Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Straight Pride Counterprotestors Litigation

Last weekend Boston hosted the straight pride parade.  It was not recieved well. That appears to be the point.  As was the case with past demonstrations of nationalist animosity, the straight pride parade drew substantially more counterprotestors than it did participants.  Some of these counterprotestors were arrested for various offenses, and arraigned in the Central Municipal Court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two of the judges in the Central Municipal Court took steps during the arriagnments of the counterprotestors that call into question the limits of the judicial power.  In one example, Judge Horgan ordered the counterprotestors to stay out of the city of Boston while their cases were pending.  So-called "stay-away" orders are common where the alleged crime is related to a particular location.  In Boston, in particular, orders to remain out of the city entirely are more common than in any other metro-area in Massachusetts.  In this case, where the Court's order is to remain out of the entire city of Boston for reasons that have almost nothing to do with the city itself, the order seems pretty clearly overbroad and unconstitutional.  Since at least some of the people who are subject to the order were presumably engaged in deliberate civil disobedience, it would seem like an opportune time for someone to file an interlocutory appeal of the Court's order.  After all, picking fights and taking names is kind of the point of civil disobedience, and it is long since time call attention to, and hopefully end, the practice of banishing people from the city while their cases are pending. 

In another example, Judge Sinnot refused to accept the request of prosecutors in Rachael Rollins' office to dismiss certain charges prior to arraignment.  Rollins was recently elected with a notorioius policy of declining to prosecute certain kinds of cases, including cases in which someone is charged with only resistig arrest (the point being that an arrest should be premised on an actual crime before it becomes a crime to resist it).  In this case, prosecutors moved to dismiss certain cases but the judge refused to allow their motion to dismiss.  Former federal judge Nancy Gertner called the refusal to grant the Commonwealth's request "lawless."

It is hard to find accurate information on what exactly happened, but certain reports suggested that prosecutors had moved to dismiss the cases upon the completion of community service. Other reports suggested that Rollins' peitiotn to the SJC alleged that the judges refused to accept something called a nolle pros.  It seems that some of the confusion over these cases depends on the difference between the two.  A dismissal is an act of the Court. It can be conditional or unconditional, but when the prosecutor moves to "dismiss" a case they are asking the Court to invoke its authority to order charges dismissed. A "nolle pros" (latin) is different because it is not an act of the Court. A "nolle pros" is an act of the prosecutor, which has the effect of unilaterally terminating the prosecution.  Filing a nolle pros might be less desireable for a prosecutor because it cannot be conditioned on any terms that are enforceable by the court. 

Two rock-solid propositions: First, a judge definitely has the discretion to refuse to dismiss a case, even where that request is made by the prosecution.  Second, a judge also has absolutely no authority to refuse to accept a nolle pros.  The trick here may be that a third rock-solid proposition is that the court never has to explain to a party that its action is based on the way the party phrased its motion.  It may simply be that the prosecutor in the room used the words "move to dismiss" when they should have moved to "nolle pros."