U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade chastised attorneys of convicted former Agriprocessors manager Sholom Rubashkin Monday, over violating local court rules by contacting jurors who served on his 2009 trial.
Reade said the local court rule forbids attorneys to question or talk with trial jurors before, during or after a trial without the judge’s consent. The local rule has been in place since at leastmthe mid-1980s. The “wisdom behind the rule” is preventing jurors from being harassed or questioned after the verdict.
“I never granted any parties or attorneys permission to contact jurors in this case,” Reade sternly said.
Acting U.S. Attorney Sean Berry filed a motion for this hearing last week after a former juror contacted the office to report that a private investigator contacted him Sept. 10, and a private investigator and Rubashkin’s daughter again contacted him Sept. 11 at his home. The juror was asked to aid them in a possible appeal for Rubashkin. Berry in the motion said Rubashkin’s attorneys should show cause why they shouldn’t be sanctioned for violating the rule.
Rubashkin, former vice president of Agriprocessors, was convicted on 86 counts of bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and failure to pay livestock providers in a timely manner. He was sentenced in 2010 to 27 years in federal prison. The charges stem from a May 2008 immigration raid at the former Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville. Nearly 400 illegal workers were charged in the raid.
Guy Cook, Rubashkin’s trial attorney, said he has been practicing law for more than 30 years. He said he’s a former assistant U.S. Attorney, is familiar with the local federal rules and has even lectured on the rules, but he heard the judge say the prohibition of contact was lifted after the verdict was returned and the jurors were released from service. He said he wouldn’t have directed an associate to contact jurors without the court’s permission.
“Don’t waste my time with a ridiculous argument,” Reade said.
Reade read into the record from the trial transcript of what she told jurors. She said she lifted the prohibition for jurors, which allowed them to talk to “anyone or no one.”
“Tell me where in this does it say lawyers can can contact jurors and the local rule is lifted?” Reade said.
Cook said he was going to address that before the court interrupted.
“You, sir, are getting a bit cheeky,” Reade snapped back.
Cook then said he didn’t mean any disrespect to the court. He considered the rule to be lifted with the comment that jurors could speak to anyone or no one.
“We believe we were acting in good faith,” Cook said.
Reade told Cook he was “dead wrong” to think that lawyers had permission to contact jurors.
James Wyrsch, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney working on Rubashkin’s possible appeal, said he didn’t contest facts that the government filed in its motion. He said he now didn’t intend to use any information from the jurors’ interviews. The evidence was initially gathered to determine if any jurors held any prejudice against Rubashkin. Wysch said he didn’t know any family members were involved in these interviews.
Wyrsch said he didn’t intentionally violate the rule and they acted in good faith when they authorized the contact.
Reade said she understands Wyrsch and Paul Rosenberg, a Des Moines attorney also working on the appeal who appeared in court Monday, said they will not use the information, but she was concerned about other attorneys who are working on the case and didn’t appear in court.
Wyrsch said he didn’t know if he was going ahead with the appeal at this point, but assured Reade he wasn’t going to “put his name” on the appeal if he can’t control it.
Reade told Wyrsch and Rosenberg to provide her with a written statement from Rubashkin about his intentions of whether to use the jurors’ information before she would make her determination in this case.
The attorneys said they would get his statement by Oct. 1.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan said at least 13 jurors, including alternates, had been contacted after 2009 trial and this year.
Reade said another hearing would be set after she receives the statement from Rubashkin. She will give her ruling at that time.