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Rubashkin lawyers accuse judge of conflict of interest

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SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Lawyers for former Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin accused the presiding judge in the case of a conflict of interest, filing papers demanding a retrial and her recusal.

According to emergency court papers filed Aug. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, District Court Chief Judge Linda Reade was involved in preparations for the May 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa. The raid led to Rubashkin’s arrest on an array of charges, including the financial fraud for which he was ultimately convicted.

Reade sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years in federal prison last June — two more years than prosecuters demanded. The jury’s verdict should be vacated pending a new trial, his lawyers said, as well as Reade’s decision to deny Rubashkin’s release on bail.

On Aug. 5, Rubashkin’s legal team produced government documents showing that Reade received regular briefings on the upcoming raid for six months before it took place and expressed her support for it. She did not disclose her participation in those events as required by federal law, Rubashkin’s lawyers said, and she should not have presided over the trial.

Reade has disclosed in writing that she engaged in limited “logistical cooperation” with law-enforcement authorities during the 2008 raid, but only to make sure the nearly 400 illegal immigrants arrested had access to attorneys and Spanish-language interpreters.

Rubashkin’s lawyers said the federal documents they have obtained show that Rubashkin was the focus of the investigation before the raid took place. This and other evidence presented in the motion filed are “sufficient for an objective observer to doubt the perception of impartiality,” said Nathan Lewin, Rubashkin’s lead appellate counsel.

Reade refused JTA’s invitation to comment on the latest developments in the case.

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