Rubashkin challenges court's stance on bail
BY TONY LEYS
A lawyer for a jailed Postville businessman says the government is violating the Constitution by denying bail based on the fact that his Jewish client could theoretically become an Israeli citizen.
Sholom Rubashkin, the former top executive at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant, has been in jail since Nov. 14. He is charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to hire undocumented workers at the plant, site of an immigration raid in May.
Prosecutors have successfully argued against bail in the case, saying they fear Rubashkin would flee the country. Their arguments have included references to Israel's "Law of Return," which allows Jews from around the world to become Israeli citizens.
Baruch Weiss, a lawyer for Rubashkin, said the government's argument illegally penalizes his client on the basis of ethnicity and religion. "It means every single American who happens to be Jewish stands a higher chance of being locked up by a judge," he said.
Prosecutors deny the claim. "That defendant's right to foreign citizenship is based upon defendant's cultural heritage is solely a matter of foreign law," prosecutor Peter Deegan wrote in a court filing this week. The government has noted that Rubashkin recently traveled to Israel and that authorities found thousands of dollars in cash at his house. Prosecutors also note that two other former Agriprocessors managers are believed to have fled to Israel.
Prosecution spokesman Robert Teig declined comment. "We do our talking in court," he said.
A legal expert for a national Jewish group said authorities may legitimately raise a defendant's specific ties to a foreign country when determining whether to grant bail. But Deborah Lauter, civil-rights director for the Anti-Defamation League, said it was unfair for prosecutors and Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles to raise the Law of Return in this case.
"There can't be a rule that every Jew is a flight risk," she said, "and that's essentially what this is saying."
Lauter said she was unaware of any other cases in which the Law of Return was used as a reason to deny bail.
Rubashkin's lawyers are trying to persuade the judge to change his mind and grant bail. They note that their client has surrendered his passport, offered to post bond, agreed to wear an electronic monitor and offered to hire a private security company to watch him.
They also said he would sign an extradition waiver, which would allow his immediate return to the United States if he somehow made it to Israel.
Prosecutors contend those measures are insufficient.