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May 25th

A disturbing trend in Iowa?

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It might seem superfluous to state that Jewish criminals belong in jail, however much good they might otherwise do and however religious they might otherwise be. That said, recent events in Iowa raise the possible spectre of a state that does not realize that accused or even convicted criminals who are Jewish do not deserve to be treated unfairly under the law, however much bad they might otherwise do.

Right now, Sholom Rubashkin stands convicted for various crimes. When even the Forward — Rubashkin’s worst enemy in the Jewish community — which went after  Rubashkin and his business, Agriprocessors, with a journalistic zeal matched only by his prosecutors, states on its editorial page that Rubashkin’s 27-year sentence is unfair and disproportionate, one stands up and takes notice. And now comes news of another suit in Iowa, also against a Jew, marked by what might turn out to be remedial bureaucratic insensitivity and an awkward and inappropriate attempt at friendliness, but which, as they stand now, raise serious questions.

The case — charges against a Jewish filmmaker named Wendy Weiner Runge (reported in this week’s IJN) —has the judge scheduling a pretrial hearing on Rosh Hashanah, and blithely dismissing the defendant’s objections on the grounds that this is not an official Iowa holiday.

Then, and much worse if it is true, is the prosecuting attorney’s behavior between arguments. He is accused of tying the defendant to Sholom Rubashkin. Even accepting his own version of his conversation with the defendant, in which he associated her not with Rubashkin but with Agriprocessors and its “family,” i.e., Jews, we have something that smacks of a kangaroo court. The meaning, if not necessarily the intent, of the prosecuting attorney’s behavior is that once a Jew is in the dock, he’s like all the rest — and in Iowa in 2010, all the rest are those convicted and sentenced to 27 years.

As we say, the prosecuting attorney’s behavior might be an awkward attempt to make conversation by someone who knows no Jews, but even so, it is insufficient for him to say he will be more careful in the future. Justice must be impartial, and must be seen to be impartial. It is entirely inappropriate for an attorney on either side to drag in an irrelevant comment, based on ethnicity, into any case. This shows prejudice, not impartiality, and deserves an official reprimand. We take no stand for or against Wendy Weiner Runge other than this: she, like all Americans, deserves a 100% fair trial, and she deserves normal courtesy.

A required hearing on Rosh Hashanah violates that courtesy. A question to her about her “family” Rubashkin violates that fairness. It is early enough in the process of this trial for Iowa to correct these errors, and we look forward to the judge doing so. If not, then questions about the possibility of justice altogether in Iowa do acquire a certain level of credibility.

Copyright © 2010 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 July 2010 12:15 )  

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