In the latest development in a case that has shocked and horrified the Jewish community and earned the outrage of legal scholars throughout the world, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s latest motion to overturn his 27-year prison sentence was denied Thursday by Judge Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. The Rubashkin team is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
In a filing known as a 2255 petition, Rubashkin’s attorneys had sought a new sentencing and evidentiary hearing, citing reams of evidence indicating that the prosecutors wrongfully interfered in the Agriprocessors bankruptcy proceedings, intimidating potential buyers and thereby dramatically decreasing the ultimate sale price. In addition, they charged that, at Rubashkin’s sentencing, the prosecutors knowingly presented false testimony to conceal the impact their actions had on the loss incurred by the victim bank — thereby misleading the judge into laying the blame on Rubashkin and sentencing him to 27 years in prison.
Judge Reade denied all of Rubashkin’s contentions on Thursday — which came as no surprise to legal observers as she is the judge who issued Rubashkin’s lengthy sentence in the first place.
A long list of leading legal experts — including former attorneys general, senior Department of Justice officials, United States attorneys and federal judges — had signed a friend of the court brief in this case, stating that the sentence was unfair and unreasonable.
The Rubashkin legal team did not have any immediate comment on the decision, but a legal observer who has followed the case for many years told Hamodia that while he isn’t surprised by the conclusions, he found certain aspects of the ruling to be striking.
“For one thing, the length of the decision, which at 142 pages is longer than almost all Supreme Court rulings, indicates that the judge is worried about the strength of the evidence presented by Mr. Rubashkin and therefore felt the need to go to great lengths to justify her conclusions,” the observer noted.
In her decision, the judge stressed the narrow parameters of the type of motion filed by the defense.
“Unless the record reflects a fundamental defect in the proceedings which necessarily resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice, a sentencing error, to wit a non-constitutional error, cannot be raised in a §2255 motion,” Judge Reade wrote.
“She states that even if the prosecutors had admitted that it was their actions that caused the financial loss to the bank, she would have sentenced Mr. Rubashkin to the same 27 years. This is a position that strains credulity — to say the least,” the legal observer added. “The 142 pages are filled with technical arguments, what is noticeably lacking in her decision is an assertion that the 27 year sentence was just.”
Unlike most other legal proceedings, in order to appeal a decision regarding a 2255 motion a “certificate of appealability” is needed. In her ruling, Judge Reade denied Rubashkin the certificate.
“It is standard practice that in such a hotly contested case, a lower court judge will grant such a certificate. In this case the judge didn’t even give Rubashkin the opportunity to review her decision and make a motion for a certificate of appealability, but simply denied it without even being asked. This judge doesn’t want any judicial scrutiny of her decision.” the legal observer noted. “However, it is likely that the appeals court — which can also grant a certificate of appealability will do so,” he added.