Judge Put Immigrants In Jail While Husband Invested In Private Prisons

A judge responsible for overseeing a mass trial of undocumented immigrants following the largest raid in history could be guilty of violating ethics rules.

U.S. Customs sign hanging on a border fence.

Judge Linda R. Reade may have thought she and her husband could get rich fast, if only they could get their hands on some private prison stocks just in time for the largest immigration raid in United States history.

In 2008, just five days before a raid on a Postville, Iowa, meatpacking plant, Reade's husband, Michael Figenshaw, purchased additional shares in two companies responsible for running private prisons, CoreCivic and GEO Group, Mother Jones reports. While Figenshaw and Reade were already vested in private prisons before, the additional purchase came just before a raid overseen by Reade.

On May 12, 2008, 400 undocumented immigrants were dragged out of the facility, and then tried collectively before Reade, the presiding judge of the mass trial.

And while similar cases usually involve undocumented immigrants being first charged with civic misconduct, and then being deported -- a move that saves government money by keeping immigrants out of prison -- this particular mass trial resulted in charges of criminal fraud. The immigrants had allegedly used falsified work documents, leading to 270 arrests.

Despite the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, Reade protested. Instead, she said, the proceedings were fair. But the problems raised by critics didn't go away as a lawsuit brought by meatpacking facility manager Sholom Rubashkin was promptly filed.

According to the suit, Reade had met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees prior to the raid. She was aware that agents were expecting to arrest hundreds of undocumented immigrants and even laid out detailed plans regarding what charges she would bring against them.

Just five days before the actual raid, her husband bought between $30,000 and $100,000 worth of additional private prison stocks. By the time he sold those stocks within five months, they were worth between $65,000 and $150,000.

After finding out about her husband's deals prior to the raid, Rubashkin's lawyers tried to take the case to the Supreme Court in 2012, but the justices decided not to review it. In 2014, his attorneys requested that Reade would recuse herself after learning her husband also had been a senior partner in a law firm that provided Rubashkin assistance, but the judge refused to step down.

Reade was appointed to the federal district court by President George W. Bush in 2003. By then, Figenshaw already owned stock in the two largest private prison companies in the country, CoreCivic and GEO, which now operate 150 facilities across the country. Between 2003 and February 2011, which is when Figenshaw sold his stocks, CoreCivic's stock price rose 434 percent while GEO's rose by 642 percent.

Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for Bush, said Reade may have breached important rules.

“There’s a significant likelihood she violated the ethics provisions if she didn’t take any steps to address the conflict,” he said.

“I don’t think a judge who handles criminal cases should ever be buying and selling stocks in private prisons," ethics expert Richard Flamm said.

Having her husband do it instead is “the same thing,” he added.

Unfortunately, it seems that, once again, a member of the U.S. judicial system won't be facing any consequences for having allegedly used her position to benefit herself.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/David McNew

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