Why did lawyers working for former Agriprocessors glatt kosher slaughterhouse vice president Sholom Rubashkin violate federal district court rules when they contacted jurors from Rubashkin’s 2009 bank fraud trial earlier this month without first asking the trial judge, Linda Reade, for permission? To try to prove that some jury members were anti-Semitic.
Why did lawyers working for former Agriprocessors glatt kosher slaughterhouse vice president Sholom Rubashkin violate federal district court rules when they contacted jurors from Rubashkin’s 2009 bank fraud trial earlier this month without first asking the trial judge, Linda Reade, for permission?
To try to prove that some jury members were anti-Semitic or harbored bad feelings about Jews, several Iowa-based news sources reported.
Guy Cook, who is also the head of the Iowa Bar Association, and Kansas City attorney James Wyrsch repeatedly broke a well-known long-standing rule that bars attorneys, their private investigators and their staffs or other employees or contract workers from contacting jurors without first getting the court’s permission.
Similar rules are in place in many jurisdictions throughout the country.
Private investigators working for Rubashkin contacted jurors in an attempt to dig up information supposedly to use in a rarely successful 28 U.S.C 2255 motion to vacate his sentence.
Rubashkin has already lost all his appeals and the US Supreme Court refused to hear his case. He is serving a 27-year sentence for bank fraud, money laundering, perjury and related crimes. He defrauded his lenders out of more than $26 million.
One of Rubashkin's daughters also appeared uninvited at at least one juror’s home with a private investigator and made an emotional appeal to the juror, who refused to talk with her or the investigator and instead reported the incident to the US Attorney.
The inquiry into these illegal contacts conducted by the US Attorney’s office found that Cook's law firm also illegally contacted jurors in December 2009. It also found that at least 13 jurors, including alternates, had been illegally contacted in 2009 and this year.
The two attorneys’ punishment will be determined by Judge Reade at a hearing in October.
Wyrsch, whose firm was hired to prepare Rubashkin's 28 U.S.C 2255 motion to vacate, said the recent contact with jurors was his fault. He said he did not intentionally violate court rules, and claimed that he believed the contact was permitted because Cook had contacted jurors in 2009 and because such contacts are permitted under federal court rules in South Dakota where Rubashkin’s trial had been moved.
He also claimed that he did not hire the New York-based private investigator who accompanied Rubashkin’s daughter on her visit to jurors. Wyrsch claimed he would not have allowed that firm to work if he knew Rubashkin's family would be directly involved.
Wyrsch also told Reade that the goal of the contacts with jurors was to find out whether jurors are anti-Semitic.
Cook, however, had a much less plausible excuse – one that drew sharp criticism from Reade (and snickers from legal experts after the hearing).
Cook said he believed Reade had approved contact with jurors when she told jurors immediately after the verdict that they were now free to discuss the case with the public if they chose to to do so – standard boilerplate instructions for a discharged jury in almost every jurisdiction in the US, instructions that in no way impact the ban on attorneys contacting that jurors without permission.
But Cook – whose ethical issues were clearly evident even then – said that as a 30-year trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor, he would never have intentionally violated the court’s rule and claimed the contact in 2009 and this year was just an innocent mistake.
"I've lectured on the [court’s] rules," Cook told Judge Reade, who shot back by calling Cook’s excuse "disingenuous, bordering on the ridiculous."
"You need to add a footnote to wherever you lecture. You are dead wrong and no reasonable lawyer would have interpreted what I said to give permission to lawyers to have contact with jurors," the judge said.
She also said that she wanted assurances from Rubashkin in writing that he would not use any of the information illegally gathered from jurors. Potential sanctions “will depend on what Mr. Rubashkin says,” Reade said.
Wyrsch claimed that the information is not valuable and insisted that he won't use it in drafting Rubashkin’s motion.
But he also noted that Rubashkin supporters believe the information is important and want to make use of it. Because of that, Wyrsch claimed that he is thinking about withdrawing from the case because he may not be able to control their actions.
Rubashkin’s family, his legal defense team – including Cook – and Chabad’s Rubashkin “pidyon shvuyim” team have long tried to smear judges, prosecutors, federal agents and government officials as anti-Semitic, despite having no evidence to support those smears. One of those attorneys, James Clarity, claimed before Rubashkin's federal trial that the atmosphere in Iowa was comparable to the atmosphere in Nazi-occupied Poland – a claim that was both horrific for its minimization of the Holocaust and completely false.
Even so, it is likely that similar efforts to label jurors and others anti-Semites will continue now.
Rubashkin and his family ran roughshod over Postville, violating laws with near impunity, defrauding local suppliers and abusing many of Agriprocessors undocumented workers. Paychecks were regularly shorted, overtime was not paid, underage undocumented workers were employed. Supervisors allegedly coerced undocumented female workers to perform sex acts in exchange for transfers to better jobs or different shifts and allegedly forced undocumented workers seeking jobs to buy broken down used cars at highly inflated prices from a supervisor in exchange for being hired.
Agriprocessors blatantly violated humane slaughter laws, EPA regulations, OSHA regulations and immigration law.
Its glatt kosher slaughter was so inhumane that noted animal welfare experts called it the worst violation of humane slaughter law they had seen in modern times.
Rubashkin also looted Agriprocessors, taking at least $1.5 million from the company for his own personal use and allegedly laundering millions more through Chabad charities.
Agriprocessors also allegedly sold its product at below cost or market value to drive competitors out of various markets and allegedly bribed local haredi rabbis to endorse its products at the expense of those competitors.
Rubashkin's brother Moshe and his son Shalom are both convicted felons, as well.
Despite all this, Rubashkin's Chabad community and the wider haredi community view Rubashkin and his extended family as holy people and martyrs.
Rubashkin Lawyers And Family Allegedly Contact Trial Jurors Without Permission, Causing Furor.
Rubashkin’s Attorneys Violated Law, In Contempt Of Court Judge Says.