‘Friends of Sholom’ ad aggravates Agriprocessors trial judge
Trish Mehaffey • The Gazette
The Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville.
The federal Agriprocessors financial trial will start Oct. 13 in Sioux Falls, S.D., but the issue of pretrial publicity reared its ugly head again today during a pretrial hearing.
Because of pretrial publicity, the trial was moved to Sioux Falls to ensure Agriprocessors former vice-president Sholom Rubashkin receives a fair trial. The scheduling issues of the six week trial took a back seat at the hearing after an attorney informed the court about a half-page advertisement was placed in the Des Moines Register today by “Friends of Sholom Rubashkin.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan told the court he was concerned about the ad because it’s a paid ad in a newspaper by “friends” out of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the defense team has connections with people out of New York who are providing financial support for Rubushkin.
The ad called “Is This Justice?,” lists information about the immigration raid at the Agriprocessors Postville plant and questions the government’s actions or tactics.
Chief Judge Linda Reade said if she finds out the ad is also in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, “I’m going to hit the roof.”
Guy Cook, Rubashkin’s defense attorney, said he didn’t know anything about it. The address on the ad isn’t one related to the council of rabbis, who provide defense funding to Rubashkin.
Then, Cook raised the issue of the government sending out news releases regarding a guilty plea Monday of Mitchel Meltzer, 50, of Postville, the Agriprocessors former chief financial officer. Cook said one of the newspapers to receive the release was the Argus Leader.
Deegan said those releases were sent out to media outlets who regularly receive its releases. There was no malicious attempt to specifically send that paper the information.
Reade said she would bet the government doesn’t send news releases of Iowa criminal cases to South Dakota. “If it happens again, you’re going to have one irate federal judge on your hands.”
Reade also assured the attorneys the press would not be allowed to bring in cell phones or laptops into the courthouse. They will not be allowed to blog or Twitter “or whatever is fashionable today.” She said she feels blogging from the courtroom is “totally inappropriate.”
The financial charges, including bank fraud, money laundering and non payment for livestock, stem from the immigration raid at the plant in May 2008 that led to the arrest of 389 illegal workers.