I just noticed this blog post from the Gazette a few minutes ago. It was originally posted on June 11th. What it means is that under current Iowa law, Rubashkin would have in all likelihood been convicted.
The trial in essence proved Rubashkin's negligence, but for a variety of reasons – primarily the judge's exclusion of evidence of federal notice to Rubashkin hundreds of fake IDs and documents used by Agriprocessors workers to get their jobs – it failed to prove his knowing hiring of children.
Jennifer Hemmingsen • GazetteOnlineI heard from several readers this week who also were disappointed in a Black Hawk County jury’s decision to acquit Sholom Rubashkin on child labor charges, which I wrote about in Wednesday’s column.
Of course, not everyone agreed with my take on the situation — a couple online commenters wondered why I was picking on Rubashkin who, after all, had been found innocent of the crimes:“this whole article smells of sour grapes,” one wrote. “the guy might be a dirtbag but you still have to prove it. instead of blaming the jury, blame the case that was presented. it obviously wasn’t anywhere near solid.”A good point.
But then I got a call from state Rep. Nate Willems, D-Lisbon, who filled me in on one other likely factor in the acquittal – the law under which Rubashkin was charged.
Back before legislators unanimously voted to add more teeth to Iowa’s child labor statutes , the law required prosecutors to prove employers “willfully” violated child labor laws.
“It was too high a standard,” Willems said. “It’s too difficult for a prosecutor to demonstrate that an individual intended to break the law – they intended to hire someone who was underage.”
Now that standard is negligence — making it easier for courts to hold employers accountable when they reasonably should have known their companies were violating child labor laws. It also just makes more sense. Willems agreed
“I believe that employers have a responsibility to make a kind of common-sense degree of inquiry into the age of their employees,” he said.
And the fact that the legislation came out of the House Labor Committee with bipartisan support – well, that means it had to have been a no-brainer.
Legislators also increased child labor violations from simple misdemeanors to serious misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,875; and adding civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
It was the first time since 1974 that the laws were strengthened — too late for the Rubashkin case, but better late than never.