Photo Credit: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Dave Neil, Iowa’s labor commissioner, declared that the investigation of Agriprocessors “brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa’s child labor laws” and recommended “that the Attorney General’s Office prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law.” Neil was confident that the largest case in state history would snatch up to one million dollars in fines. Yet for all that self-important braggadocio, silence reigned in the labor commissioner’s office after the case was expunged.

And – surprise – nothing was heard from Rabbi Allen and the Magen Tzedek people after the acquittal. Yet after the fraud conviction, they blustered, “There is neither joy nor a sense of schadenfreude in yesterday’s [November 12] conviction.”


            No schadenfreude? No enjoyment obtained from the trouble of others? More like what Captain Ahab thought of Moby Dick, or the likelihood of the Coca-Cola museum serving Pepsi, or the inherent flexibility of a bowling ball.

They also publicized, “It is important to note that the trial on charges of worker abuse is not even underway. The heartbreaking stories that will emerge in the course of this trial will be as cringe-worthy as they are criminal.” They are referring here to a court case that would be dismissed and expunged, yet they still felt duty-bound to warn the public about “shocking disclosures.”

Rabbi Allen issued these statements between the fraud conviction and the sentencing. There could not have been a more sensitive time for a well-regarded man, the father of ten, and employer of a thousand. Yet even then, Rabbi Allen castigated the Rubashkin family for its “flagrant disregard for the law and ethical behavior.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union also had a lot to say, but nothing to retract, about child labor violations that the court dismissed. “This employer has a long history of violating every law that’s out there – labor laws, environmental laws, now immigration laws,” Mark Lauritsen, international vice president of the union, was quoted in the Washington Post on May 18, 2008. The article went on to report, “The union charged that the immigration raid disrupted a separate U.S. Labor Department investigation into alleged child labor law violations and other infractions.”

Only after the trial ended did it come to light that the trial judge, Linda R. Reade, had cooperated with the prosecution before the immigration raid. Reade had never disclosed that she had met with prosecutors regarding the coordination of the blitz and processing the arrestees. She was even referred to in one ICE email as a “stakeholder” in the case.

“The government’s own memoranda,” declared Nathan Lewin, lead appellate counsel for Rubashkin, “show that more than six months before the raid, Judge Linda Reade began a series of meetings in which she collaborated with the law enforcement team that prosecuted the case against Shalom Rubashkin. Without disclosing to defense counsel her meetings with the U.S. attorney and the support she expressed for the raid, she presided at Mr. Rubashkin’s trial, and then immediately had him imprisoned, and sentenced him to two years more in prison than the prosecution requested.”

The government initially resisted the Rubashkin legal team’s request for Freedom of Information Act documents in February 2009. Only after the trial concluded were documents released revealing emails, memos, and presentations describing the judge’s involvement as going beyond logistics and including “charging strategies.”

Lewin was appalled at the absence of judicial propriety. He commented, “What can be learned from the redacted memoranda about Judge Reade’s participation in the planning of the raid on Agriprocessors is sufficient for an objective observer to doubt the perception of impartiality.” On that basis, he filed a motion that the jury’s verdict must be vacated, and the case transferred to a different judge.

Lewin had earlier explained to the Rubashkins that it would not be wise for a Jewish lawyer from the East Coast like himself to defend Rubashkin in the jury trial in South Dakota. For this reason, the family had hired competent local lawyers. But now that there was ample evidence that Reade should have recused herself and that she had abused her discretionary power with biased rulings during the trial which had seriously harmed the defendant, Lewin was called in to argue the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

To be continued.

Chodesh Tov – Have a pleasant month!

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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.