sought to move forward with prosecutions in those cases.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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