Feb 10, 2011

Judge from Agriprocessors Meatpacking Calls Mass Guilty Pleas 'Travesty'

I came across this blurb online and had to write about it- I have included the entire article below as well.

Mark Bennett, a federal judge who sentenced 57 of the 389 immigrant workers arrested at the glatt kosher Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in May 2008, now says the mass guilty pleas made by these undocumented workers were a “travesty.” Bennett makes his allegations in a new documentary film about the raid’s aftermath, “Abused: The Postville Raid.” Bennett said prosecutors were wrong to push hundreds of undocumented workers to sign binding plea agreements that included a five-month prison sentence. “But it’s an executive branch decision, and I didn’t have the power to do anything about it other than not agree to the plea agreement. But if I did that, they would have been held in custody much longer. I found the plea agreement personally and professionally to be offensive, and I thought it was a travesty. And I was embarrassed to be a United States District Court judge that day,” Bennett said. At its time, the raid was  the largest immigration raid in American history. Agriprocessors was owned by the Rubashkin family, who are prominent followers of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, the plant’s day-to-day chief executive, is currently serving a 27-year sentence in federal prison for bank fraud, money laundering, perjury and related fraud charges. (Des Moines Register)

I am confused. As far as I know, no one was holding a gun to Judge Mark Bennett's head telling him to remain on the bench for these cases. Can't a judge recuse themself if they have conflict with a case in front of them?

It is very frustrating to read that the judge knew about the mass plea agreements, felt they were wrong, and stayed quiet. He also went on and sentenced 57 of the 389 workers arrested, only speaking up after the fact. I understand that if he had voiced his opinion the entire thing would have dragged out and the workers would have remained incarcerated paending sentencing and deportation a lot longer- but legal rights were squashed and trampled and no one spoke up!


A judge is the most powerful person in a court room. If he felt that these deals were wrong he could have ordered the prosecutors to re-negotiate them...or even better- since the prosecutors only RECOMMEND a punishment to the Judge, he could have ignored the deals and guidelines and done whatever he felt was correct. Prosecutors get it wrong all the time- that's why there is such a thing as a trial in front of an ethical, fair, impartial Judge in the first place! I'm so tired of reading about real criminals who plead out and get nothing while people who don't know better or have nothing of value to offer the prosecutors get sentenced to ridiculous amounts of time. People like Judge Bennett need to step up and call prosecutors out on this BEFORE they pass judgement- doing it after the fact is just wrong.

I applaud him for at least drawing attention to it now, but this goes on every day all across the U.S. and it's not going to change until people in the position to make these changes suck it up and make it right.

Postville documentary criticizes sentencings


Luis Argueta, second from left, has produced a documentary on Postville and the plight of the Agriprocessor workers from Guatemala. With him, from left, are Agustin Obispo Porras Chuy, Candido Alfredo Marroquin Argueta (no relation to Luis) and Osbeli Osiel Junech Hernandez.
Luis Argueta, second from left, has produced a documentary on Postville and the plight of the Agriprocessor workers from Guatemala. With him, from left, are Agustin Obispo Porras Chuy, Candido Alfredo Marroquin Argueta (no relation to Luis) and Osbeli Osiel Junech Hernandez. / EZEQUIEL SARUDIANSKY/Special to the Register
A federal judge who participated in controversial court hearings after the huge immigration raid in Postville says the 2008 legal proceedings were "a travesty."

District Judge Mark Bennett, who sentenced 57 of the 389 immigrant workers arrested at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant, makes his allegations in a new documentary film about the raid's aftermath.

Critics, including defense lawyers and immigrant advocates, have long contended the Guatemalan and Mexican workers were unfairly pressured into pleading guilty to criminal charges in mass hearings a few days after the raid. After other such raids across the country, most illegal immigrants without previous criminal records were quickly deported. But after the Postville raid, most workers were charged with felonies and served five months in prison before being sent home.
Bennett airs his criticisms in the new documentary, "Abused: The Postville Raid."

The judge told filmmaker Luis Argueta the prosecutors were out of line in pushing immigrant workers to sign binding plea agreements that included the prison time.

"I thought their insisting on each of the defendants serving a five-month sentence was a tragedy," Bennett said.

"But it's an executive branch decision, and I didn't have the power to do anything about it other than not agree to the plea agreement. But if I did that, they would have been held in custody much longer. I found the plea agreement personally and professionally to be offensive, and I thought it was a travesty. And I was embarrassed to be a United States District Court judge that day."
Other critics have said prosecutors told defendants that any who refused to sign the agreements would be tried on charges of felony identity theft, which carried five-year prison sentences. In a separate but similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled unanimously that such identity-theft charges may not be pressed if an immigrant used someone else's identity solely to gain a job.

Bennett, who is based in Sioux City, was appointed to the bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. He is among the judges who have criticized prosecutors over their past use of mandatory sentencing rules. Bennett declined a Des Moines Register request for comment on the documentary.
Bennett also told Argueta he was uncomfortable sentencing the immigrants 10 at a time, because defendants in that situation are less likely to speak up if they don't understand the proceedings.

The judge noted that none of the Postville workers he sentenced had been previously convicted of any crimes.

"To have 57 people in a row that don't even have a single misdemeanor among them is unheard of in federal court," he told the filmmaker. "So if anybody deserved mercy and compassion and fairness and justice, these 57 did. And I don't believe they received it, even though I was the one who imposed sentence, because my hands were tied by the Department of Justice in the case."
Chief District Judge Linda Reade, who helped organize the legal proceedings, and U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose, who was one of the lead prosecutors, declined Register requests for comment about the film.

University of Iowa law professor Margaret Raymond said it is not unprecedented for judges to publicly complain about legal procedures. She cited federal judges' criticism of mandatory sentencing rules, which took away their discretion. Those rules have since become guidelines, which has eased the tension, she said.

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