Waterloo, IA – The state trial of former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin will move forward, a judge said, despite concerns from defense attorneys about the local jail not meeting their client’s religious needs.
Black Hawk County District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan also denied a defense motion Tuesday to delay Rubashkin’s trial on 83 misdemeanor child labor charges until July because of pre-trial publicity and new evidence presented to the defense.
The state alleges minors worked excessive hours and were exposed to poisonous chemicals and dangerous machinery while working at the kosher slaughterhouse in Postville.
Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown said Rubashkin, an orthodox Jew, has not eaten since noon on Monday. The Black Hawk County jail had not offered kosher food that met Rubashkin’s stringent religious requirements, he said.
The county sheriff agreed to meet with a rabbi provided by Rubashkin’s family that will detail his religious needs.
When Rubashkin, 50, arrived at the county jail yesterday, guards initially had to carry him to around because he cannot walk without his yarmulke and religious undershirt, Brown said.
“I can’t represent a client that’s not going to eat,” he said.
Rubashkin walked in to court Tuesday wearing his usual yarmulke and black suit coat and pants. His family handed him a prayer book in Hebrew, which he read from aloud in the courtroom before the judge arrived.
Judge Callahan said Iowa law does not require Rubashkin to be present during the trial, so it will proceed without him, if necessary.
“I’m not trying to be disrespectful of anybody’s religious traditions or beliefs,” he said. “But I’m not derailing this proceeding because of his choice.”
Brown argued he needed more time to investigate several videotaped interviews because they were just provided to him on Friday.
The tapes show three potential witnesses, despite repeated questioning, telling investigators they do not know if Rubashkin knew underage workers were at the plant, Brown said.
Callahan said he may consider allowing the defense a few days to review the evidence.
Prosecutors said the trial should not be delayed because eight former underage workers flown in from Guatemala to testify are only authorized to remain in the country until early July.
Brown said pre-trial publicity from Rubashkin’s sentencing hearing last week on federal financial fraud crimes, as well as an article in Monday’s Des Moines Register, could prejudice the jury.
Only Rubashkin, who pleaded not guilty to all counts of child labor violations, will face trial on child labor charges.
Prosecutors whittled down the number of charges from the initial 9,201 to ensure the trial is completed in a reasonable amount of time.
Agriprocessors Inc. pleaded guilty to all counts, company attorney Mark Weinhardt said. Prosecutors have dismissed charges against Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, family patriarch and company founder, and Laura Althouse, a human resources employee.
Prosecutors told the judge they are working on an agreement with human resources employee Karina Freund and human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer that will be resolved in the next few days.
Aaron Rubashkin was present as a corporate officer of Agriprocessors, the company attorney said.
Jury selection will begin this afternoon.
Sholom Rubashkin was convicted in federal court of 86 financial fraud charges in November. Last month, he tearfully apologized at his sentencing hearing. Prosecutors recommended a 25-year sentence.