Asking “Wouldn’t it be better, as a general rule, if judges who meet regularly with prosecutors in advance of a cascade of high-profile indictments didn’t hear the cases that follow?,” Slate court-watcher Emily Bazelon recently discussed the petition for certiorari currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the kosher meatpacking facility manager convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to 27 years, essentially a life term for the 50-year-old defendant from Iowa. Rubashkin v. United States, No. 11-1203 (U.S., petition for cert. filed April 2, 2012).
Mostly on procedural grounds, a federal appeals court rejected the defendant’s claims that the judge should have recused herself because she participated extensively with prosecutors in activities that led to an immigration raid on the facility, the detention and deportation of hundreds of workers, and charges of harboring illegal immigrants, child labor law violations and bank fraud. Bazelon suggests that the Court will not review the matter given that the jurors who convicted the defendant “sat for 18 days and reviewed more than 9,000 exhibits,” a thicket the justices are not likely to want to wade into. Still, writes Bazelon, “even if you can’t bring yourself to care much about the fate of Sholom Rubashkin, the oddities of this case don’t sit well. Judges shouldn’t be able to make up their own rules for policing themselves.” Additional information about the case appears in Issue 410 of this Update.