Mass. Supreme Court Rules in Rachael Rollins’ Favor in Straight Pride Protest Dispute

Justice Frank M. Gaziano said that Judge Richard Sinnott had "no authority" in pursuing prosecution of a Straight Pride counterprotester.

AP Photo/Steven Senne, File

Seems safe to say that Rachael Rollins won this round.

After filing an emergency petition last week asking the Massachusetts Supreme Court to intervene in her dispute with a Boston Municipal Court Judge, Richard Sinnott, the state’s highest court ruled in Rollins’ favor Monday morning. The Justice who handled Rollins’ petition, Frank Gaziano, said that Sinnott had “no authority” to ignore Rollins’ recommendation and forge ahead with the prosecution of a Straight Pride counterprotester.

Sinnott’s actions infringed upon the separation of powers between the judiciary and executive branches, Gaziano ruled, citing cases dating as far back as 1806. “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,’’ he wrote.

The Justice also chose to wipe clean the criminal record of the counterprotester in question, Roderick Webber. If Sinnott’s ruling had been upheld, the disorderly conduct charge Webber faced—a “victimless crime,” Gaziano wrote in his decision—would have been the beginning of Webber’s record, which could have impaired his future. At a press conference following the decision, Rollins says that attaining expungement for Webber made her particularly proud.

The DA also expressed relief at the clarity this ruling creates, and called Sinnott’s choice to defy her “a colossal waste of time.”

“Anyone who has gone to law school knows there is a separation of powers,” she said.

The ruling is the latest in a dispute that has unfolded in the wake of the August 31 Straight Pride Parade, a controversial event that drew a large crowd of counterprotesters. 36 were arrested during the event, and in keeping with her platform pledge to halt prosecution of low-level and poverty-connected crimes, Rollins recommended dismissal of charges or release without bail for many of the nonviolent protesters. However, she was met with resistance in Boston Municipal Court from Judge Sinnott, who chose to push past Rollins and enforce charges anyway, and even ordered defense lawyer Susan Church handcuffed and arrested in court when she questioned his authority.

Church called the Supreme Court ruling “welcome and expected.”

“The law is perfectly clear on this issue, a point I was pressing in court on Wednesday,” Church told the Boston Globe. “The fast resolution of this issue supports the clarity of the legal issues involved.”