Former Iowa slaughterhouse manager seeks new trial, says judge helped plan raid, prosecution

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Motion: Iowa judge helped plan immigration raid

DES MOINES, Iowa — Attorneys for a former Iowa kosher slaughterhouse executive filed a motion Thursday seeking a new trial, claiming the judge that presided over his trial participated in the planning of a May 2008 immigration raid that led to his arrest.

Sholom Rubashkin was found guilty last fall of 86 federal financial fraud charges and was sentenced in June by Chief U.S. District Judge Linda Reade to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay $27 million in restitution.

His attorneys filed a motion and more than 100 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that they say show Reade met with immigration officials and prosecutors beginning as early as October 2007.

“I was shocked quite frankly when I came across those documents to see the extent the judge was participating in the raid,” said Nathan Lewin, Rubashkin’s lead appellate attorney. “I’ve never seen it before.”

The motion says documents show prosecutors coordinated the raid so it wouldn’t conflict with Reade’s vacation. It also says the documents show that as early as November 2007, Reade and prosecutors discussed holding court proceedings after the raid at the National Cattle Congress exhibition area in Waterloo. Other documents indicate Reade “surveyed” and approved of the location.

A telephone message left Thursday for Reade was not immediately returned, and U.S. District Clerk of Court Robert Phelps said judges do not comment on pending cases. Bob Teig, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined comment, saying the office would answer the allegations in a motion.

The motion also alleges that a later meeting was held where “the court made it clear that it was willing to support the operation in any way possible.”

Rubashkin’s lawyers argue that the documents also indicate that a meeting was held on March 17, 2008, where Reade and prosecutors “discussed an overview of charging strategies, numbers of anticipated arrests and prosecutions, logistics, the movement of detainees and other issues related to the … investigation and operation.”

Affidavits show Immigration Custom Enforcement records during the preplanning period that included communications with Reade, which indicated that Rubashkin was the focus on the investigation.

Rubashkin’s attorneys claim that federal law requires judge to disqualify themselves if their impartiality might be reasonably questioned and that Reade illegally presided over Rubashkin’s trial and sentencing.

“This motion alleges that Judge Reade acted improperly by participating in repeated … meetings with the U.S. attorney’s office and that she concealed this impropriety by failing to disclose those meetings or their content to counsel for Mr. Rubashkin at any time during the criminal proceedings,” Lewin wrote in the motion. “Hence she is not ’sufficiently distanced from the fray as to permit an objective consideration of the evidence.’”

Lewin told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that it’s clear Reade was not impartial.

“Would there be any question in anybody’s mind?” he said. “It doesn’t seem any reasonable person could say that is impartial.”

He went on to ask that a neutral and disinterested judge who is not personally familiar with Reade will decide the motion.

The plant in Postville, Iowa, gained attention after the raid, in which 389 illegal immigrants were detained. At the time, it was the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.

The plant eventually filed for bankruptcy and was later sold.

Rubashkin also faced 72 charges for allegedly allowing illegal immigrants to work at the plant but Reade dismissed those charges and a jury later acquitted Rubashkin of state child labor charges.

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