Sunday, November 27, 2016

Call for Pardon, Reform of Prosecution

Today, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Charles Renfrew, a former U.S. District Court judge and U.S. deputy attorney general, and James H. Reynolds, a U.S. attorney, are calling on President Obama to grant a pardon to one Sholom Rubashkin. As they tell the somewhat complex tale, Mr. Rubashkin is former vice president of Agriprocessors, "a kosher food processor." In 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents "raided the company’s plant and arrested hundreds of the firm’s workers who were undocumented immigrants." A filing for bankruptcy followed.

Then the feds arrested Rubashkin, charged with him with fraud and - wanting "to extract a pound of flesh, and then some" - interfered with the company’s sale. Prosecutors "stymied the bankruptcy trustee" from making a sale "at a reasonable price" because they "warned" buyers that they "would forfeit the business if any member of the Rubashkin family maintained a connection to the firm."
The prosecutors achieved their intended goal. Nine prospective bidders walked away from the sale—including one that had offered $40 million. The business was sold for $8.5 million, a fraction of its actual worth, ensuring that the bank would not be paid back for the money it was owed. Even the bank, the victim in the case, objected in writing to the prosecutors concerning the government’s actions. 
Renfrew and Reynolds say prosecutors "unjustly concealed the bank’s objections from the defense" and sought "a staggering life-in-prison sentence," which was "later lowered to a still unacceptable quarter-century." In addition, they solicited "false testimony" stating they "did not interfere in the bankruptcy sale process." Prosecutors also "misled the court" at sentencing by concealing the "meddling."

Prior to sentencing, a "bipartisan" group of "six former attorneys general and more than a dozen other prominent legal experts" urged the judge to show leniency.  Now, "four former U.S. attorneys general, two former FBI directors and dozens of law professors and former Justice Department officials" describe Rubashkin’s sentence as “patently unjust.” The authors conclude:
Mr. Rubashkin has now served more than seven years of his sentence—more than twice as much as he would have served had his punishment fit his crime. Every day that he spends in prison is a day that he should be spending as a free man, with his family. That is why we urge President Obama to pardon Mr. Rubashkin ... Congress should also take steps to rein in the serious problem of prosecutorial abuse, which has elicited bipartisan concern from many lawyers, legal scholars and federal judges. One possible reform includes making it a felony for prosecutors to knowingly conceal or alter evidence that bears on a case’s outcome. 
See full editorial here.

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