Slate – the online newspaper noted for its cutting edge coverage of politics and culture – publishes a dirty article about convicted felon Sholom Rubashkin, the former VP of Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse.
Originally published at 7:16 pm CDT 5-9-2012
Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate. She has a law degree from Yale and clerked for a US Court of Appeal judge. She comes from a family of lawyers and judges. So you would think when Bazelon writes about a case, she'd know what she's writing about.
So when Bazelon published a piece in Slate this week about Sholom Rubashkin's attempt to get the US Supreme Court to hear his appeal, you would expect accurate reporting, reporting that, say, has the correct facts and that gives some coverage to the rationale of the people she attempts to discredit.
But you would be wrong. Bazelon writes:
[I]t was kind of crazy for prosecutors to ask for a life sentence for bank fraud. A group of former attorneys general and U.S. attorneys called this sentencing request extreme, and the prosecutors backed down a bit, to 25 years. And then Judge Linda Reade sent Rubashkin to prison for 27 years—which essentially was a life sentence for the 50-year-old defendant. The heavy punishment is one reason why an assortment of lawyers and law professors, of various ideological stripes, want the Supreme Court to hear Rubashkin’s appeal.
What's missing from Bazelon's piece is any mention of the US sentencing guidelines, which call for a 22 to 30 yeear sentence for Rubashkin's crimes – which included bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.
Also missing is the fact that Rubashkin had a conspiracy enhancement, which added to his sentence, and that Rubashkin not only did not cooperate with the investigation against him, he tried to destroy it by destroying evidence, helping a witness flee the country, and in several other ways, as well.
Rubashkin's sentence jumped from 25 years to 27 years because he perjured himself in court. But Bazelon doesn't tell readers this, either.
What Bazelon failed to report is not secret information. It isn't difficult to find. It's just information that makes her case fall apart, and like any good attorney, she apparently believes that lying by omission isn't really lying at all.
That she does this wearing her attorney's hat may be acceptable (to some), but doing it as a journalist is not.
…The other aspect of Rubashkin’s case that’s attracting attention is stranger. It involves the role that Judge Reade played in helping the U.S. attorney’s office plan the raid of the Postville plant.
The government started planning the May 2008 raid in October 2007. Anticipating hundreds of arrests, prosecutors contacted Judge Reade about how to handle them. Reade has characterized the weekly meetings that followed as nothing more than “logistical cooperation” that was no different than her involvement in “other multiple-defendant cases.” But a Freedom of Information Act request from the defense (which the government initially resisted) turned up emails, memos, and presentations describing the judge’s involvement as going beyond logistics and including “charging strategies.” Reade said she was “willing to support the operation in any way possible.” The government also described the judge as a “stakeholder” in the operation. And after the raid, Reade did in fact act like she had a stake in how it was perceived, telling the New York Times that prosecutors “have tried to be fair in their charging” and saying that immigration lawyers who were critical of the mass processing, “do not understand the federal criminal process as it relates to immigration charges.”…
Here Bazelon shows that she has most likely not read the original documents she allegedly is quoting from and is instead relying on material circulated by Rubashkin's defense team instead.
How do I know?
Bazelon's article contains a truncated quote attributed to Judge Reade:
Reade said she was “willing to support the operation in any way possible.”
But here is the actual quote in context:
Bazelon perverted the meaning of the quote and falsely attributed it to Judge Reade – two tricks Rubashkin's attorneys have done previously and which have been noted and rejected by the courts in the very documents one would have expected Bazelon to read before writing her piece.
Past that, Bazelon does not tell her readers that according to ICE, the US Attorney's office and others involved in those meeting, including Judge Reade herself, Judge Reade did not know the target of the raid and did not know Agriprocessors or Sholom Rubashkin were involved.
Bazelon also doesn't tell readers that the sheer number of projected arrests – 600 to 1000 undocumented workers – was far more than the court had the capacity to hold and process. That's why ICE planned for a remote location. But to do this, it have to have the cooperation of the judges who would have to hold court there. The issue of the remote location – the Cattle Congress mentioned in the memo excerpt I posted above – is why these meetings between the court, ICE and the US Attorney were necessary.
Besides the items listed in that memo excerpt, one of the other things the court had to do is secure defense attorneys, translators, etc. for the defendants. Another was to completely clear its schedule and bring all three (!) of its judges to that remote location and secure more judges from outside the circuit if necessary so the defendants could be processed within the time mandated by law.
Rubashkin's attorneys knew all this before his trial started, but they chose not to ask the judge to recuse herself. Bazelon doesn't tell her readers this, either, and makes it seem as if Rubashkin's attorneys didn't know until the trial was over that Judge Reade had these meetings. But they did.
Rubashkin is not the only white collar criminal doing long, hard time for fraud. Unfortunately, many are.
In fact, late last month in one of the most liberal federal courts in existence, high tech executive Samuel "Mouli" Cohen was sentenced to 22 years for a $30 million dollar fraud with no conspiracy enhancement. This case drew national attention, and you would think Bazelon knew about it before she wrote her article.
But, again, she doesn't report it.
To her credit, Bazelon does tell readers that her sister Lara co-authored a brief in support of Rubashkin. Did this connection with Rubashkin influence Bazelon's article? It's hard to think that it didn't.
At any rate, the real issue here isn't alleged discrimination against Rubashkin.
Instead, it's the draconian lurch in the US sentencing guidelines since the Enron scandal and the urgent need to reform those guidelines.
And it's the need to reexamine our government's policy of incarcerating non-violent criminals.
Is it really the right thing, the best thing, to throw someone in prison for decades for committing fraud? Isn't there a better way keep white collar criminals in check and punished while protecting society from them?
And the federal courts must find a way to deal with the arrest and processing of a large number of detainees that is governed by clear rules so unscrupulous attorneys like Rubashkin's can't use situations like this to try to free the guilty by libeling and slandering the innocent.
Sholom Rubashkin is guilty as sin.
So are the US sentencing guidelines.
And that's the real story, the true story, Rubashkin supporters, their friends and attorneys aren't telling you.