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Judging the Judge

Shimmy Blum

In what is perhaps the global Jewish community's most closely watched criminal case, a significant break offered Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin's sympathizers a surge of encouragement, as his attorneys filed a motion for a new trial amid evidence they contend challenges Judge Linda Reade's impartiality.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Supporters of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin are hoping that an unusual legal maneuver will mark an eagerly awaited turning point in the nearly three-year-old government case against him.

Rubashkin's legal team, led by Guy Cook, filed a motion with the Federal Court of the Northern District of Iowa to have the defendant's November 2009 conviction on eighty-six counts of white collar crimes overturned, and a new trial ordered.

This newest motion relies on hitherto secret government documents accessed through the Freedom of Information Act. These documents reveal that Judge Linda Reade, who presided in the Rubashkin case and who handed down a sentence considered to be excessive by most legal experts, failed to disclose the depth of her involvement in the planning of the May 2008 raid on Agriprocessors kosher meat processing company, where Rubashkin was the chief executive officer. Prosecutors went to Judge Reade to get judicial approval for the search warrants necessary to conduct the raid, but defense attorneys argue that Judge Reade's overactive role and expressions of support for the raid should have led her to disqualify herself from presiding over Rubashkin's trial.

Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Meisels, a lead askan with the Vaad L'Hatzolas Rubashkin, tells Mishpacha, “We are all ready and waiting for a neis so that Sholom Mordechai gets out of his predicament. This is a step in the direction of cloaking the neis in derech hateva.” 

Analyzing the Data

In a conference call with various media outlets, which Mishpacha was also invited to and participated in, Rubashkin's lead appellate counsel, Nathan Lewin and his daughter Alyza related the painstaking efforts -- and painful revelations -- that led to the motion.

Following Rubashkin's arrest two years ago, his attorneys sought additional details about the planning of the raid from prosecutors and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, which the government refused to release. The attorneys filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act. Documents were slowly released beginning in March 2010, more than four months after Rubashkin's conviction, with the final batch released on July 15th. The documents were heavily censored, or “redacted,” although the government hasn't yet relayed its required explanation why those redactions were necessary.

“As I began reading the documents,” Lewin recounts, “I was shocked at what I saw … they were a collection of smoking guns.”

The motion and supporting memorandums, affidavits, and over 100 released evidentiary documents filed in court reveal that as far back as October 2007, more than six months prior to the raid, US District Court Judge Linda Reade was already in contact with officials from the US Attorney's Office about planning the massive raid. The frequency of the meetings with Reade mentioned in the released documents, along with some of the intricate details, further point to an overly active Reade role during the six-month preparation period, which Lewin contends exceeded her judicial duties to enable the raid to be executed fairly and smoothly.

For instance, the documents reveal that Reade and prosecutors jointly surveyed the location where raid detainees would be held, and the timing of the raid was also ensured not to conflict with Reade's scheduled vacation. In e-mail correspondence, Reade also pledged to “support the operation in any way possible.” She participated in meetings where “an overview of charging strategies” was discussed and even demanded “a final game plan” from prosecutors for the raid. Following the raid, Reade held some court proceedings in Waterloo, Iowa, as opposed to her normal Cedar Rapids venue, in order to be near the raid's detainees.

Lewin contends that the released information alone suffices in proving what he calls judicial impropriety. He declined to speculate on what the redacted paragraphs may contain.

In addition to Judge Reade's alleged inappropriate actions, Lewin says that he “recoiled” upon learning some of the information included in the historical overview that was contained in a PowerPoint presentation given by prosecutors to various officials prior to the raid. (It is unclear whether Reade was present during that point of the meeting.) The fact that Agriprocessors was the largest “kosher” meatpacking plant in America was repeatedly mentioned, as was their goal to prosecute a “corporate official,” and Sholom Rubashkin was the only one ever named. The overview also contained several inflammatory, even unproven, allegations to justify their actions, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA's) allegations of animal abuse, allegations of workplace safety violations, and environmental abuses. Similar allegations were made in the prosecutors' affidavit requesting the raid (which was signed off by Judge Reade), as were fallacious fabrications of weapons, drugs and immorality in the plant -- all of which combine to give the appearance of a highly zealous prosecution. Prosecutors eventually dropped the immigration charges and Rubashkin was acquitted of the child labor charges in a separate trial -- under a different judge.

For his part, veteran attorney Lewin, in response to a query from Mishpacha, says that such revelations are extremely rare. “I have never seen anything like this before. For starters, the entire raid planning process was unprecedented; this was the largest such raid in US history. Planning for a search usually takes about a week; this raid was planned for over six months.” 


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