Updated 3:44 p.m. Lawyers for Sholom Rubashkin, the Iowa businessman sentenced to 27 years in prison for bank fraud, are calling for a new trial based on the presiding judge’s interaction with federal investigators in the law enforcement raid targeting Rubashkin and his family-owned kosher meatpacking plant.
Rubashkin’s lawyers, who filed a motion for a new trial today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, said Chief Judge Linda Reade should have recused from presiding over the Rubashkin case based on her interaction with the investigation team.
In June, Reade sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years in prison—two more years than the recommendation made by an assistant U.S. attorney. Earlier, a group of former U.S. attorneys general questioned the government's initial recommendation of life in prison.
The Rubashkin defense team’s motion is based on new documents that were produced through a Freedom of Information Act request. The attorneys, who include Nat Lewin of Washington’s Lewin & Lewin, said Reade, who took the bench in 2002, participated in the planning of the May 2008 immigration raid at Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. Click here for earlier coverage on the case.
The defense lawyers said Reade failed to disclose the depth of her interaction in the law enforcement planning of the raid, which ended in the arrest of nearly 400 undocumented workers. Federal prosecutors brought immigration-related charges against Rubashkin. Those charges, however, were later dropped after a jury convicted Rubashkin in November 2009.
Reade, the defense attorneys said, should have made a full disclosure to allow the defense lawyers a chance to decide whether to file a motion for recusal. The new documents were provided to Rubashkin’s lawyers after the trial. The FOIA request was filed in February 2009.
The documents, according to the defense lawyers, show that Reade began meeting with the U.S. Attorney's Office in October 2007. She said in January 2008 she was “willing to support the operation in any way possible." Reade requested a “final gameplan” about a month before the raid.
“The government’s own memoranda show that more than six months before the raid, Judge Linda Reade began a series of meetings in which she collaborated with the law-enforcement team that prosecuted the case against Sholom Rubashkin,” Lewin, lead appellate counsel for Rubashkin, said in a statement. “Without disclosing to defense counsel her meetings with the U.S. attorney and the support she expressed for the raid, she presided at Mr. Rubashkin's trial, and then immediately had him imprisoned, and sentenced him to two years more in prison than the prosecution requested.”
In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Lewin said Rubashkin's defense team is considering filing a formal judicial misconduct complaint against Reade for failing to recuse herself from the case and for failing to disclose allegedly improper ex parte discussions between her and prosecutors in the case.
Lewin said he hasn’t filed a complaint yet because “our first priority was to act on behalf of our client because he is still sitting in jail.” But that option is still on the table, he said.
Lewin added that he is also considering filing complaints with the U.S. Justice Department against the prosecutors in the case for failing to disclose their discussions with Reade.
“The prosecutors were party to this secret agreement not to disclose Judge Reade’s involvement in the raid. That is at least as serious as suppressing favorable, exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys,” Lewin said. "Prosecutors should have to disclose ex parte conversations whether the judge does so or not.”
Staff writer Jeff Jeffrey contributed to this report.