Sunday, April 29, 2012

Judicial Recusal

While many of you may think that this entry will address all of the recent controversy in Wisconsin over the recusal issues dominating the headlines, it will not. Instead, it is providing a link to a federal proceeding in a neighboring state.  The case is extremely interesting not only because the defendant is now represented by Wisconsin native and former US Solicitor General Paul Clement but it also brings into sharp focus the inherent problems that arise when judges make their own determination of whether recusal is appropriate.

In 2000, journalist Stephen Bloom published the book: Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America.  It was an instant bestseller ( named Best Book of the year by MSNBC and the Chicago Tribune) and a fascinating read.  In 1987, Aaron Rubashkin, a butcher from Brooklyn, NY bought an abandoned slaughterhouse outside of Pottsville, IA.  The plant was the center of turmoil in the community for a number of years which culminated with a raid by ICE in 2008.  Federal authorities characterized the raid as the largest criminal worksite enforcement action in history.  A summary of the subsequent prosecution was described as follows:

Five months later, the government arrested the plant's manager, Sholom Rubashkin, on charges of harboring illegal immigrants, but ICE's case had problems. For example, it turned out that an undercover ICE agent had twice tried to secure employment at this plant, but he was turned away because he did not have the proper papers.
It would not do to have such a dramatic raid and nothing to show for it. The Justice Department filed seven superseding indictments charging bank fraud. The indictments included a creative theory — that Rubashkin falsely certified to the bank that Agriprocessors was complying with all the laws even though it was employing undocumented aliens. The federal jury did convict on the bank fraud charges, and the federal government dropped all immigration charges. In the meantime, Iowa indicted Rubashkin for employing child labor. The state initially alleged 9,311 offenses and went to trial on only 83; the trial judge limited that number to 67, and the jury acquitted on everything.
Federal prosecutors recommended life imprisonment. After widespread criticism of such a harsh sentence by many people (including six former U.S. attorneys general), the government asked for a 25-year sentence. Judge Linda Reade, the trial judge, imposed 27 years instead.

But Reade did more than impose a disproportionate sentence. After Rubashkin's conviction and sentence, defense lawyers learned that Reade, over a six-month period, had been actively engaged in planning the Agriprocessors raid.
For more detail read this post.