Judge: Rubaskin Can't Use Juror Interviews in Appeal

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - A former kosher slaughterhouse manager cannot use any information obtained from interviews with jurors during any appeal of his 27-year prison term for financial fraud, a judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Linda Reade said the interviews of jurors by lawyers and investigators working for Sholom Rubashkin violated a rule that allows such contacts only with her permission, which was never sought or granted. She said they "annoyed and frightened" members of the jury that convicted Rubashkin in 2009.

Reade ordered anyone in possession of transcripts of the interviews to turn them over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cedar Rapids and her chambers by next week. She said the disclosure will ensure the information is never used directly or indirectly to aid Rubashkin, the former vice president of Agriprocessors in Postville who was convicted of defrauding the company's bank out of millions.

The order came after a juror complained to prosecutors last month that he and others had recently been contacted by private investigators working for Rubashkin. In one instance, Rubashkin's daughter joined an investigator on an uninvited visit to the juror's home and made an emotional appeal on behalf of her father.

Kansas City attorney James Wyrsch took responsibility for authorizing the investigators to interview jurors, saying Rubashkin's supporters wanted to know whether they were prejudiced against him. But he said he was unaware that Rubashkin's family was involved, and would not have allowed such a contact. Wyrsch on Monday told the court that his law firm had decided against representing Rubashkin during his latest appeal, which was filed Tuesday.

Des Moines attorney Guy Cook, who represented Rubashkin at trial, also recently acknowledged that he directed an associate to interview jurors after the verdict in late 2009. He said that he believed that Reade had authorized such contact when she told jurors after the trial their prohibition on discussing the case was lifted, and they could speak about it with anyone or no one at all.

Reade rejected that argument during a hearing last week, calling it ridiculous. On Tuesday, Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins and two other prominent Iowa lawyers were in court and ready to testify on behalf of Cook, the president of the Iowa State Bar Association, who says that he acted in good faith. Three jurors and an alternate agreed to speak with Cook's firm about the case, and no one complained then.

Reade declined to hear their testimony, saying she had already concluded all such contacts violated her court rules. She said she was declining to hold any individual in contempt of court, and decided the fairest outcome was to bar the juror information from being used during any appeal, application for presidential pardon or any other proceeding on Rubashkin's behalf.

Attorney Paul Rosenberg, who is currently representing Rubashkin, said he has not seen all of the juror interviews but does not believe any of them would be particularly useful for Rubashkin, who is incarcerated in a medium-security prison in New York state.

Federal authorities raided the Agriprocessors plant in Postville in 2008, arresting 389 immigrants who weren't in the country legally. Rubashkin was later accused of bilking a lender out of $27 million by submitting fake invoices that made Agriprocessors' finances appear healthier than they were. He was convicted on 86 counts of financial misconduct during a hotly contested trial that was moved to South Dakota because of extensive publicity.

Supporters of Rubashkin have argued that Reade should have recused herself because she helped plan the logistics of the immigration raid. They also say the sentence was too harsh for a nonviolent, first-time offender. The U.S. Supreme Court last year let the sentence stand despite an effort to convince justices that Rubashkin, a Hasidic Jew, was the victim of injustice.
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