A trio of prominent legal advocacy groups threw their support behind SholomMordechai Rubashkin last week, highlighting accusations that a federal judge improperly cooperated with prosecutors before Rubashkin’s arrest.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed amicus briefs in Rubashkin’s appeal of his 2009 fraud conviction before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, arguing that the conviction was tainted by evidence of ex parte communications between prosecutors and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, federal district court judge Linda Reade. The Washington Legal Foundation, joined by 18 law professors, former federal judges, and former U.S. attorneys, argued in a third brief that Rubashkin’s sentence was unreasonably harsh and should be vacated.
Federal prosecutors charged Rubashkin with violating immigration laws in 2008, after a raid in the Iowa kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors Inc., led to the arrests of 389 undocumented workers.
The immigration charges were eventually dropped, and a jury acquitted Rubashkin of allegations that he knowingly employed underage workers. But prosecutors aggressively pursued the financial fraud charges, and a federal jury convicted Rubashkin on 86 counts in November 2009.
Last June, amid pleas for leniency from the Orthodox Jewish community and sentencing reform advocates, Reade sentenced Rubashkin to a 27-year prison term – two years longer than prosecutors had sought.
Rubashkin’s lawyers moved unsuccessfully for a new trial in August 2010, after they obtained U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement records through the Freedom of Information Act showing that Reade had undisclosed discussions with prosecutors and immigration officials in the months leading up to the Agriprocessors raid. The lawyers argued that the ICE documents – which purportedly include Reade discussing charging strategies and logistics for the raid – showed that she was not impartial.
Rubashkin’s lawyers cited the ex parte discussions in their Jan. 4 brief to the 8th Circuit appealing his conviction, arguing that the conviction should either be overturned or a new judge should hear Rubashkin’s motion for a new trial.
In the amicus briefs they submitted last week, the ACLU of Iowa and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers accused Reade of actively participating in Rubashkin’s prosecution. “Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction should be overturned and he should ‘get his day in court’ with a tribunal that is not an arm of the prosecution,” the ACLU contends in its brief. “The Constitution demands a new trial.”
The Washington Legal Foundation argues in its brief that Reade’s calculation of losses from Rubashkin’s fraud, her alleged refusal to consider mitigating factors at sentencing, and her willingness to impose a “functional life sentence” on 51-year-old Rubashkin led to an unreasonably harsh sentence. “Amici believe this case raises important procedural and substantive issues that arise in many white-collar sentencings,” the brief states.
Rubashkin’s appellate team includes Nathan Lewin of Washington’s Lewin & Lewin, Shay Dvoretzky of Jones Day, and Des Moines firms Belin McCormick, Grefe & Sidney and Brown & Scott. Levin said last week’s amicus support shows how much opposition the Rubashkin case has generated, noting that nearly two dozen members of congress have written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. demanding an investigation of Rubashkin’s trial or sentencing. “There’s a build-up of interest from the general legal community over what happened in Iowa,” Lewin said.
The government’s brief is due March 11. The 8th Circuit could hear oral arguments in the case as early as May, Lewin said.