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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Federal judge prohibits jurors’ interviews for Sholom Rubashkin

Any interviews involving jurors who served on a former Agriprocessors manager’s bank fraud trial in 2009 cannot be used in his appeal efforts or any future  court proceeding, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade told attorneys of Sholom Rubashkin and the government that the jurors’ information would be turned over to the court and sealed to prevent any use in the future. 

Reade ruled last week that attorneys who contacted former jurors violated local court rules, which prohibit attorneys from questioning or talking with trial jurors before, during or after a trial without the trial judge’s consent.

The jurors were contacted to determine if any jurors held any prejudice against Rubashkin, James Wyrsch, a Kansas City attorney working on Rubashkin’s appeal, said last week.

The government filed a motion for the Sept. 23 hearing after a former juror contacted the office to report that a private investigator contacted him Sept. 10 and a private investigator and Rubashkin’s daughter again contacted him Sept. 11 at his home. 

The juror was asked to aid them in a possible appeal for Rubashkin. The government in the motion said Rubashkin’s attorneys should show cause why they shouldn’t be sanctioned for violating the rule.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan said at least 13 jurors, including alternates,  had been contacted after the 2009 trial and this year.

During that hearing, Reade chastised Rubashkin’s attorney Guy Cook, saying she never gave that permission. She told the jurors they could talk to “anyone or no one,” but she never said attorneys or other parties could contact them and that the local rule was lifted.

During that hearing, Cook said he thought the court had lifted that prohibition after the verdict was returned and they were released from service.

Reade waited to act on her finding of the violation because she wanted to find out if Rubashkin intended to use the jurors’ interviews in his next appeal.

Paul Rosenberg, Rubashkin’s Des Moines attorney on his appeal, said Tuesday that he nor Rubashkin were going to use the interviews. He also said nothing in those interviews proved to be helpful to them.

Cook came to court with his attorney, Leon Spies of Iowa City, Tuesday prepared to present witnesses, including Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins and other attorneys, to testify about his professional conduct and record of professional responsibility but Reade didn’t allow it.

Reade told Spies there was no contempt finding and the matter was concluded. She ruled there was a violation of local rule and sealing the jurors’ interviews was her disposition or sanction.

Cook declined to comment after the hearing, but in a document filed Monday he provided additional comments to the court. He said he “genuinely believed the trial court orally lifted the prohibition of contact with jurors. I now recognize from the (Sept. 23) hearing, however, the court intended something different. 

I accept that and offer my sincere apology for any misunderstanding.”

Rubashkin, of Postville, was convicted on 86 counts of bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and failure to pay livestock providers in a timely manner. He was sentenced in 2010 to 27 years in federal prison. The charges stem from a May 2008 immigration raid at the former Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville. Nearly 400 illegal workers were  charged in the raid.

Reade was the trial judge and received national criticism over the 27 year sentencing, which was longer than the government recommendation, and for her involvement in the pre-planning of the immigration raid.

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