Agriprocessors State Child Labor Trial Set for May
By Trish Mehaffey
A trial has been set for May 4 on the 9,211 state child labor charges against Agriprocessors and some former employees.
The trial, to be held in Black Hawk County District Court, was discussed today during a status hearing and is expected to last three weeks. The charges were filed in Allamakee County, but First Judicial District Judge Nathan Callahan is assigned to Black Hawk County, so he proposed moving the hearings and trial to that county.
Last summer, a mock jury pool was called and jury questionnaires were used to determine if a fair and impartial jury could be seated in Black Hawk County.
Mark Weinhardt, attorney for Aaron Rubashkin, former owner of Agriprocessors, said after reviewing the jury questionnaires, he thought it was possible to seat a fair jury in this county but it might be difficult. There were some negative comments regarding his client, he said.
Callahan said he didn’t think it was impossible to seat a fair and impartial jury in the county.
Callahan also considered a motion filed several months ago by defense attorneys to dismiss the charges, but questioned the defense’s argument for the dismissal. The defense wanted to present testimony from witnesses regarding the dismissal. Callahan said he thought that would be improper, but agreed to let the defense offer documents or exhibits with its motion.
In the motion, the defense argued that the charges should be dismissed because the Iowa Department of Labor was investigating Agriprocessors for employing minors in January 2008 and had knowledge there were employees who were minors before the May 12 immigration raid at the Postville meatpacking plant. Agriprocessors didn’t know the employees were minors and the labor department didn’t share that information with plant officials, plant officials said.
Callahan said the charges against the defendants are regulatory offenses and the fact taht the labor department conducted an investigation doesn’t absolve them from responsibility or liability.
Agriprocessors, former owner Aaron Rubashkin, former vice president Sholom Rubashkin, former human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer and human resources employees Laura Althouse and Karina Freund face 9,201 misdemeanor child labor charges.
According to the criminal complaint, filed last September, 32 employee-victims younger than 18, with seven younger than 16, were identified. The charges also allege the underaged employees worked more than eight hours each day and more than 40 hours a week, operated power-driven machinery and were exposed to poisonous or dangerous chemicals.
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