The New Teamwork: American Judges and Prosecutors

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As one who often writes about courts and prosecutorial misconduct, I must admit to having no confidence anymore in American judges having any integrity at all. One of the defining moments for me came in the Tonya Craft case in North Georgia when the judge, Brian House, literally took cues from the prosecutors during the trial, as they gave him hand signals and other indications of what he needed to do in certain situations.

It should surprise no one that House desperately tried to rig a conviction, and when he received the "not guilty" verdict from jurors and read it before the verdict was read to the people in the courtroom, his face turned ashen and his expression was one of utter shock. However dishonest and sordid his actions, at least House was unable to get the jurors to vote his way; Shalom Rubashkin was not so fortunate, as his judge not only was hostile to him throughout the trial, but now we find that the judge played an important role in the prosecution of the case.

In my first article on Rubashkin’s conviction, I dealt with the charges and the sentence that Judge Linda Reade imposed on him — 27 years, which is longer than many murderers receive — and was entirely out-of-kilter with what the law is supposed to do. Readers know that I have trouble with how federal criminal law is imposed and how prosecutors can take about any action, including a legal action, and roll it into the "fraud" statutes that enable prosecutors to make their careers.

However, new documents released now demonstrate that Reade was far more involved in this case than I could have imagined, and that there is no way humanly possible for her to have done what supposedly is her job: be an impartial jurist:

A federal judge conspired with the Bush Department of Justice to plan the largest immigration raid ever in the United States, and then presided over the trial of the plant’s manager, eventually sentencing him beyond even prosecutors’ recommendation.

New documents show Linda Reade, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, was involved in the planning of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant at least six months before it occurred in May 2008. She asked for briefings from law enforcement and went as far as to ensure the raid was conducted around her vacation schedule.

But the judge never said a word of this to the defense lawyers for Sholom Rubashkin, the Agriprocessors manager, when she presided over his trial on bank fraud. She didn’t recuse herself from the case, either.

Indeed, all through the proceedings leading up to the trial, and then during the trial itself, it was clear that Reade has utterly hostile to the defendant. Furthermore, the very notion that she played what effectively was a "law enforcement" and prosecutorial role even before Rubashkin’s kosher meat-processing plant was raided automatically should have disqualified her. Furthermore, by stepping outside of her role as a judge, she opens herself to lawsuits, as she has absolute immunity only in her role as a judge, not as a law enforcement officer.

The media and the courts have framed this as a "financial fraud" case, as though Rubashkin was the Second Coming of Bernie Madoff. However, the "financial fraud" that Rubashkin committed was not "fraud" at all in the historical sense. This is what I described in my previous article:

In the case of Agriprocessors, the loan was a revolving $35 million payout that enabled the company to keep a steady cash flow, meet payroll, and pay its bills. The firm was not arrears in payment, and all indications were that the company would be able to meet its obligations to the bank.

Because the federal courts have eviscerated the ancient doctrine of mens rea, which means that prosecutors needed to prove that a person charged intended to commit a crime, intent to defraud no longer matters. In fact, one can argue that Agriprocessors did not “defraud” First Bank at all, and there are indications that the bank knew that Agriprocessors was overstating its revenues and underestimating its costs (something the federal government does every year, but never results in anyone’s arrest), but did not care because its good customer paid its bills on time. The company was profitable, and so was the bank.

That was not all, according to the feds. Apparently, certain suppliers of cattle and other things are required by a little-known (and almost never enforced) law from the 1920s to be paid within 24 hours. No one had complained about the late payments, to my knowledge; instead, it was yet another of those “legal technicalities” that federal prosecutors use when they want to convict someone on something.

Now, the bank would not have called the loan and lost all those millions had the federal government not shut down Agriprocessors. However, the government is claiming that the business itself was a $35 million fraud, as though Rubashkin were running a Ponzi scheme. (Oh, sorry, only the government is permitted to run a Ponzi program that we know as Social Security.)

Thus, the real cause of the losses was not the business practices of Rubashkin per se, but rather the way that the federal government dealt with the situation. The Bush administration wanted to make a statement to its conservative base regarding illegal immigrants being employed in the United States and it chose to make an example of Rubashkin and Agriprocessors.

Keep in mind that the feds can do the same to any business, even those businesses that absolutely operate above board in every way. Federal agents can act on false allegations (which they do all the time), raid the place, shut it down, and then claim that the entire operation was fraudulent after the company cannot pay its bills, and don’t think they don’t do this.

Federal agents have absolutely no personal stake in the success of a business or even private enterprise in general. They are in privileged positions and can extract whatever they want from people who are not so well-placed, and they do it on a regular basis. That means that if they drive legitimate businesses into bankruptcy, that is no problem to them, and if other lives are ruined and the economy sinks a little bit lower, who cares? The prosecutors and judges get their paychecks.

If anything, the revelations that Reade was involved up to her eyeballs in the Rubashkin case from the very beginning sets a new low in federal criminal law — if it is impossible for these people to sink any lower. It absolutely is clear that from the start, Reade was trying to engineer an arrest and conviction, and if she had an ounce of integrity (honest federal official, of course, is an oxymoron), she would resign immediately.

However, I am sure that Reade will go on as though nothing happened. One hopes that the appellate courts will note the misconduct, but I will not be holding my breath.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.

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